Food & Drink

Serve afternoon tea, the 'Downton Abbey' way

Sweet Cream Scones with the Countess' Lemon Curd.
Sweet Cream Scones with the Countess' Lemon Curd. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

If you're a fan of "Downton Abbey," chances are you're soon to be in a funk.

After six seasons, PBS's "Masterpiece" series will air its series finale on Sunday, leaving scores of Anglophiles crying in their crumpets.

It's been a long, slow ride where -- admit it -- it sometimes feels like nothing ever happens at the Crawley family's Yorkshire country estate. Lord Grantham, in particular, is so stuffy and boring that I wasn't even sure he had warm blood running through his veins until he spit up a ton of it, all over the dining room table, no less, in a recent episode. Finally, he showed some signs of life.

But at least the family seems to eat well, thanks to the culinary prowess of Mrs. Patmore and her kitchen maid-turned-assistant cook Daisy Mason. As related by Emily Ansara Baines in "The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook," one of several cookbooks and blogs devoted to the food from the Edwardian days. For its evening meal, the family could expect anywhere from eight to 13 courses, depending on the occasion and time period. (The show kicked off in 1912 and ends in 1925.) And that's not counting the "removes" served between the heavier courses.

It wasn't so grand in the downstairs kitchen, of course, but like their moneyed employers, the servants at least got to enjoy a nice spot of tea whenever they weren't polishing shoes or helping the ladies undress after service, or standing at rapt attention in the dining room during those hours-long meals.

Hmm, tea. Is there anything more warming when it's bitterly cold outside, and you need a quick pick-me-up? Or anything more British than the mini-meal known as afternoon tea that goes with it?

In that spirit, we thought it would be fun to offer a do-it-yourself afternoon tea (sometimes known, incorrectly, as high tea), for your final episode viewing party. Even though on a Sunday night, when the show airs, it's more likely Mary, Edith and the rest of the clan would just be sitting down to a gut-busting, sumptuous dinner.

Typically served between 3 and 5 p.m., Baines writes, afternoon teas was "not nearly as low-key as it sounds." Along with the title beverage, the menu would include an array of dainty, crustless finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream or fruit jam, biscuits, pastries, cakes and maybe even meat dishes, along with bread and cheese.

In homes such as the Crawleys, it was always served in the drawing room on fine china, with Earl Grey flowing from a silver tea service. This is where life events such as marriage were proposed, after all. We think it's perfectly fine to set it up on your living room coffee table, within easy viewing distance of the TV, so long as you keep in mind that a proper cup of tea is NEVER served in paper or plastic.

With Netflix, it's possible to get your "Downton Abbey" fix whenever you want. But also keep in mind that executive producer Gareth Neame hasn't ruled out a "Downton" movie for the big screen.


Sweet Cream Scones

1 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla

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 salt

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces

1 egg, at room temperature

Heavy cream, for brushing

Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Makes 24.

Blend sour cream, vanilla and baking soda together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a large baking sheet.

In 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.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, kneading briefly. Pat dough out into 2 3/4-inch-thick rounds. Cut each round into 12 wedges and place them 2 to 3 inches apart on the greased baking sheet. Lightly brush with cream, then sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom.

The Countess' Lemon Curd

4 unwaxed lemons, zest and juice

7 ounces sugar (about 1 cup)

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes

3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk

Makes about 10 ounces.

Combine lemon zest, juice, sugar and butter in a small pan set over simmering water. (Do not allow the mixture to touch the water.) Stir to help butter and sugar melt properly.

Lightly whisk eggs and yolk, then whisk them thoroughly into the mixture. As eggs cook, the mixture will thicken. When it is completely cooked through, you will be able to coat the back of a spoon, and then draw a clear line through it with your finger, 10 to 15 minutes.

Spoon into hot, sterilized jars. Cool thoroughly before putting on the lid. This will keep for up to three months in the refrigerator.

Classic Egg Salad and Cucumber Tea Sandwiches


6 large hardcooked eggs

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon mustard

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon kosher salt

20 slices soft white bread


8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced

1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

20 slices soft white bread

Each filling makes 40 finger sandwiches.

Make egg salad: Cut eggs into cubes. In medium bowl, mix together eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, cayenne pepper and salt.

Make cucumber filling: Combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, cucumber, garlic salt, pepper and dill.

Make sandwiches: Spread egg salad over 10 slices of bread. Cover with another slice. Remove crusts.

Spread cucumber mixture over 10 slices of bread. Cover with another slice. Remove crusts.

Place sandwiches on a large baking sheet and cover in plastic wrap; chill in refrigerator for 35 minutes. Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes, or use a knife to quarter sandwiches.

Chocolate Digestive Cookies

3/4 cup whole-wheat flour

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon rolled oats

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 tablespoons brown sugar

4 tablespoons whole milk

6 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, melted

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease medium to large baking sheets. Sift together whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl, then mix in oats. Set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Add to dry mixture, then stir in milk until mixture forms a thick (and quite sticky) paste. Cover and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.

Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Dough will be sticky; wet your hands to combat stickiness. Roll out dough to approximately 1/8-inch thickness. Using a biscuit or cookie cutter, cut into 2- to 2 1/2-inch rounds. Transfer to cookie sheets, impressing patterns on biscuits with a fork. Bake cookies for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack before coating with melted chocolate, then let cool again. Store in an airtight container.