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Friday, January 4, 2013

A Tea Party for the Return of "Dowton Abbey"!

I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am that "Downton Abbey" is returning Sunday night on PBS at 9:00 p.m.  It has been such a long time between seasons!!

For those of you unfamiliar with this PBS series, it is the story of an aristocratic British family starting pre-World War I.  It is much more than a soap opera because of all the different stories lines and history intertwined in the episodes.  The stories are both of the rich and the working class.  It makes it very clear that trouble falls on anyone, no matter their financial status. 

There is romance, drama, war, murder and comedy in this series that has outdone by far, in my opinion, "Upstairs, Downstairs".

In tribute to the series premiere I have fashioned a British tea party menu and recipes.  A tea party seems appropriate because it is so British and because it is a lot less expensive than a dinner party or cocktail party.

Take a look!

Afternoon tea starts with sandwiches. The sandwiches are usually made with thinly sliced bread, and in 'posh' establishments, the crusts are removed. There will always (or should be) a mixture of white and brown bread sandwiches.

Traditional fiilings for afternoon tea are, buttered bread with -

Thinly sliced, fresh cucumber.
Very thinly sliced ham and perhaps, a little mustard
Egg Mayo
Roast Beef Cheese and Pickle (Chutney or Branston)
Tinned Salmon with or w/o cucumber

Super light, warm scones usually follow on from the sandwiches. The scones can be plain, fruit, or cheese depending on what you serve alongside. Plain or fruit will demand both butter, jam and or cream, and for the cheese, serve alone with butter.
Home made scones for afternoon tea, sweet or savory are made quickly and easily as in this scones recipe. They are delicious hot or cold and British scones are a major part in any afternoon tea.

Use baking powder or a mixture of bicarbonate of soda and cream of tartar as your raising agent. You can use self rising (raising) flour but will achieve a better rise with plain flour and a raising agent.


This recipe is for a plain scone but these can quickly be changed to fruit, cheese and or any other favour you may want to add, (cherry, cranberry, lemon, orange and so on) check out the notes below.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 6 - 8 scones depending cutter


225g/2 cups self raising flour
55g/½ stick cold butter
1 level tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
150 ml/¼ pint milk
1 egg beaten with a little milk

Heat the oven to 400°F/205°C/Gas 6
Grease and flour a baking sheet.
Sieve the flour into a roomy baking bowl then add the butter, baking powder and salt. Quickly rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
Make a well in the center and using a dinner knife, stir in enough milk to make a soft, pliable dough.
Turn the mixture on to a floured board and knead very lightly until just smooth then lightly roll out to 2cm / 3/4" thick.
Cut rounds with a 7.5cm/3" cutter or cut into triangles with a sharp knife.
Place on the baking tray and brush with the beaten egg and milk mixture. Bake near the top of the hot oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown and well risen.
Cool on a wire rack before eating.

Serve with butter, or lashings of jam and cream.

Fruit Scones

Add 1/4 cup/ 50g sultanas or chopped dates to the dry ingredients in the basic recipes.

Cheese Scones

Add 1/2 cup /50g grated cheese and 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder to the mixture after rubbing in the fat and flour and continue with the basic recipe. Sprinkle the scones with 1/2 cup/50g more grated cheese before baking the scones in the oven.

There are traditional recipes for an afternoon tea, and there are, as always, those anomolies of local tradition, family customs, or personal taste that involve recipes outside of the norm. Some, often in Scotland, will also include a savoury dish, nothing heavy just a snack type dish to balance with all the sweet.

Crumpets are the quintessential, afternoon tea treat, served warm with lots of butter. There are many ready-made brands out there but it is so much fun to make your own - just plan ahead as the batter needs a few hours to rise.

Once ready simply serve the crumpets warm with butter, or a little jam as well for an extra special treat.

This recipe yields 24 crumpets, if that is too many then the recipe can be halved.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

To foam the batter : 2 hours

Total Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 24 crumpets


12 fl oz/350ml semi-skimmed milk, warmed but not boiling
1 lb/450g all purpose or plain flour
1/8 oz/5g dried yeast
2 tsp sugar
12 fl oz/350ml finger-warm water (approx)
1 tsp Salt
1tsp baking powder
Vegetable oil for cooking

Whisk together the milk, flour, yeast and sugar. Once combined add half the water and beat into the batter, continue to add more water until the batter is thick and smooth. Stop adding water once it reaches the consistency of thick cream. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm draft free place until foaming - about 1, up to 2 hours.
Whisk the salt and baking powder into the batter then heat a heavy based frying pan on the stove to hot but not smoking.
Dampen kitchen paper with a little oil and grease the base of the pan and a crumpet (or pastry) rings measuring 3"x 1 ½" (8 X 3.75cm) approx. If you don't have any pastry or crumpet rings then use a small, washed food can to the same measurements.
Place one ring in the heated pan, add enough batter to fill just below the top of the ring. Cook for five minutes when there should be many tiny holes onthe surface and the crumpet is setting. Flip the crumpet over and cook for another two – three minutes.
Repeat with the remaining batter until used up. Rest the crumpets on a wire rack until cool and reheat in a toaster or under the grill before serving. Serve with lots of butter and/or jam.

NOTE: If the batter seeps from under the ring it is too thin, whisk in more flour. If the crumpet is heavy and without holes, the batter is too thick, add more water.

all recipes are courtesy of

Even if tea parties are not your "thing", at least give a look at "Downton Abbey".  You will not be disappointed, I'm sure.

(Post publishing note:  I have been unable to insert photos on my blog for two days.  I can't figure it out but have asked for technical assistance.  I apologize for the inconvenience. )

Today .... keep it simple and make it real.



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