Today the Downton Abbey film makes its debut in cinemas across the country, to the delight of its longstanding fans. But neither the six seasons and the feature-length outing would be quite as absorbing without its surrounding – the grounds of Highclere Castle, of course where the programme is filmed, but also the spectacle of the costumes, the decor and crucially, the food.
Food is always present at Downton, ready for the moment when ‘the camera drifts lovingly over the tables piles high with food, making us long for a good pork pie or a properly wobbly jelly,’ says food historian Annie Gray, the writer behind The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook.
Her new edible journey through Downton is fascinating, not just because of the towering tables or the upstairs/downstairs divide of the menus but because of the real life scenarios that informed them – for example, the reason why gingerbread was so popular at the time, or mushroom ketchup was a pantry staple. The book is part recipe book, part history lesson, and in full, a total delight.
Whether you’re throwing a full-scale Downton dinner party or just want to see if you’d ever have been able to give Mrs Patmore a run for her money, we’ve borrowed a handful of recipes that are still just as delicious today, and the stories that brought them to life.
A firm favourite for the sweet course at Downton is meringue with fruit, generally raspberries . It’s served instead of the desired apple charlotte when Mrs Patmore refuses to change her menu in season 1, and it’s on the table when Robert first starts to fall for Jane in season 2 .
It’s a fairly simple recipe, ideal for country house kitchens, as its various components can be made in advance and the dish plated up with a flourish as required. Filled meringues of this type were also sometimes called pavlovas, after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who toured New Zealand and Australia in the 1920s and, like Dame Nellie Melba, gave her name to a delicious dessert .
FOR THE MERINGUE
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (115g) superfine sugar
FOR THE FOOL
1/2 lb (225g) raspberries, plus more for decorating
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150ml) heavy cream
1/4 cup (55g) superfine sugar
Confectioners’ sugar, if needed
1. To make the meringue, preheat the oven to 200°F (95°C). Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
2. Using a whisk or a handheld mixer on medium speed, beat together the egg whites and lemon juice in a bowl until soft peaks form, increasing the mixer speed to medium-high once the whites are foamy and begin to thicken. Beating constantly, add the superfine sugar, a little at a time, and beat until stiff peaks form. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe 6 meringue nests each 2–3 inches (5–7.5 cm) in diameter— first outlining them, then filling the centres, and finally building up the sides—and some small stars for garnish on the prepared pan.
3. Bake the meringues for 2–21/2 hours. They should be crisp to the touch and lift off the parchment easily. Let cool completely.
4. To make the fool, purée the raspberries in a food processor or blender, then pass the purée through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the seeds, or use a food mill, which will extract the seeds as it purées. (Removing the seeds is optional but would have been done in houses like Downton.) Combine the cream and superfine sugar in a bowl and, using a whisk or a handheld mixer on medium speed, whip together until soft peaks form. Gently fold in the raspberry purée just until no white streaks remain. Taste and adjust with confectioners’ sugar if you prefer it sweeter. The fool should be fairly tart, however, to contrast with the meringue.
5. Both the meringues and the fool can be made a day in advance. Store the meringues in an airtight container at room temperature and the fool tightly covered in the fridge. When you are ready to serve, fill the meringue nests with the fool and top with the small meringues. Serve with raspberries alongside.
NOTE If it goes a bit wrong and the meringue nests break or don’t harden evenly, simply break them up roughly and mix them with the whipped cream, the raspberry purée, and a few whole raspberries and call it a Downton mess (if you use strawberries, it’s the classic Eton mess, named for the school to which most aristocratic boys were sent at the time). You can replace the raspberries with strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries, or plums (the latter two need to be simmered with a little water to soften before you purée them). The fool is also good on its own, served in glasses on a summer day.
Ginger was one of the cheapest spices in the past, so gingerbreads were very popular among the working classes. Nearly every European country had its own version, and in England there were many regional types. In Yorkshire, where Downton Abbey is set, a type called Parkin, which was made with rolled oats, was popular . However, the staff at Downton would have expected slightly better food than the locals were eating, so this version uses only flour.
This recipe is adapted from a handwritten book kept by Avis Crocombe, a Victorian cook who, like Mrs Patmore, worked in a large country house. The cake is very practical for busy cooks, as it keeps for months, which means it can be made well in advance and stored until needed .
SERVES 8 TO 10
1 cup (225g) butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
33/4 cups (450g) flour, plus more for the pan
Superfine sugar, for the pan
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 cup (22g) firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly whisked
1 can (1 lb/450g) black treacle or 1 1/3 cups blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup (120ml) milk
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C). Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch (23-cm) round springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and generously butter the paper. Dust the bottom and sides of the pan with equal parts of flour and superfine sugar, tapping out the excess.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, and salt. Whisk gently to blend. Put the butter into a large bowl and beat until pale and creamy. Add the brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and continue to mix vigorously until incorporated. Add the treacle gradually and carefully (as it is rather messy) and beat until incorporated. Add the flour mixture in three batches alternately with the milk in two batches, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and mixing well after each addition. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan.
3. Bake until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean, 1 1/4–1 1/2 hours. (If the edges of the cake begin to darken before the centre of the cake is cooked, cover the pan loosely with parchment paper.) Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Loosen the edges of the cake from the pan sides with a blunt knife and unclasp the pan sides. Carefully slide the cake onto a serving plate, peeling away the paper,
NOTE This cake can also be baked in a rectangular pan. The round cake would be carried to the table whole and sliced into wedges for serving. The rectangular cake can be cut into small squares and the top of each square decorated with a little icing and a glacéed cherry or a piece of crystallized ginger, as shown left. The batter can also be baked in a muffin pan and decorated with piped cream or frosting.
Cheese was a firm favourite for the after-dinner savoury and was transformed into
a wide range of small bites, from custards to straws to everything in between. Like hors d’oeuvres, they were intended to refresh the palate and appealed to diners who did not have a sweet tooth. Cheese, when served, was eaten after the sweet entremets, ostensibly to prepare the palate for the dessert wines, which were followed by a simple dessert of fruit, nuts, and ices.
The rise of the savoury was an ingenious solution to curb the length of the meal but still satisfy those who preferred a salty hit to a sweet one — or wanted both. Serving savouries was also more elegant than cutting slices from large blocks of cheese, an important concern at formal dinners. These little cheesy bites are typical of the period. We see Alfred making a similar recipe in season 4, when Mrs Patmore is helping him prepare for culinary school.
MAKES ABOUT 20 BOUCHÉES
FOR THE PASTRY
11/3 cups (170 g) flour, plus more for the work surface
6 tablespoons (90 g) cold butter, cut into small cubes
4–5 tablespoons ice-cold water
FOR THE FILLING
1/4 cup (30 g) grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup (30 g) grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and black pepper
Milk, for sealing and brushing
1. To make the pastry, put the flour in a bowl, scatter the butter cubes over the top, and work the butter into the flour with a pastry blender or your fingertips just until the mixture is the consistency of bread crumbs. Add just enough of the water, stirring and tossing it with the flour mixture as you do, until the dough comes together in a rough mass. Shape into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 20–30 minutes.
2. To make the filling, whisk the egg in a bowl just until blended. Add both cheeses, the butter, cayenne (if using), and a little salt and black pepper and mix well.
3. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.
Divide the dough in half. Cover and refrigerate half. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the other half into a round about 1⁄16 inch (2 mm) thick. Using a 31/2-inch (9-cm) round cutter, cut out as many circles as possible. To shape each pastry, put about 3/4 teaspoon of the filling on half of the circle, leaving the edge uncovered. Brush the entire edge of the circle with milk, then fold the uncovered half over the filling to form a half-moon, pressing the edges to seal. Now bring the two corners together and press them together, sealing well (like shaping tortellini).
4. Transfer the filled pastries to the prepared pan and refrigerate while you roll out, fill, and shape the remaining dough. Arrange all the filled pastries on the pan. Lightly brush the tops with milk.
5. Bake until golden brown, 22–24 minutes. Serve warm (let cool slightly on the pan on a wire rack) or at room temperature.
NOTE You can pep up the filling with Worcestershire sauce, or make the pastries even more savoury with a little anchovy paste. Any leftover filling is also good baked in a buttered ovenproof dish, in which case you could call it a cheese ramekin, another type of Edwardian savoury.
Chocolate and vanilla striped blancmange
In the early twentieth century, blancmange gained an unfair reputation as stodgy nursery food, pushing it down the social scale. Before that, however, and in various guises, it was regarded as a light and easily digestible entremets. Dinners at Downton frequently include some form of molded cream, and this version, which is set with cornstarch rather than gelatin, is a very easy way to replicate one.
The recipe is a twist on one that was widely circulated in late-Victorian Britain, printed onto ceramic molds as a rather cunning form of advertising by the Scottish firm Brown and Polson. The molds continued to be produced until the mid-twentieth century, by which time blancmange could also be bought ready-made in cans.
5 cups (1.2 l) milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (80 g) cornstarch
1/2 cup (125 g) sugar 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
Marmalade, for serving (optional)
1. Whisk together 1 cup (240 ml) of the milk, the cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a small bowl until the dry ingredients are dissolved. Warm the remaining milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat; do not allow to boil. Whisk the milk-cornstarch mixture into the warm milk and cook, whisking almost constantly and not allowing the mixture to boil, until the raw cornstarch flavour disappears and the mixture thickens, about 15 minutes.
2. Remove from the heat and let cool for 20 minutes, whisking occasionally to speed cooling and to prevent a skin from forming. (You should have about 5 cups/1.2 l.) Stir in the vanilla. For the chocolate portion, pour half of the mixture into a bowl. Scoop out 1/2 cup (120 ml) from the bowl into a cup, add the cocoa powder and stir until dissolved, then return the chocolate mixture to the bowl and mix well. Let cool just until thickened.
3. Fill a large bowl two-thirds full with crushed ice, make a hollow in the center, and place a 5-cup (1.2-l) glass or ceramic mold in the hollow (if you don’t have a mold, a bowl is fine). Fill the mold with the vanilla and chocolate mixtures, pouring in first one color and then the other and whisking the remaining custard until smooth before each new addition to make a total of 4–6 layers in alternating colours. Smooth each layer with the back of a spoon or a rubber spatula and pause for a minute or two for the custard to cool and thicken after applying each layer, but not much longer or the layers will slide apart when you unmold the blancmange. Smooth the top layer, cover the mold, and refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours or up to 1 day.
4. Place a serving plate over the mold, then invert the mold and plate together. Give the mold a good shake, and you’ll hear a damp thud that indicates the blancmange has come loose. Lift off the mold, spoon into bowls, and serve with marmalade, if desired.
Another of Downton’s iconic dishes, charlotte russe is a cold, set sweet dish, with a mixture of Bavarian cream and jelly ringed with sponge finger biscuits . It’s related to trifle, but while trifle is a very English dish, this is very French, and was invented by Chef Antonin Carême in the early nineteenth century . It appears at Downton a lot, sometimes unmentioned but lurking distinctively in the background and at other times brought to the fore.
It’s one of the dishes cooked by Ethel for Isobel’s ladies’ luncheon, where she presents it herself, interrupting a showdown between Robert and his wife, daughters, and mother. Mrs Patmore and Daisy would have made the ladyfinger biscuits in advance. Modern cooks looking for a shortcut may choose to substitute store-bought ladyfingers.
FOR THE LADYFINGERS
1/2 cup (100g) plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons (140g) flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
FOR THE STRAWBERRY JELLY
2 cups (285g) strawberries, stemmed and halved lengthwise
2–4 tablespoons granulated sugar, depending upon the sweetness of the strawberries
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2/3 cup (160ml) water
11/2 teaspoons powdered gelatin
FOR THE BAVARIAN CREAM
2 tablespoons water
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup (140g) granulated sugar 3/4 cup (180 ml) milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 envelope (about 2 1/2 teaspoons) powdered gelatin or 5 gelatin sheets
11/4 cups (300ml) heavy cream
10–12 large firm strawberries
2 teaspoons granulated sugar, preferably vanilla sugar
Other fruits or edible flowers as desired (optional)
1. To make the ladyfingers, put 1/2 cup (100 g) of the superfine sugar and the eggs into a heatproof bowl (preferably metal). Rest the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and whisk until the mixture is light and foamy and warmed through. Remove from the heat and continue whisking until the mixture is cold, 10–15 minutes. Fold the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon into the cold yolk mixture just until fully incorporated.
2. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Transfer the ladyfinger mixture to a piping bag fitted with a large plain tip and pipe lengths of the mixture onto the prepared pan, making sure they are about 3/4 inch (2 cm) longer than the height of the mold you will be using. Sprinkle the lengths evenly with the remaining 2 tablespoons superfine sugar.
3. Bake the ladyfingers until they are lightly browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Let cool on the pan on a wire rack, then carefully lift them off the parchment and set aside.
4. To make the jelly, combine the strawberries, granulated sugar, lemon juice, and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Use a masher or the back of a wooden spoon to crush the strawberries slightly, helping them to yield their juice. Remove from the heat and let steep for 2 hours.
5. Strain the strawberry mixture through a wire-mesh sieve lined with a double thickness of cheesecloth placed over a bowl or pitcher. Don’t force the mixture through the sieve or the jelly will be cloudy. Let gravity do the work. Measure the strawberry juice, add water as needed to total about 1 cup (240 ml), and set aside for the strawberry jelly. Reserve the strawberries for another use, or purée and then strain them to make a sauce for the cream.
6. To make the Bavarian cream, in a bowl, briefly beat the water and egg yolks with a wire whisk or an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the granulated sugar, whisking constantly or beating with the electric mixer on medium speed, until the mixture is thick, pale yellow, and drops from the beaters in a thick ribbon when they are lifted from the bowl, about 3 minutes.
7. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk just until bubbles appear at the edge of the pan. Slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs, whisking constantly just until combined. Return the egg-milk mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens into a custard thick enough to coat a spoon. (Do not allow to boil or the eggs will curdle.) Pour the custard through a strainer into a bowl. Stir in the vanilla. Mix the powdered gelatin with 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl and let stand for 2 minutes to soften; if using the gelatin sheets, place them in a bowl, add cold water to cover, and let soak until floppy, 5–10 minutes.
8. Add the softened gelatin. (If using powdered gelatin, first liquefy it by nesting the small bowl of gelatin in a larger bowl of hot water, or heating it in the microwave for 5 seconds.) Stir until the gelatin is dissolved.
9. Prepare an ice water bath by filling a large bowl halfway with ice and water. Place the bowl with the custard over the ice water bath and stir often until cooled to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Using a wire whisk or electric mixer, beat the cream to soft peaks and fold into the cooled custard mixture. or the garnish, stem the strawberries, then slice them lengthwise thickly but evenly. Transfer to a bowl, sprinkle with the granulated sugar, and toss gently. Cover and leave for 2 hours.
10. Remove the bottom from a 6- or 7-inch (15- or 18-cm) round springform pan and put the pan ring on the plate on which you plan to serve the charlotte. Cut one end off of each ladyfinger so they all have a nice flat end and are the same height. Use them to line the pan ring, standing them up vertically with the rounded end at the top. They will be slightly squishy, so you can press them into one another to keep them in place.
11. Carefully spoon the custard into the ladyfinger-lined ring and spread it out gently with the back of a spoon to secure the ladyfingers in place. Put the mold in the fridge for 30–45 minutes to set the custard more firmly.
12. Meanwhile, finish preparing the jelly: Mix the powdered gelatin with 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl and let stand for 2 minutes to soften; if using the gelatin sheets, place them in a bowl, add cold water to cover, and let soak until floppy, 5–10 minutes. Stir the liquefied gelatin into the strawberry juice. (If using powdered gelatin, first liquefy it by nesting the small bowl of gelatin in a larger bowl of hot water, or heating it in themicrowave for 5 seconds.) Stir until the gelatin is dissolved. Prepare another ice water bath in a large bowl. Nestle the bowl with the strawberry jelly in the ice water bath and stir often until thickened, about 15 minutes. Pour the jelly over the chilled custard. Cover the charlotte and chill for 1–2 hours.
13. Unclip the springform pan ring and carefully lift it off. The ladyfingers will probably attempt to collapse slowly, which is why charlottes are often served, including at Downton, with a natty ribbon tied around their middle. It’s a very good idea to have a ribbon handy, especially if you are unmolding this more than a few minutes before serving. Tie the ribbon securely round the middle and then arrange the sliced strawberries on top. You can add other fresh fruit, edible flowers, or candied fruit as you prefer.
NOTE If you are pressed for time, the ladyfingers, as suggested in the headnote, can be replaced by store-bought ladyfingers. Any leftover ladyfingers are excellent on their own and also make a good base for trifle. The Downton kitchen is equipped with copper egg bowls, which are not only great for whisking eggs but are also ideal for heating eggs and sugar over water, as here. If you don’t have a copper bowl handy, any metal bowl will do, or even a heatproof glass one (though it will take longer to heat up).You can easily vary the flavourings in this charlotte, using a different fruit jelly or flavoured cream or changing the spice in the ladyfingers.
Recipes from The Official Downton Abbey Cookbook by Annie Gray, £25, White Lion Publishing.