a spot of downton tea with rock cakes

Good Morning!

You’re just in time to join us for some freshly baked rock cakes and a bracing cup of Downton Abbey® Grantham Breakfast Blend. Would you like yours with a splash of honey and almond milk?

Better to stay indoors and chat about Downton than brave the winter of our discontent, which just keeps “gifting us” with more snow, ice, bitter winds, traffic snarls, school closings and slushy messes. We are definitely NOT amused.

Tea and Downton, Downton and tea, what would we do without you?

So, what do you think of Season 4 now that we’re about half way through?

I know some Downton fans have jumped ship — angry and disappointed with Julian Fellowes for the shocking storyline about Anna. Words like “exploitative,” “gratuitous,” “implausible,” and “manipulative” have been bandied about.

For those who have viewed Downton as a means of gentle escapism, this was simply the last straw, some saying the attack on Anna was an assault on the series itself, definitely marking a turning point for better or worse. A devastating turn of events to be sure, with Joanne Froggatt turning in a brilliant performance. It’s interesting how this plotline is unfolding — Bates must temper his smoldering rage with genuine care and concern for Anna. What repercussions? Will justice be served?

© Carnival/ITV

Meanwhile, I’m loving Mrs. Hughes for putting scheming Edna in her place and for how she handled telling Bates about Anna. So relieved Nanny West was sacked (weirdo).

© Carnival/ITV

I’m irritated with Jimmy at this point, and weary of sad sack Molesley, but you have to admit he provides welcome comic relief. Nice exchanges between frenemies Violet and Isobel, a little too convenient that Napier shows up right after Mary turns down Gillingham, I’m worried about Edith, always interesting to guess at Barrow’s mischief, and (gasp!) Rose carrying on with a black jazz singer! As usual, really loving what’s cookin’ in the kitchen. Lots going on in this time of great change for upstairs and down.

© Carnival/ITV


Did you notice the first food to appear in Episode 1 was a cup of tea? Mrs. Hughes serves a good morning cuppa to Robert in bed as a dismayed Cora talks about O’Brien’s sudden departure.

Love how Lady Mary instinctively rings for tea when suitors Lord Gillingham and Evelyn Napier come calling, how Tom Branson hands her a nice cuppa while encouraging her to take up a hobby, and there’s also Rose convincing Anna to accompany her to a tea dance in York. And how about that wonderful scene in the Great Hall with all the dinner guests chit chatting, cups and saucers in hand?

© Carnival/ITV

It’s been wonderful seeing Alfred prepare for his Ritz cooking test (hooray for béchamel and pâte à choux, c’est dommage about the vichyssoise). Lovely to see Mrs. Patmore, Carson and Mrs. Hughes all encouraging him, Daisy helping him out — but poor girl, he’s leaving after all. I really feel for her and only wish it had been possible back then for her to pursue a chef’s career too. Imagine the fun she and Alfred could have in London — as fellow apprentice chefs and friends, then maybe something more? Sigh.

The props people found the mixer on Ebay and had it fully refurbished. © Carnival/ITV
© Carnival/ITV

Though it might be fun to be served a fancy meal upstairs, I can better picture myself in the servant’s hall, helping myself to a piece of cheese and a thick slice of bread, sipping tea from a white cup and saucer. I’d reassure Mrs. Patmore that an electric mixer and refrigerator are godsends that don’t replace cooks but make their jobs so much easier.🙂

Behind the Scenes

Love reading in the Season 4 companion book about how food economist Lisa Heathcote prepares her works of edible art for the series. All the beautiful still photos allow me to pore over the fascinating set details and props (wonderful mixing bowls, egg rack, copper pots, salt cellars, gorgeous silver trays, crystal, Spode bone china).

Lisa Heathcote is the food economist for the series.

Lisa has to make sure everything will stand up to hours of filming under hot lights, and she has to prepare massive quantities of food for repeated takes. It’s also crucial to maintain a sense of continuity with what’s being cooked downstairs and what appears on the table upstairs, and when scenes are filmed weeks apart, she must recreate the dishes to look exactly the same.

If the Crawleys have lamb chops, says Heathcote, ‘I’ll probably cook 80, because they’ll have to eat them and push them around the plate, and then they start to look a bit sad.’

Set photography by Nick Briggs, © Carnival/ITV

I am reminded of how hard servants worked in the kitchen back then (long 12-14 hour days) to produce 8(!) meals a day. Even more hectic when there’s a big dinner party (no wonder Mrs. Patmore succumbed to the stress). Just scrubbing all those pots and washing the crystal and china by hand would be a huge amount of work!

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Do you like rock cakes?

I remember having them in a few tea shops when I lived in London ages ago, so happy to find a box mix so I could make them in my tiny kitchen.

I made them from scratch for the first time the other day, using Pamela Foster’s recipe at Downton Abbey Cooks. What’s lovely about these traditional scone-like cakes is you can control the overall sweetness by the type(s) of dried fruit you add, and whether you choose to sprinkle or not sprinkle Demerara (dark brown) sugar on top before baking.

Contrary to their name, they may look like craggy rocks, but they aren’t hard or heavy in the least (sorry, Hagrid). Mine turned out nice and light with a velvety crumb — I’m sure this had something to do with how I rubbed the butter and flour together with my dancing fingertips. Did I mention I have the magic of fairies and hummingbirds in my thumbs?🙂

My dried fruits of choice were a combination of golden raisins and Newman’s Own Organic Cranberries. Regular raisins are always too sweet for me, and I was too lazy to dice apricots. It worked out very well as my cakes were absolutely heavenly eaten warm from the oven. Gobbled up the few that were left for breakfast the next morning ( I think Harry Potter would approve).

I imagine Mrs. Patmore or Daisy could whip up a big batch of these in her sleep. They’d better stock up on currants now that Mary is attracting handsome suitors like flies, and poor Edith will be eating for two.

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(makes 12)

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) soft butter or margarine
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup mixed dried fruits (i.e., currants, raisins, diced apricots)
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1-3 tablespoons milk
  • dark brown sugar for sprinkling
  • oil for greasing

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Mix flour and baking powder into a large baking bowl, add the softened butter or margarine, and lightly rub together with fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

3. Add the sugar and the dried fruit and mix so all ingredients are well incorporated.

4. Add the egg and 1 tablespoon of the milk and mix to create a stiff dough. If the mixture is still dry add milk a tablespoon at a time until required consistency.

5. Lightly grease two baking sheets or line with parchment paper.

6. Using a tablespoon divide the mixture into 12 mounds evenly spaced on the 2 baking sheets (you can also use a small ice cream scoop).

7. Sprinkle with dark brown sugar.

8. Bake in the preheated oven for about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and well risen.

~Adapted from Downton Abbey Cooks by Pamela Foster. Click here to see the original recipe + fabulous tea time tips.

*A recipe for Rock Cakes can also be found in Pamela’s eCookbook, Abbey Cooks Entertain.

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Have you had a chance to sample today’s Downton Abbey® Grantham Breakfast Blend?

Full-bodied, malty, organic Assam black tea is infused with the spicy flavor of organic ginger root. Try with a splash of warm milk and sweetener for a flavor reminiscent of traditional sticky ginger pudding. This energizing tea is perfect for an early morning foxhunt or preparing for the dramas of the day.

The Republic of Tea actually produces three Limited Edition Downton teas. We’ll try the English Rose next time. The Estate Blend is only available via Cost Plus World Market. The GBB and ER can be ordered via The Republic of Tea or the PBS Shop (beware the sellers on Amazon who have listed them for twice the retail price).

Would love to chat more, but need to go polish my tiara. Have a lovely week!🙂

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wkendcookingiconThis post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Check out all the delicious recipes, reviews, musings and photos!


Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

49 thoughts on “a spot of downton tea with rock cakes

  1. I’ll finish watching the series tonight–couldn’t wait for the weekly episodes and got the DVD as soon as Amazon could send it to me! No spoilers here, except–no, won’t do it! Gorgeous and informative post and just what we need this winter. It’s summer in Downton and they are wearing lovely pastel slip dresses while they have their tea. If I could come out of even one layer, I’d send up a flare!

    Love the tea blends!!! And thanks so much for telling us where to get them (and not get skizzled on Amazon).


    1. Hey, no fair skipping ahead! I kind of like waiting and building up the anticipation each week. I watch Sunday night, and then again Monday afternoons — I always pick up more details the second time around. Even though I may not always agree with what’s happening in the plot, they do such a great job at historical accuracy. It’s beautiful to watch and I like dreaming about having servants.🙂


  2. The rock cakes look beautiful! I admit I fast-forwarded through two episodes this season but am slowing down again, and I think your post might bring me back to the well. At any rate, I just ordered a couple of those teas for birthday gifts, so thanks for the heads up on that!!


    1. I think things picked up in this past Sunday’s episode. Now I can’t wait to see what happens with Edith.

      The teas are a lot of fun. Cost Plus also sold Downton teacups and saucers and biscuits and Christmas ornaments over the holidays. Have you seen the DA Jewellery Collection? I haven’t seen any of the pieces in person — they’re affordable costume jewelry for when you want to play dress up. Kind of a cute birthday/V-day gift idea for DA fans.🙂


  3. What a delightful post to start my morning with! Your dancing fingers with their magic of fairies and hummingbirds not only whip up velvety rock cakes, but type up heartwarming (and belly warming) posts. We have been enjoying Downton Abbey here as well, accepting it for what it is- a magnificent soap opera, and as you say, pure escapism. Thanks for the recap!


    1. Yes, even Lord Fellowes doesn’t mind calling it a soap opera, a lavish and magnificent one, but still a soap opera.

      Speaking of magic dancing fingers — you have those and then some with your beautiful words and artwork. Have a lovely Downton-inspired week, Iza.🙂

      Re. the tiara: We run a low-budget abbey around here. Cornelius says it’s beneath him to polish anything, so I’m on my own.


  4. I’m not only impressed with your luscious rock cakes, but the fact that you cleaned off your buttery fingers and snapped photos of the preparation to share with us. Well done!

    I’m secretly worried that Branson will be pressured to marry Edith on the quick to keep everything respectable. Did he hint this week that he wouldn’t find another Earl’s daughter to fall in love with him?


    1. Oh, thank you for acknowledging that! I really need someone to take pictures for me. Stopping to take a picture during the process can be tricky with sticky, greasy fingers.

      Yes, I remember Branson’s remark. I don’t think the Crawleys could stand to have two daughters hooked up with a chauffeur. I’m thinking maybe Edith will miscarry? She’s so unlucky with everything that if Michael deserts her she won’t even have his child to remember him by? (That’s my tragic/pessimistic view of things.) All the stress of worrying about him could cause her to lose the baby . . .


  5. Oh, no, Cathy, I thought that bit of foreshadowing had to do with Tom and Lady Mary! Poor Edith. She’s been assigned the sh*itty end of the stick too often. It’s about time she got a break, but a loveless marriage with a brother-in-law, isn’t it!


    1. I couldn’t see Tom with either Mary or Edith (big ewwww factor either way). It will definitely be interesting to see what happens to Edith. Is Michael a spy?


      1. Oh – hadn’t thought of him as a spy! Good question!

        I discounted Tom and Mary becoming a pair after the touching scene where they were reminiscing with Isobel about being so deeply in love with their lost true loves. Such a sweet moment!


  6. Yum! Those rock cakes do look wonderful! I made scones not long ago and added raspberries. Since I love sweetness, I added butter to my fresh-from-the-oven breakfast to make sure the sprinkled vanilla sugar stuck to the top🙂

    I was thinking the reference was to Tom ending up with Mary, also. But that just isn’t a good storyline. And certainly not with Edith…not a match at all. I agree that either has the big ewwww factor. I’m enjoying the season despite Anna’s assault which broke my heart.


    1. Yum, raspberry scones with vanilla sugar🙂. My kind of breakfast!

      Yes, the whole Anna thing was heartbreaking, still is. From a writer’s point of view, I think it just gave Fellowes so much to work with down the line. Viewers were shocked by the attack, the likes of which probably happened more frequently in those kinds of situations than we’d like to think. But if we audience members can accept men killed in battle, a woman dying after childbirth, another killed off by the Spanish flu, and a freakish auto accident, we should be able to take this in our stride — yet somehow because it was Anna, it was just too devastating.


    1. They’re kind of like scones but not quite. Maybe it has something to do with how you bake them, making them like tender drop biscuits, rather than patting the dough into a circle and cutting sections, or using a biscuit cutter. It’s definitely not the most flattering name for something that tastes so good.🙂


  7. Thanks for all the spoilers lol. I really must crack on and watch some more I’ve barely started. Those scones look delish!


  8. I thought perhaps with the Germany angle they’d turn poor Edith into a Unity Mitford type character. But that would be another show altogether, I suppose. (I’m thinking of the not very good … er, well, actually quite horrible … last season of the renewed Upstairs, Downstairs.) There’s much to complain about this DA season, as always, but there have been some nice moments. Now, pass those rock cakes, please.🙂


    1. Hmmm, Edith as a Unity Mitford character would definitely be interesting! I couldn’t bear to watch the new Upstairs, Downstairs. I loved the original version so much it seemed sacrilege to mess with it in any way.

      As for the new DA season, you’re right — there have been some nice moments. Probably more implausible than Anna being attacked is Bates’s acceptance that she “just fell” right afterwards. The sniping between them that preceded the attack was out of character for them as a couple too.


  9. Oh gosh!! Two books I must, must own!! What a fascinating post about the kitchens of Downton — I’m always thinking about how awfully hard it must have been to work in the kitchens of a great house — especially before electrical appliances.

    And now I have to track down those teas — what fun to have those canisters.

    And, of course, I have to make the rock cakes to go with.

    Can’t wait to see what happens with Downton.


    1. I definitely have renewed respect for those servants without electrical appliances (we are so spoiled now) — and standing on those hard stone tile floors for hours on end without kitchen clogs!

      The tea canisters are wonderful keepsakes.🙂


  10. I love rock cakes but haven’t made them in a while, so thanks for reminding me and for the recipe, which I am going to try this weekend, especially since I have some of the Downton tea on hand. And thanks for such an in-depth look at Downton from the book. I am totally hooked on Downton.


    1. Another Downton fan — yay! Wish I could eat those rock cakes every week — but with a full stick of butter in the recipe, it’ll be saved for occasional treats only.

      Are you also hooked on Call the Midwife? Love that series too and can’t wait for the new season.


    1. Sorry to hear that, Esme! It must have been doubly disturbing for you. I hope that Lord Fellowes does handle the consequences and outcome of that particular plot line with sensitivity and doesn’t tie everything up into a neat package in an unrealistic way.


  11. I am sticking with Downton – I hear from friends in the UK that the season is worth watching all the way through and Fellowes redeems himself. Love all the recaps you have provided in this post and the behind the scenes peeks!


    1. So glad and relieved to hear that — thanks for passing that on. Though I was shocked and dismayed, I never considered not watching the series anymore. I *am* very curious to see how things work out in the end.


  12. I am loving the scenes between Isobel and Violet and the scene where alfred said how much Carson helped him was so sweet. Your rock cakes look delicious, I am going to have try them with my tea. I so enjoyed your post this week!


    1. Yes, that was very touching when Alfred thanked the family before he left. I felt badly for poor Daisy. Despite being at odds much of the time, Violet has been very comforting and understanding towards Isobel. Enjoy the rock cakes!


  13. I’ve never had rock cakes before, but they sound very good. It’s amazing how much work goes into producing TV shows.


    1. I imagine these period programs are a lot more expensive to produce because of all the costumes and props they need. It must be fun to be a set decorator or historical consultant for this series. I read somewhere that it costs about one million pounds per episode.


  14. What fun! Downton Abbey showed up in my Weekend Cooking post today, too. If you lived near me, right about now I would be talking you into taking the course called “The Unofficial Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea” with me.


    1. If you can rent the early seasons of Downton Abbey, it’s well worth it. Rock Cakes don’t have the best name, but they’re yummy just the same.🙂


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