“Are we going to have tea, or not?” ~ Violet, the Dowager Countess
Yes, we are definitely having tea today, along with a couple of treats from The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines (Adams Media, 2012)!
Thank goodness Season 3 is finally underway, as I was suffering from extreme DA withdrawal for the last several months. So thrilled that the always brilliant Dame Maggie Smith won a Golden Globe on Sunday, that Mrs. Hughes is okay, and that the Crawleys don’t have to sell the Abbey after all. I’m also crushing on Thomas after seeing Rob James-Collier on numerous talk shows — his character may be slick-haired surly and restrained, but when he smiles in real life — hubba hubba!
Naturally I love the kitchen and dining room scenes best — I watch each episode numerous times not only to carefully note what the characters are eating, but to study the cooking utensils, crockery, and elaborate table settings and centerpieces. It must be a set designer’s dream to work on the show; sparing no expense in the name of authenticity, the production team supposedly spends about £1 million per episode scouring vintage markets and costume houses. And did you know they’re planning to start selling Downton Abbey branded kitchenware and household furnishings sometime later this year? I’d love a Mrs. Patmore cake tin or mixing bowl :).
I’ve really enjoyed learning a bit more about Victorian and Edwardian cooking in Ms. Baines’s book. While I wouldn’t attempt (or couldn’t find the ingredients for) some of the fancier period dishes like Regal Veal Prince Orloff, Squab with Fig Foie Gras, or the Countess of Grantham’s Moules en Sauce, I’m looking forward to trying some of the soups (for Upstairs: Velvety Cream of Mushroom, Creamy Butternut Squash, Cream of Asparagus; for Downstairs: Split Pea, Rejuvenating Beef Stew, Soupe a l’Oignon), as well as several of the desserts (Dark Desires Chocolate Cake, Sir Anthony’s Apple Charlotte, Raspberry Meringue Pie).
Since January is Hot Tea Month, I decided to first try out a couple of afternoon tea recipes: Sweet Brown Sugar Shortbread and Sweet Cream Scones. Both were tasty and easy to make; both held surprises.
The brown sugar shortbread didn’t turn out to be the shortbread cookie I expected — it was chewy and cakey instead of crispy, reminding me a little of the date bars I like to make without the dates. The recipe calls for 2 cups of sugar, which sounds a little alarming, but amazingly the end product wasn’t terribly over sweet and would make a novel addition to any tea tray.
The Sweet Cream Scones were yummy — great flavor, not dry or crumbly like some, but gigantic! I usually follow a recipe exactly the first time I make it — and this one says to pat the dough into a 3/4″ thick round, then cut into 12 wedges before baking. This is a substantial recipe (4 cups flour), making a lot of scones, and the wedges were like big slices of pie. Next time I will use a round biscuit cutter to make them easier to split, slather with clotted cream and jam, and devour :). Instead of heavy cream, sour cream is added to the dough for a lusciously rich moistness. There’s really nothing like your favorite cuppa and warm scone, so cozy and satisfying; I’d forego all other fancy teatime treats for these alone.
The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook contains 150+ recipes, eight courses worth of elegant “upstairs” dishes (many with a Frenchy flair), an afternoon tea menu, as well as hearty “below-stairs” British favorites for breakfast, lunch and supper, like Spicy Pub Fish and Chips, Classic Cornish Pasty, Shepherd’s Pie, Pub Grub Bangers and Mash, Bubble and Squeak.
Make no mistake, vegetables seem few and far between, with an emphasis on meats and starches. Sprinkled throughout are Suggested Pairings, Etiquette Lessons, and Times Gone By (tasty historical tidbits). It’s a curious mix of difficult and doable recipes, some more for historical interest than practical use. The book also doesn’t contain any photos of finished recipes, but for fans of the show looking for Downton Abbey-themed party ideas, or who like imagining what their favorite characters might like to eat, this may fit the bill.
♥ SWEET BROWN SUGAR SHORTBREAD ♥
(makes 24 squares)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups dark brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs, room temperature
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange juice
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with vegetable oil and set aside.
2. Using an electric mixer, cream butter and brown sugar together in a large bowl until fully combined, at least 5 minutes. Add one egg at a time and continue to mix until light and fluffy.
3. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add dry mixture to the creamed mixture and, using the electric mixer, mix until smooth. Blend in the vanilla and orange juice, mixing thoroughly.
4. Slowly pour batter into greased pan, spreading mixture evenly. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
5. Let shortbread cool for at least 15 minutes, then cut into squares.
~ from The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook: from Lady Mary’s Crab Canapés to Mrs. Patmore’s Christmas Pudding – More than 150 Recipes – from Upstairs and Downstairs by Emily Ansara Baines (Adams Media, 2012)
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♥ SWEET CREAM SCONES ♥
(Yield: 1 dozen scones)
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups all purpose flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into pieces
1 egg, at room temperature
Heavy cream for brushing
Granulated sugar for sprinkling
1. Blend sour cream, vanilla extract, and baking soda together in a small bowl. Set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a large baking sheet.
3. In a large bowl, blend together flour, sugar, baking powder, cream of tartar, and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Stir in sour cream mixture and egg until just barely moistened.
4. Turn dough out onto a slightly floured surface, kneading briefly. Pat dough out into a 3/4-inch-thick round. Cut into 12 wedges and place them 2-3 inches apart on the greased baking sheet. Lightly brush with cream, then sprinkle with granulated sugar.
5. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom.
~ from The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook: from Lady Mary’s Crab Canapés to Mrs. Patmore’s Christmas Pudding – More than 150 Recipes – from Upstairs and Downstairs (Adams Media, 2012)
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Well, Sunday is only a few days away, and I’m anxious to see what happens next. While Thomas is very easy on the eyes, I’m also quite fond of Daisy, a wholly endearing character who’s really coming into her own, and I always love to see Mrs. Patmore, who reminds me of one of my aunts.
Alfred is certainly refreshing — I laughed when he called Martha Levinson a “gob” who’d eat anything. Very telling that he preferred cheese to any of the showy appetizers Mrs. Patmore had prepared for Edith’s wedding reception. Wasn’t it cool that Martha suggested an indoor picnic when the stove went down?
I also like that the Crawleys are often shown eating soup in the dining room; it was the perfect comfort food to help them “recover” from Edith’s wedding fiasco. I always hope to spot one of the actors incorrectly scooping soup toward themselves instead of away. Have you noticed any table etiquette faux pas? And have you ever wondered whether Lesley Nicol, who plays Mrs. Patmore, can really cook? Find out in this interview (Phyllis Logan, who plays Mrs. Hughes, looks so different in real life):
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Next, I’d like to try one of Pamela Foster’s recipes, since I so enjoy her wonderful Downton Abbey Cooks blog. She recently published an eCookbook, Abbey Cooks Entertain, which contains 220 recipes with color photos (I think a lot of us wish this were also available in print format). She has an excellent Online Guide to Afternoon Tea at her site, and does “Tea Tuesday” every week. Check out this recipe for Treacle Tarts, the first food consumed in Season 3 (did you see Thomas lapping it up in the servants hall?).
Well, I could go on and on, but as the Dowager Countess Violet says, “At my age, one must ration one’s excitement.”
Till next time.
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This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Twirl your parasols, sip from your finest china and join the fun!
Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.