What's the hottest place to host a birthday tea party? In Chicago, girls and their moms flock to the elegant cafe at American Girl Place, home of the American Girl collection of historic and contemporary dolls. The cafe offers a birthday luncheon of tea sandwiches, cake, chocolate mousse, and other delicacies in an ambiance geared to making the honored guest and her friends feel special. Girls are invited to bring along their favorite dolls, which are seated in miniature booster seats and "served" from tiny china plates and teacups.
A party like this -- which can be themed around favorite teddy bears, rescue heroes, or other playthings that are meaningful to your child -- lets the magic of make-believe come to life. "A favorite doll is a treasured friend and a playmate, so it's no surprise that a child would want to share her big day with her doll," says Kamille Adamany, director of the American Girl Cafe.
As American Girl prepares to open its second flagship store on Fifth Avenue in New York City this fall, Child traveled to Chicago for a birthday tea party with five excited 7- and 8-year-olds and their dolls. We picked up easy ideas parents can use to create a similar celebration at home.
At American Girl Place, tables are topped with white linens, china plates, fuchsia silk flowers, and flower-topped napkin rings. "It's sophisticated and yet fun and girl-centric," says Adamany. The cafe provides dolls for girls to choose as lunch partners if they didn't bring their own. As an ice-breaker, a small box of cards printed with thought-provoking questions like "What's the hardest thing you've ever done?" "Who would you want to star in a movie about your life?" and "How do you cheer yourself up when you're feeling down?" sits on each table. This simple game -- which can be reproduced at home with questions that appeal to either sex -- spurred a lively discussion about siblings, things to do that don't cost money, and more.
The cards inspired the girls to play several more guessing games while waiting for lunch and dessert to be served. They took turns describing favorite actors and singers for a celebrity "Who Am I?" game, then described the plot of favorite movies such as Toy Story and The Princess Diaries. The presence of the dolls also sparked conversation as the girls told one another their dolls' names and pretended to share the refreshments with them.
Even the simplest party fare feels fancy when it's cut into shapes and served on pretty platters. The cafe's tiered tray of tea treats includes scones and jam, chicken salad served in pastry boats, three-layer peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, old-fashioned cucumber sandwiches, and flower-shaped ham and cheese sandwiches. "Children are most comfortable with familiar foods, so we concentrate on creative presentation," says Adamany. For girls who prefer a regular lunch menu, the cafe offers pizzas decorated to look like a tic-tac-toe board and other clever entrees.
Of course, sweets are an important part of any celebration -- and at the American Girl Cafe, a birthday cake decorated with white and fuchsia icing is just the beginning: Guests sip hot cocoa and feast on petit fours, peppermint ice cream, lemon cookies, and chocolate mousse served in small flowerpots. "The girls always end up putting their flowers in their hair," says cafe manager Sophia Dalkos. When taking part in a similar party at home, children might enjoy having a teddy bear parade or doll fashion show, with awards given in categories such as dressiest, sportiest, and most original outfit. After the luncheon, guests wrote messages to the birthday child in an autograph book and took home goody bags containing a necklace and bracelet. (At-home favor ideas: a doll accessory, coin purse, key chain, or headband.) "We had so much fun!" the girls said, and they promised to get together with their dolls again soon.
Serves: 20 sconesPrep Time: 30 minutesCooking Time: 30 minutes
Preheat oven to 300°F.
Step 1: Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside. In a large bowl, use the paddle attachment of a mixer to beat together sugar and butter on medium speed until creamy. Add cream, eggs, sour cream, and cream cheese, mixing after each addition. Add flour mixture and blend on low speed for a few seconds until combined. Add blueberries and mix another few seconds until they are evenly distributed. Do not overmix.
Step 2: Place the dough on a floured surface. Cover top of the dough generously with flour and roll to 3/4" thickness. Using a round 3" cookie cutter, cut out the scones and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Combine the scraps, roll to 3/4" thickness, and cut more scones. Discard remaining dough, as it will be too tough from frequent handling to use. If desired, sprinkle brown sugar on top of scones before baking.
Step 3: Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the tops start to turn golden brown.
Each scone: 271 calories, 4 g protein, 31 g carbohydrate, 15 g fat (9 g saturated), 1 g fiber, 62 mg cholesterol, 64 mg calcium, 2 mg iron, 263 mg sodium.
Serves: 6Prep Time: 15 minutesCooking Time: 0 minutes
Step 1: In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients; mix well. Whisk together remaining ingredients as dressing; toss into salad. Serve in store-bought pastry shells, if desired.
Each serving: 278 calories, 15 g protein, 44 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat (1 g saturated), 3 g fiber, 32 mg cholesterol, 75 mg calcium, 2 mg iron, 598 mg sodium.
Serves: 36 cookiesPrep Time: 10 minutesCooking Time: 40 minutes
Step 1: In a medium bowl, beat together butter and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, corn syrup, and lemon extract. Stir in flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Cover dough and chill in refrigerator at least 1 hour.
Step 2: Preheat oven to 325°F. Remove dough from cooler and place on a well-floured work surface. Roll the dough out to approximately 1/4" thick. Using your favorite cookie cutter shape, cut cookies and place them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle remaining sugar on top of the cookies. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned.
Each cookie: 104 calories, 1 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 4 g fat (2 g saturated), 0 g fiber, 16 mg cholesterol, 8 mg calcium, 0 mg iron, 76 mg sodium.
Copyright @ 2003. Reprinted with permission from the September 2003 issue of Child Magazine.