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GOOD COOKING

Tea for 12

June 17, 1993|ABBY MANDEL

Teas are considered formal, elegant affairs. But in this season of graduations, engagements and showers, they lend themselves to easy entertaining.

Because teas are normally scheduled between 2 and 5 in the afternoon, there is a lot of flexibility in what you serve. More than dessert, finger sandwiches and scones are part of the table. If you want, the spread can constitute a light meal. Chilled sparkling wine, sparkling water and varied tea choices are appropriate beverages. Iced tea is an option in hot weather.

The format is flexible as well, allowing an easy out for those who want some festivity without all the service, place settings and effort. The tea table is typically set up as a buffet and the offerings are finger-type foods. With bite-size sandwiches, sweets and fruit, small plates can be provided but they are not required--dainty napkins can suffice. Certainly forks are unnecessary.

Recently, I went to a perfect tea at the Pelican Club in New Orleans hosted by partner/executive chef Richard Hughes. Each savory and sweet tasted as good as it looked, which, considering Hughes' reputation in the late '80s as executive chef at New York City's Memphis restaurant, came as no surprise.

Consider Hughes' recipes for a tea table for 12. The cucumber sandwiches and smoked salmon canapes are wonderful and not that time-consuming once all the components are ready to go. The Currant Scones are light and tender, even more delicious when spread with whipped cream and jam. The Lemon Curd Tartlets are just sweet enough.

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The sweetness of mascarpone cheese makes these canapes special. A lightly smoked salmon works best in this mild combination.

SMOKED SALMON CANAPES WITH MASCARPONE 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened 1/3 cup snipped chives 1/2 pound thinly sliced smoked salmon 1 cup mascarpone cheese 3 tablespoons chopped dill 36 (1-inch) rounds whole-wheat or pumpernickel bread Dill sprigs

Combine butter and chives. Roll bite-size pieces of smoked salmon into 1-inch-high cone shapes. Stir mascarpone cheese with chopped dill until fluffy. Fit pastry bag with fine tube. Fill pastry bag with dill cheese.

To assemble, spread chive butter on bread rounds. Place rolled salmon cones upright on bread rounds. Pipe dill cheese into center of each cone. Garnish with small dill sprigs. Can be made few hours in advance and refrigerated. Before serving, let stand briefly to remove chill. Makes 36 (1-inch) round canapes.

Each canape contains about: 50 calories; 173 mg sodium; 10 mg cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 4 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.12 gram fiber.

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Simple, refreshing cucumber sandwiches are ubiquitous on the tea table. Once you taste them, you'll know why they are always the most popular selection. For looks, dip one end of a sandwich into mayonnaise, then into minced fresh parsley.

CUCUMBER TEA SANDWICHES WITH TARRAGON BUTTER 1 large English cucumber, peeled, sliced paper-thin 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons white vinegar 1 cup unsalted butter, softened 1/4 cup minced fresh tarragon 1/4 cup minced fresh chervil 30 thin slices whole-wheat bread, enough to make 72 (2x4-inch) rectangles Watercress leaves, optional

Put cucumber slices in large bowl. Toss with salt. Sprinkle with vinegar. Toss to mix well. Let stand 1 hour. Drain well in colander.

Combine butter, tarragon and chervil.

To assemble, spread butter over 1 side of each bread slice. Cover 15 slices with cucumbers, dividing evenly.

Close sandwiches. Trim crusts. Cut into 36 (2x4-inch) rectangles. Can be made few hours in advance, kept at room temperature. Cover with slightly dampened kitchen towel until ready to serve. Arrange on platter, garnished with watercress leaves. Makes 36 rectangles.

Each rectangle contains about: 75 calories; 96 mg sodium; 14 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 6 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.24 gram fiber.

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These scones melt in your mouth. Be careful not to overbake them; just let them turn golden.

CURRANT SCONES 3 1/2 cups flour 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder 3 tablespoons sugar 1 1/4 teaspoons salt 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled 4 large eggs 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whipping cream 1 cup currants 2 tablespoons powdered sugar Slightly sweetened whipped cream, optional Raspberry jam, optional

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in large bowl. Cut butter into small chunks. Add to flour. Cut butter into flour with pastry blender or 2 knives until butter is size of small peas.

Combine eggs and 3/4 cup whipping cream in small bowl. Use fork to mix well. Make well in flour mixture. Pour liquid into well. Mix until all ingredients are combined. If dough is too dry, use remaining 2 tablespoons whipping cream as needed. Fold in currants. Handle dough as little as possible. Chill dough 1 hour.

On lightly floured work surface, pat dough until 3/4-inch thick. Cut with 2-inch round cutter.

Grease 2 baking sheets. Sprinkle lightly with water. Shake off excess water. Place scones on baking sheets.

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