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A Cup of Tea on A Cold Afternoon

February 08, 1996|ABBY MANDEL

When spring seems a long way off, a warm, comforting brew can make the long, gray days of winter less dreary.

I'm talking about the old-fashioned custom of tea. It's rare these days to stop and enjoy a cozy afternoon tea, but this is the perfect season to reacquaint ourselves with this indulgent practice.

Hot cranberry tea boasts just the right combination of tart cranberry juice and tangy orange to make it invigorating. If it's not your cup of tea, try hot spiced apple cider. Good, fresh apple cider needs only a cinnamon stick and sliced fresh ginger to bring it up to the tea plate.

Tea requires a sweet nibble, and a cinnamon tea cake more than fulfills that need. Both drinks go well with it.

Although these drinks are best enjoyed at home in the late afternoon (put your feet up, slow down and enjoy), they'd hold up well in a thermos for a pick-me-up in the office. Fortunately, for when warmer weather returns, they're also refreshing served chilled.

HOT CRANBERRY TEA

Although I'm a passionate coffee drinker, I find this brew to be just the right buffer to a long winter day. Mincing the sugar with the orange zest gives the tea just the right tang. The orange sugar is delicious in many tea and fruit drinks.

2 cups water

2 orange pekoe tea bags

1/2 cup sugar

Zest of 1 orange, about 1 1/2 tablespoons

2 cups cranberry juice cocktail

6 whole allspice berries

Bring water to boil. Pour over tea bags and steep, covered, about 30 minutes. Remove tea bags.

Grind sugar and zest in blender or small food processor fitted with metal blade. Set aside.

Bring cranberry juice, tea and allspice to boil in 2-quart nonaluminum saucepan. Add 1/4 cup orange sugar (reserve remaining sugar for future use). Return to boil. Stir well. Remove allspice berries. Serve hot. Tea may also be chilled several hours or overnight. Serve chilled over ice.

Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

169 calories; 6 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 44 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0 fiber.

HOT SPICED APPLE CIDER

Fortunately, many markets have fresh apple cider on their refrigerator shelves. It's much more satisfying in this drink than apple juice.

5 cups apple cider

2 tablespoons thin-sliced ginger root

4 cinnamon sticks

Bring cider, ginger and cinnamon to boil in 1 1/2-quart nonaluminum saucepan. Simmer, covered, 5 minutes. Strain through fine sieve or coffee filter, reserving cinnamon sticks.

Serve hot, placing cinnamon stick in each cup. Cider may be served chilled. Strain as directed and chill several hours or as long as overnight. Serve chilled with cinnamon sticks.

Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

169 calories; 1 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 4 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.07 gram fiber.

TEA CAKE WITH CRACKLY CINNAMON

This is one of those addictive plain cakes, especially when it's served slightly warmed. The saving grace is that it cuts neatly into very small wedges.

3/4 cup light sour cream

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 cup butter, softened

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Combine sour cream and baking soda in measuring cup. Set aside until mixture thickens and froths slightly, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon in small dish. Set aside.

Use mixer to cream remaining 1/2 cup sugar and softened butter. Add eggs, vanilla and sour cream mixture. Mix until well combined, scraping down sides of mixer once midway through process. Add flour, baking powder and salt. Mix until just combined. Mixture will be thick.

Spread batter evenly with spatula over bottom of lightly greased 9-inch springform pan. Sprinkle surface evenly with reserved cinnamon sugar mixture. Dribble melted butter over sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes. Can be made ahead and left at room temperature overnight, or frozen up to 2 months, wrapped airtight.

To serve, remove collar from springform and carefully use metal spatula to remove cake from bottom of pan. Serve warm. Gently reheat on low power in a microwave oven or in a 350-degree oven until just warm, not hot. Cut into wedges.

Makes 6 to 10 servings.

Each of 6 servings contains about:

465 calories; 406 mg sodium; 122 mg cholesterol; 21 grams fat; 63 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 0.07 gram fiber.

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