Scottish High Tea – fact or fable?

Does this really exist? As in Scottish High tea? Or is this another adorable Scottish  fable….like the Haggis sheep?  Personally, I don’t know what to make of it…considering that when I did a Google search, I got a mix of responses.  One, which had me reeling with laughter. Perhaps it does exist…after all…and is not a mere figment of the good ole Scot’s superactive grey matter!

And should it all be a tattle tale…then I’d much rather live in ‘my fantasy’ of delicious salted chocolate caramel shortbread and yoghurt pots, scones with Lemon Thyme curd and cream…. and Tea….oh, the wonders of blooming teas (more Chinese than Scottish , I know but I’m not nit-picking). Totally amazing…it were as though I was underwater snorkelling and at the same time watching something unique being born! Not to be missed. The yellow flowers in this are Marigolds …..



Bill Patterson describes ‘Scottish High Tea’ so well: 

‘….Only available in Scotland to exceptionally lucky people. Linked to the Great Scottish Traditional Hotel is the Great Scottish Traditional High Tea.

This meal is unique to Scotland and has as much claim to be a genuine Scottish innovation as the haggis or that game where misguided people try and hit a small white ball around fields. The high tea came about in Scotland because, in the good old days, many had to rise early for work and, consequently, their hours were skewered. Breakfast was early and then, as the day was darkening and not much more could be done, hungry workers ate their main meal of the day around 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

Yellow rose Cutlery and napkinsunfurled red tea blossom Yellow rose

‘High’ was the term used to denote that the meal was being eaten at the main table and not at any small side table which might have been used for breakfast or a drink of tea. High tea was intended to be the main meal of the day in many houses in Scotland.

Rose on salted chocolate caramel shortbread

In this it varied from the English high tea which is credited to Anna, Duchess of Bedford, as the creator, who claimed she suffered from ’a sinking feeling’ around late afternoon and started the fashion of snacking on tea, sandwiches and cakes.

Serving High Tea, steam and all

Today, when you can get it, the Great Scottish Traditional High Tea offers better value than the later ’dinner’ with much the same food available but, if truly traditional, not served in such a fancy manner (nay Nouvelle Cuisine nonsense here). It starts with continuous tea and toast well supplied with butter and the main course can be steak pie or fish or bacon and eggs; then follows a mixture of scones, crumpets and fancy cakes

— enough to delight a Billy Bunter or a Tracy Tupman. Of course, the teapots must all be heavy and unwieldy…..

Serving High Tea, steam and all

…and you will need a sufficiency of table napkins.

Cutlery and napkins

 Avoid, where possible, those modern hotels and hostelries offering a ’traditional’ Scottish High Tea. They are generally portion-controlled places run from without Scotland and four squares of a toast and one stodgy scone is your lot. Some even have haggis on the menu under the mistaken believe that this is a traditional Scottish dish. It may be but it has no place in the traditional Scottish High Tea.

Scones with lemon thyme curd and cream

Do come and try it — you’ll even learn to love the rain; and when you do get a good day in Scotland…’

Yoghurt and Rhubarb pots

Now my version is a conglomerate of little nibbles….some of which can be made days ahead of time, served with a delightul pot of ‘Tea’ and a healthy offering of good company.

I must talk about the Tea….because it is really special. I mean, up till a few months ago, I had never come across Flowering Teas, Tea blossoms or Blooming teas?  Of course I had to buy them the minute I saw them at a delightful Tea & Coffee shop in Leiden. Under strict instructions from the store attendant that a glass pot was essential, I purchased 4 bulbs (@ 1 Euro/bulb. Each bulb can be reused anywhere from 5-15 times! Talk about a bargain).

Step 2 – Getting a glass teapot.

And to round off my Scottish High Tea  – I brewed some blossoms. It was like magic and the kids and I crowded round the Teapot as it brewed. That little bit of red peeking through the ball….a Jasmine blossom which unrolls and unfurls and literally ‘blooms’!

Red tea blossomunfurled red tea blossom unfurled red tea blossomunfurled red tea blossom unfurled red tea blossom

The tea is delicious and golden with fragrant, floral overtones….Brew the bulb as many times as you like, you’ll get no butterness with age! Refreshing,and magical. Oh, what a delight it is.

Serving High Tea

So that’s it L&G….hope you enjoyed the post and if you’re in Scotland, be sure to avail yourself of their High tea, will you?

If you decide to stay home, here are the recipes. You can plan ahead and start the preparations some time before.

The week before

Reduced-fat Lemon-thyme curd 

Lemon thyme curd


The key to making curds without a boiler is low heat and constant stirring; Reduced-fat?…. Use ice cold butter!

Makes about 180ml / or a small – medim jar!
You’ll need
1 egg
1 egg yolks…or in my case, 1 double-yoked egg (and yes you read me well….an egg with 2 yolks)
80g granulated sugar or vanilla sugar
40 – 60 gm ice cold butter, cut into about 10 pieces (as opposed to the 80g in the recipe from my friend, E of the pizza fame)
Rind &  juice of 1 lemon
Lemon thyme leaves
Whisk eggs in a bowl
Sieve into a pan – to remove thick bits of yolk
Add sugar to egg mix and stir till its a soft mixture
Put pan on very low heat on your stove top – you want the mix to cook, not fry! (If you want scambled eggs though, by all means turn the heat up)
Continue mixing and then add lemon rind and juice and lemon thyme leaves and stir together
After 2-3 minutes, start adding butter 1 chunk at a time, mixing well till butter is melted before adding another
After 10 – 12 minutes, it should be ready. Don’t worry if the mixture looks thin, it will thicken once it has cooled.
Put in clean and well washed jars ( I don’t sterilise the jars for my curds because they end up refigerated. I do make sure they are well washed though!)
Once it has cooled down, refigerate and use within 2 weeks

Ingredients for Lemon curd Double-yolked eggsWhisked egg Sieved egg mixtureEgg and sugar mixed Getting lemon rindSqueeze lemon, straining seeds out Lemon thyme curd cookingLemon thyme curd cooking with butter cubes Lemon thyme curd 

Rhubarb & Ginger compote

You’ll need
 250g Rhubarb, finely sliced
50g caster sugar
2 balls of preserved ginger, chopped
1  teaspoon finely grated ginger
How to

I thought by steaming my rhubarb, I would preserved the nice pink colours…but alas, I ended up with a golden…albeit it dark golden brown colour

 So anyhow, steam Rhubarb for 5-10 minutes or till its is soft

 When soft, remove from steamer and put into empty pan – mash till desired consistency is achieved.

  Add the sugar and the chopped ginger (preserved and fresh) and let cook for 3-4 minutes to allow the sugar dissolve and cook a bit

 Once heated through, turn of heat and let cool down

 Put into a clean, washed jar and refigerate for 2-3 weeks!

 Lovely on Porridge…and delicious in yoghurt!

Rhubarb stalks Steamed rhubarbpreserved gingerIMG_9601 Rhubarb-Ginger compote with preserved ginger Rhubarb-Ginger compote with fresh ginger Rhubarb-Ginger compote

Raisin scones

Adapted from ‘The Baking Book’  by Jane Bull… (a Kid’s cookbook 🙂 my top tip for First-time cooks!)

Makes about 8 small rounds
You’ll need
50g Butter (in cubes)
225g Self-raising flour
25g caster sugar
60g raisins
120ml Milk
To serve
Lemon thyme curd
Cream or Creme Fraiche
How to

Preheat the oven to 220 deg Centigrade (425 deg Fahrenheit)

Rub butter and flour together to make ‘breadcrumbs’

Add sugar and raisins

Pour in milk

Use table knife to stir the mixture

Make a ball and bring the mixture together

Flour a clean surface and flatten the ball to about 3cm thickness. Be careful not to overhandle the dough or you’ll end up with not very nice scones

Grease a tray

Cut out dough using a round cookie cutter (ignore my flower cutter… please)

STOP: If you want, you can freeze them right now and bake them later.

To freeze – spread cut out scones on tray in single layer, cover with clingfilm and let them stay in the freezer till hard. Remove into storage bag and put in the freezer till ready to use.

Place on tray and brush with milk for a glossy finish

Bake for 20 minutes in the centre of the oven. Check once scones start to brown…you don’t want to overcook them.

Best eaten on the day they are baked!

Serve with Lemon thyme curd and cream (or creme fraiche)

Scone mix - flour and butter Milk in raisin-flour-butter mix Milk in raisin-flour-butter mix Floured cutterScone dough Milk glaze on scone

On the day

1) Salted chocolate caramel shortbread

Adapted from Maw Broon’s cookbook (of Scottish Heritage)

salted chocolate caramel shortbread

Shortbread Base
250g softened butter
85g caster sugar
300g plain flour
2 Tablespoons ground almonds
100g caramel (Caramel recipe below)
100g milk/dark chocolate (Directions below)
Salt to garnish – I used Maldon Salt flakes but any nice seasalt would do
How to 
Preheat the oven to 160 deg Centigrade (325 deg Fahrenheit)

Mix the butter and sugar in a bowl till soft

Slowly add the flour, 100g at a time

If the dough becomes too stiff to stir, gently knead in the rest of the flour with your hands

Grease and ‘flour’ (with the ground almonds) a shallow pan

Place soft dough on floured surface and using floured rolling pin, roll out.

Don’t be too fussed if dough breaks while trying to get it into the tin.

Once in tin, press down with your fingers to ensure it is evenly spread out

Slice through into wedges  by cutting first into halves, then quarters then eights and then prick top with a fork

Bake for 30 – 40 minutes in the centre of the preheated oven or until firm to touch…and light brown in colour

Remove from oven and let cool. If you wish, when cool, remove from tin and place on serving plate/stand

Top with caramel and spread that over with a spatula

Then melt chocolate and layer that over caramel

At this stage I put mine in the fridge for the chocolate to harden (makes it a bit tricky to slice into but….)

Then before serving, sprinkle some seasalt over the top .

Enjoy the wonderful contrast of salted chocolate caramel
Caramel (aka Confiture au Lait or Dulche de Leche)
From a jar 🙂
Make your own by following these instructions from a tin of Carnation milk!  I made a gross mistake in following a recipe in a book which said to make a hole in the tin of condensed milk I had…..I can tell you that after 2 hours of cooking…I had NOTHING to show for it. Testimony to the fact that you shouldn’t believe everything you read!
Thankfully I had a bottle of Confiture au Lait from my (February) Paris trip and so I used that. It was FANTASTIC and I have no regrets (save for the cost of gas for those wasted 2 hours!)
Melt chocolate in a Bain Marie (I’m a convert to French Procedures and recipes :-))
flour in sugar and butter mix Ground almonds round greased panShortbread dough Prick wedges with a fork Confiture au Lait Caramel on shortbreadChocolate on caramel on shortbread Chocolate on caramel on shortbreadSalted chocolate caramel shortbread

2) Yoghurt Rhubarb pots

Yoghurt – Turkish yoghurt is the BEST
Rhubarb Compote
Flaked Almonds
Yoghurt and Rhubarb pots

All you need to do is assemble these in nice little glasses – yoghurt at the bottom, a bit of compote on top and lovingly garnished with raw, flaked almonds (better than toasted in my opinion). Now if you can’t get hold of Rhubarb, worry not. Find some Ginger jam and use that instead. (I must confess that Ginger jam on Turkish yoghurt with a heavy hand of flaked Almonds is my addicition! And has been for a few months now!!)

My version was inspired the ‘High Tea’ theme/event, hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Meeta of What’s for Lunch, Honey? I didn’t quite read the rules properly and had included some non-vegetarian dishes in my whole plan. Anyhow, those have been very well excised and will be shared later. A lesson to me: read instructions before you spend hours slaving away in the kitchen! 

Tea blossom


  1. I agree with your comment about not going to a hotel for high tea. We had high tea at the Willow Tree Tea Room in Glasgow. The tea was every thing we expected from silver serving dishes to clotted cream on our scones. It was truly a Scottish experience.

  2. What a beautiful tea! I have some dulce de leche left from making ice cream, and now your Chocolate Caramel Shortbread is the perfect place to put it.

  3. I like the entertaining side of the blooming tea !
    About the rhubarb compote, I made a version once with combava -or kaffir lime- peel that compliments nicely, like ginger, the rhubarb.

  4. Aah…now I understand Beth. That’s what keeps me enamoured with Food – the variety and variation of ideas…amazing

    Engeline also sent me an email to say in the Netherlands, it is made as a compote and enjoyed with yoghurt!

  5. I’m glad to here that Beth…i wish I could send you some but distance…
    Hi Engeline – Rhubarb and strawberries. Wow, I’ve neber heard of such a combo. As a jam/compote?

  6. I want to make the rhubarb compote RIGHT NOW!! Too bad there won’t be any rhubarb here in Baltimore until next May at the earliest. But i’m going to make sure this recipe stays right at the top of my bookmark list!

  7. That’s quite a spread. I’m happy to know that the MM theme inspired all this. 🙂
    Happy you could join us at High Tea (or should we be joining you?) 😀

    I am unable to see most of the pics with this post (they seem unavailable). I have the one you sent me.
    Could you please send me a mil with the individual items that make up this HIgh Tea so I can list them that way in the round-up?

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