Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea Recipes

Editor’s Note: With the new movie “Downton Abbey: A New Era” releasing this week, we thought it would be fun to bring back some story and recipes from the Dispatch archives. The content was written by editor Lisa Abraham and published in January 2015.


Which suitor will Lady Mary choose? What will become of Lady Edith’s baby? And who will be struck by the Dowager Countess’ next zinger?

It’s time to step back into history and settle into a new season of “Downton Abbey.”

With his elaborate period clothing; beautiful furniture; and, of course, the perfect afternoon tea, the PBS drama promises to keep viewers intrigued this winter.

Life at the abbey is not just period fiction, however.

These elaborate tea sets are still part of daily life for the British aristocracy, according to former royal chef Darren McGrady.

McGrady spent 11 years in the kitchen of Buckingham Palace and four years as personal chef to Princess Diana and Princes William and Harry before moving to Texas after her death in 1997.

He works in Dallas as a private chef through his company, the Royal Chef.

“It’s interesting: people talk to me about ‘Downton Abbey’ all the time, and I’m like, ‘It’s not a period drama, it’s still going on today at Buckingham Palace,'” said McGrady. “These stops for tea and dressing for dinner continue to this day.

The popularity of the show (which at the time had just started its fifth season) is credited with a growing interest in afternoon tea.

“There’s no doubt about it,” said Anand Saha, owner of Mozart’s Restaurant, Bakery and Piano Cafe in the Clintonville neighborhood.

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“We are absolutely seeing an increasing number of people wanting to have tea.”

Mary Boesch, owner of Cambridge Tea House in Marble Cliff and herself a “Downton” fan, said customers like to experience tea in a more formal setting, similar to how they see it depicted on the show.

“We tend to think of tea as a bit more refined,” she said. “When we have tea, we often sit down with friends and linger.”

A good afternoon tea, Boesch said, follows certain rules, starting with some regarding the tea itself:

• Use a high quality loose leaf tea, she says.

• Start with ice cold water and bring it to the right temperature to get the best taste from the tea. For black teas, a temperature just below boiling is appropriate, she said; and for more delicately flavored white and green teas, a slightly lower temperature.

• Always start with soft water; do not boil cooled water.

“Fresh water contains more oxygen,” she said. “Water that has been boiled several times will give a flat-tasting tea.”

Boesch also burns the inside of his teapots with boiling water to warm them up before placing the tea in them.

Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Peppermint and Raspberry are the favorite tea varieties of Mozart’s customers, Saha said.

Scones are a must to accompany formal tea, as are small tea sandwiches and other sweet cakes, Saha said.

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McGrady, who recounts his time in the royal kitchens in the 2007 cookbook Eating Royally, said members of the kitchen staff made scones for Queen Elizabeth II’s daily tea, including raisins in the recipe every two days.

The Queen never ate the scones, he recalled; she crumbled one or two on the mat for her corgis to enjoy.

McGrady described three types of English tea, afternoon tea being the most popular – and the one usually depicted on “Downton”.

Cream tea, a version of afternoon tea, takes its name from the clotted cream served to accompany scones, he said.

At tea time, the scones are served hot with butter and jam. At a cream tea, the scones are served at room temperature with jam and clotted cream – a thick cream which, at 47% fat, can be spread with a spoon.

Traditional clotted cream comes from the Cornwall region of England; a similar version of Devonshire is known as Devonshire Cream, McGrady explained.

The term high tea, which Americans often confuse with fine afternoon tea, is actually used to describe a casual supper served to royal servants or children.

“Kids have tea at 6 p.m. with more traditional kid foods, like chicken fingers,” McGrady said.

The term reflects the way tea is taken on high chairs around a table rather than in a parlor where traditional afternoon tea is served.

The snack is offered with sugar cubes, cold milk (never cream) or thin slices of lemon as an accompaniment.

Other items served at afternoon tea, McGrady said, include a large slicing cake as well as smaller one- or two-bite sweets such as tarts, madeleines or eclairs.

To complete the tea service, small sandwiches, always with the crusts cut from the bread, he said.

Two types of tea sandwiches – one on white bread, the other on wheat – were always offered to the royal family, McGrady said. The traditional toppings – cucumber and cream cheese, ham and cheese, smoked salmon or chicken – changed daily.

Palace chefs have always buttered the bread first to create a barrier between the bread and the filling to prevent the bread from getting soggy, he noted.

Tea sandwiches can be cut into octagons, circles or triangles — but not rectangles, McGrady said.

Presenting anything rectangular (a shape reminiscent of a coffin) to the queen, he said, is considered a terrible faux pas – akin to wishing death on the monarch.


Gives 16

Recipe from Eating Royally (2007) by Darren McGrady

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Cut in the butter and stir until the flour mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the beaten egg and about 3/4 cup of milk. Add the raisins now if you are making a fruit scone. Bring the mixture together with a metal spoon, being careful not to overmix and stiffen the batter. If the mixture seems dry and crumbly, add more of the remaining milk, but add it gradually. You want a lightly bound dough that is neither too wet nor too dry.

Lightly dust a cutting board with flour and roll out the dough to about 1 inch thick. Then, using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out about 16 scones and place on an ungreased baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Brush the tops of the scones with the beaten egg yolk.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the scones are lightly colored. Serve hot or transfer the scones to a cooling rack.

To note: Extra-fine sugar is often labeled superfine sugar. If you can’t find it, substitute with regular granulated white sugar.

PER SERVING: 216 calories, 4g protein, 36g carbs, 1g fiber, 14g sugar, 7g fat (4g saturated), 30mg cholesterol, 151mg sodium

Vanilla tartlets


Give 30

Topping adapted from Betty Crocker’s cookbook

Prepare the filling by combining the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a 2-quart saucepan. Mix milk and egg yolks.

Gradually stir the milk mixture into the sugar mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from fire. Stir in butter and vanilla.

Cool slightly.

Spoon the filling into the prepared shells. Refrigerate until set. Once set and cold, garnish each with a raspberry. Sprinkle with icing sugar, if desired.

PER SERVING: Nutrition information cannot be calculated for this recipe.


Makes 8 sandwiches

Spread the cheese spread on 2 slices of bread. Garnish with cucumber slices and parsley or watercress leaves.

Top with the remaining 2 slices of bread.

Cut each sandwich into 4 triangles.

PER SERVING: Nutrition information cannot be calculated for this recipe.


Makes 8-12 sandwiches

Put all the ingredients except the bread in a bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat on low speed until well blended.

Spread the chicken spread on 4 of the bread slices (see note). Top with the remaining 4 slices of bread.

Using a small round cookie cutter, cut each into small circles. You will get about 2 or 3 of each, depending on the size of the loaf and the size of the cookie cutter used.

To note: You will have enough chicken spread left over to make additional sandwiches, if desired. Otherwise, leftover spread is good on crackers.

PER SERVING: Nutrition information cannot be calculated for this recipe.

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Rozella J. Cook