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My daughter recently turned eight, the minimum age recommended for American Girl dolls. It’s amazing, really, since before this age, my daughter wouldn’t give these dolls the time of day, and since these dolls are about $90 a pop, I wasn’t about to push it.  Just as she approached her birthday, however, her interest increased exponentially with every over-sized catalog that appeared with alarming regularity in our mailbox.   Somehow she ended up with three new dolls between Christmas and her birthday, much to her delight, and I’ll be totally honest, mine as well.  Helping her brush and curl her dolls’ hair and changing those dolls into adorable tiny outfits are more than a little nostalgic and speaks to the eight year old doll lover in me.

So when it came to making a decision about how to celebrate her birthday, we initially thought to bring a couple of her friends with us into the New York City American Girl Place and have lunch and perhaps take in one of the shows they have there.  After it proved too difficult for my daughter to narrow it down to just two friends, I decided to bring the American Girl Café to our house.

The English certainly have elevated this afternoon ritual to a fine art, and I have been refining my teas parties over the course of the past decade, first for bridal showers, then baby showers, and now, little girl tea parties.  I found the menu for afternoon tea at the American Girl Café on their website, and followed it fairly closely.  This is what we decided on for the menu, with only minor changes:


Warm Welcome

Cinnamon Buns

 Savory Treats

Kristen’s Wild Blueberry-Lemon Scones
served with fruit preserves and Devonshire cream

Banana Macadamian Nut Muffins

Irish Soda Bread

Kit’s Garden-Party Sandwiches
 with vegetable cream cheese and cucumber

Kaya’s Egg-Salad Tea Sandwiches

Felicity’s Patriotic Roasted Turkey Sandwiches
with cranberry mayonnaise


Sweet Surprises

Birthday Cupcake

Addy’s Linzer “Love” Cookie

Molly’s Victory-Garden Chocolate Ice Cream Flowerpot


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The table settings with menu.  The pink lemonade was from a mix, as I often find refrigerated pink lemonade is somewhat orangey.


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Every seat had a place setting for a doll, complete with a mini menu.


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These sticky cinnamon buns were a huge hit with the girls.  This is one thing on the menu you do not want to skip.


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Blueberry lemon scones – delicious plain, but heavenly with a dot of clotted cream.  If you cannot find it or want to save $7.50, just serve with butter.


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Banana macadamian nut mini muffins – moist and delicious!   The Irish Soda bread is lighter than my usual recipe and perfect with a little butter and a cup of tea.


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 These three kinds of tea sandwiches are pretty basic.  I used Pepperidge Farm thin slice bread, both white and wheat. 

  • Kit’s Garden-Party Sandwiches with vegetable cream cheese and cucumber:  I used Philadelphia Brand vegetable cream cheese, seedless cucumber thinly sliced on a mandolin, and a grape tomato on top. 

  • Kaya’s Egg-Salad Tea Sandwiches:  I make my egg salad with curry powder and dry mustard.  I also put alfalfa sprouts on top the egg salad for added freshness.

  • Felicity’s Patriotic Roasted Turkey Sandwiches with cranberry mayonnaise:  I boiled 1/2 C. of frozen whole cranberries in 1/2 C. of water and 4 Tbs. of sugar until the cranberries cracked and thickened.  After chopping, I threw these into a cup of mayonnaise and served with smoked turkey breast.  I cut small butterflies from cheddar cheese and placed these on top of each turkey sandwich.  Another variation would be to cut out stars and use flag toothpicks to skewer them together.


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 Iced sugar cookies in heart and star shapes.  One activity during the party was cookie decorating with plain sugar cookies and a variety of colored royal icing in small ziplock baggies with an end snipped off and various sprinkles.  Just be prepared to be sweeping up sprinkles for the next week.


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 Basic vanilla cupcakes with buttercream icing.


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Molly’s Victory-Garden Chocolate Ice Cream Flowerpot – This is a modification from the version served at the American Girl cafe.  I took the idea from the Pioneer Woman Cooks blog, substituting ice cream from chocolate mousse and a real flower instead of artificial.  One word of caution – do not place ice cream straight into the clay pot as it is not meant for food service.  I found small aluminum muffin tins that fit the pot like a glove.  This is a great make ahead part of the tea, and you simply take out the ice cream tins just before serving and place flower in the straw.  Let ice cream thaw a bit, otherwise you will have impenetrable ice cream and ground oreo dirt everywhere.

So now you too can throw an American Girl tea party that even the adults will love.    Be sure to have a pot of real tea on hand.



Showers of Happiness

June 2, 2008

I co-hosted a baby shower this past weekend, something I have done quite a few times during the past fifteen years.  Whether a bridal or baby shower, christening or any such celebration, the elements of a successful party are always the same.  You need:

  1. lots of delicious food
  2. attention paid to presentation and decor
  3. most importantly, people who love and wish the best for the guest of honor

Naturally, the menu is important, and a meager spread is a particular pet peeve of mine.  I was raised with the notion that if the table wasn’t groaning under the weight of the food atop it, it wasn’t a good party.  One doesn’t have to spend an exorbitant amount of money, but you do have to spend time planning a good menu, having a proper mix of low-cost items, low-effort foods, do-ahead dishes and perhaps one or two show-stoppers.

I am not a cake decorator, and as a result,  I’ve always been one to buy cakes for all the showers I’ve been in charge of.  I decided to make cupcakes for this shower since I’ve become a bit more emboldened thanks to this blog, and the mother-to-be had wanted cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery for her wedding (alas, it was not to be).  I’ve been trying out different chocolate cupcake recipes, and I’ve really like this one I’ve found on Recipezaar.  It’s very moist, uses basic ingredients, and doesn’t sink down in the middle as some cupcakes are prone to.

A basic chocolate glaze using melted high quality chocolate and heavy cream tops these delicious cupcakes.  I used rolled fondant and a mini onesie cookie cutter from Ebay to decorate these cupcakes with a baby boy theme. 

Moist Chocolate Cupcakes 

(Yield:  original recipe said 24, but I found it only made about 22)

1 1/2 cups flour

cup unsweetened cocoa

1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

teaspoon salt

cups sugar

3/4 cup hot water

3/4 cup milk

large egg

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325° F.   Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add sugar.  Turn the mixer on low and add, in order:  water, milk, eggs, oil and vanilla; scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat on medium briefly until smooth.

Scoop the batter into muffin tins lines with paper baking cups; each cup should be about 2/3rds full (maybe even slightly less than 2/3rds).   Do not over fill – 3/4ths full is too much!  Bake at 325° until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.


I also used a basic buttercream and fondant flowers as explained step-by-step in Cake Journal, along with a cupcake tower.

Vases of cut flowers from the garden (peonies, bleeding hearts and roses) add tasteful decorations to any gathering.  I try to use in-season fruit as much as possible, and June means strawberries in these parts.  Guylian Belgian chocolate and large sweet strawberries:  a perfect marriage.