It all began with a Battenberg cake. Madeline Kiss launched her baking business Madeline the Baker out of Sag Harbor in winter 2021 after testing a new recipe for the traditional British dessert. A Battenberg is made with colored almond sponge cake arranged in a checkerboard pattern, sandwiched by jam, and wrapped in marzipan. The first one was baked in 1884 for the royal wedding of Prince Louis of Battenberg to Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Victoria.
“I love baking treats I can pair with my evening tea, and though I’d never seen a Battenberg before, I thought I’d give it a shot. It came out looking great, and tasting delicious, like a petit four,” said Kiss. After handing off pieces to friends for a taste test, they insisted she start selling them.
Her Battenberg cakes are unique in that they come painted in floral designs, like lavender, roses, grapevines, hydrangeas, and violets—resembling elegant pastel Limoges jewel boxes. The painted aspect, however, was an afterthought. “When I was preparing my first sold Battenberg for a customer, it looked so plain and boring with the uncolored marzipan wrapping, so my mother—a painter—suggested I paint it with food dye,” said Kiss.
From there, she developed the rest of her menu by choosing unique bakes that people couldn’t easily find elsewhere like Dainty Pies and Hazelnut Ricotta Cheesecakes. She also spent time honing the look and feel of the bakery’s Instagram page @madelinethebaker. “I’ve always embraced an old-fashioned, kind of posh, aesthetic and pulled from my favorite artistic and cultural themes—be that 1960’s London Mod style, a Sargent painting, or 1820’s Regency fashion. Being stuck inside for the past year, I really wanted to embrace escapism and capture the fantasy of bygone dinner parties and celebrations with friends,” Kiss said.
“The social aspect of food was one of the things I missed most in isolation. I wanted to create a bite-sized version of that culinary joy, aesthetic, and sociality for people to feel like they were sharing in once again,” Kiss added.
Madeline the Baker’s menu celebrates the founder’s love of tea. “I savor my evening teatime ritual every night before bed and I curate the look and taste of my cakes, cookies, and tarts around a teatime aesthetic. I tend to choose the flavors to pair with my favorite Mariage Fréres tea blends,” she said.
Below, Kiss shares her guide to throwing a perfect tea party and which teas to pair with her decadent treats.
Madeline the Baker’s Guide to the Perfect Tea Party
Planning the Menu
My favorite teatime treats from my menu are the Battenberg (it’s very confectionary and makes for a great centerpiece), iced lemon poppy seed tea cakes, pear pies, and Linzer cookie tarts. They each look delightful and pair well with both black and green teas, offering a delicious yet delicate sweet treat.
Setting the Table
For an outdoor tea party, be sure to use your favorite patterned tablecloth and your favorite tea set. I love to use a poppy patterned cotton tablecloth I picked up at a store along the Arno in Florence or a French striped cotton towel. I inherited a navy and gold motif china set from my grandmother that I love to use for company, and I’ll alternate it with a more art deco styled lidded teacup and saucer from Richard Ginori. If you’re heading out to a park or the beach, simplify things by bringing along an insulated thermos of tea instead of a teapot. When I’m at home, I have a lovely antique silver tea service with a suspended candle-heater that keeps the teapot hot and ready to serve.Last, but not least, a paper parasol is never out of place during the warm months.
Selecting Your Tea
I’m partial to the brand Mariage Fréres. My absolute favorite is their Wedding Imperial blend. It has luxuriously comforting notes of caramel and vanilla. Nothing relaxes me like a well-steeped cup of Wedding Imperial with a dollop of milk. A few more favorites that I like to alternate between are: Ruschka, Russian Breakfast Tea, Tokyo Breakfast Tea (I’m a sucker for anything yuzu flavored), and Madame Butterfly as an extra-special treat. Of course, if you’re throwing a tea party, it’s never a bad idea to bring along something bubbly as well!
My go-to is an Ella Fitzgerald radio playlist on Spotify. When I’m in a more classical mood, I’ll put on some Mozart, Sibelius, or Mahler. For a more contemporary vibe, I turn to a “Pink Panther Penthouse” album my parents had when I was a kid that I loved. Below are links to some of my favorite Spotify playlists.
Creating the Ambiance
The key to a good tea party is the ambiance. If you are heading to the beach or park, don’t be afraid to bring along your favorite dishware (wrap it in a dish towel to avoid chipping), and a few cushions for some extra comfort. If you can’t invite a few friends to lounge and chat with, it’s the perfect opportunity to get lost in a good book. Lately, during these end stages of quarantine, I’ve been enjoying picnicking at the Amagansett green and reading “The Magic Mountain” [Thomas Mann] or catching up on The Economist. Let yourself get lost in the comforting flavors of your tea and treats, listen to the birds chirping, and let yourself savor the little, delicious joys of life. If there’s anything this year has taught us, it is to appreciate the delights each day has to offer and treat ourselves to the life we want to live!
Orders for pickup or delivery can be placed on her Instagram page @madelinethebaker by direct message.
[Photos via @madelinethebaker]