You might say that in Ireland all roads lead to tea. From breakfast and lunch breaks to weddings and wakes, cupan tea is always a welcome guest. Irish tea is far more than just a hot drink to go with a scone and jam: It’s an important custom that serves as a symbol of hospitality, friendship, and pleasure. Some say the Irish people have a relationship with tea that “transcends the ordinary” — hyperbole, perhaps, but given that the average person in Ireland drinks four to six cups of tea a day, perhaps not!
I discovered this as soon as I enjoyed my first “official” cup at my cousin Kit’s cottage in County Kerry during my first visit there 35 years ago, and soon after at The Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin, where I was introduced to afternoon tea, the elegant three-course affair where tea is the main attraction and delicacies like dainty sandwiches, flaky scones, and luscious pastries act in supporting roles. Introduced in England in the mid-1840s, the mini-meal grew in popularity there and eventually spread to Ireland. I was smitten, to say the least, and in my new cookbook, Tea Time in Ireland, I share some of my most memorable tea experiences along with recipes from legendary hotel tearooms like The Shelbourne, The Merrion, and Ashford Castle, and from smaller tea venues like Cupán Tea in Galway and Castlewood House in Dingle; recipes from Irish home cooks join the mix. I’ll be sharing some of these recipes over the next few weeks, or you can order your own signed copy at irishcook.com.
LEMON CREAM TARTLETS
Lemon tartlets topped with fresh berries are a delicious, nearly obligatory, addition to teatime and simple to make with a no-bake filling and ready-to-fill sweet butter tarts. The optional chocolate lining adds an element of surprise, and the pistachio topping is the perfect counterpoint to the silkiness of the lemon cream.
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 tbsp. gelatin
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
2 oz. dark chocolate, melted (optional)
2 packages (1 3/4-inch) butter tarts, such as Clearbrook Farms brand
Fresh berries and chopped pistachios, for topping
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
* Make filling. In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks and ¼ cup of sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until pale and thick. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring milk, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and gelatin to a boil. Gradually whisk milk mixture into yolk mixture.
* Return to saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until bubbles form around edges of pan. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, stir in lemon zest and juice, and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes, or until mixture thickens.
* In a small bowl, whip cream with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form; fold into lemon mixture.
* With a pastry brush, coat inside of pastry shells with a thin layer of chocolate, if using; allow to cool and set. Spoon lemon cream into each tart shell and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Arrange berries on top and then sprinkle with pistachios; dust with confectioners’ sugar.