by Pamela Foster, DowntonAbbeyCooks.com
Downton Days in Canada have begun. VisionTV aired the first episode of Downton Abbey this past Wednesday. I love good beginnings and this is a great one. Our story opens with the tapping of a telegraph, transmitting tragic news which will soon be delivered to the Crawley Family, an English aristocratic family who live in a huge country house called Downton Abbey. Daisy, the scullery maid, wakes housemaids, then continues on to her other chores, lighting fires in the kitchen stove and in fireplaces throughout the grand house, as other maids and footmen dust and clear grand rooms. Maintaining a house of that size is a major operation.
A new valet arrives at the back door. Most of the other servants take an instant dislike to Mr. Bates because of a slight disability which could impact the performance of his duties. Newspapers are delivered and then carefully ironed (my Lord D loves that part) for the Lord and Lady to read. They bear news of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Head writer Julian Fellowes, felt it important to “date stamp” the show to help viewers connect with the exact period of history. Fellowes himself is a Titanorak, keenly interested in the history of the sinking of the great ship on April 15, 1912. The 100th anniversary of the event was remembered this year, many honoring the memory of those lives impacted by the tragedy with the same dishes which were served onboard. For culinary historians, Titanic showcases the extravagance of the era, the best of the best, even for those who travelled in steerage. If you are interested in the amazing food served on the grand ship, I have prepared all dishes served to the three classes of passengers on board that fateful last night.
Last week we prepared Kedgeree, a traditional English breakfast dish. As most of the Crawley family sat down to their hot breakfast, the fateful telegram was delivered with news that two heirs to the family estate had perished on board. Robert delivers the news to his wife Cora who had her breakfast served in bed, a privilege reserved for married women.
While the family mourns the loss of their cousins, a more important issue looms: what to do about the Entail. In short, Robert, the 6th Earl of Grantham, married Cora for her money to keep Downton afloat. In a clever move, his father (the 5th Earl) wanted to ensure that her money could not be detached from the beloved Downton Estate, so created the Entail to bind the two. The entire fortune would go to a male heir, but who will be the new heir? Change does not come easily, and the unknown heir is seen as a threat. The story line is a great analogy for all the changes that were to occur in this period of history.
Stay tuned for this week’s episode as we are introduced to the man who could someday become the new Earl if the Entail is not quashed.
Today’s Downton Dish: Madeleines
Afternoon Tea was invented by the British in the 1840s, an important social ritual for English aristocracy. Typically an intimate gathering, Tea at Downton always seems to involve an underlying agenda, mostly perpetrated by the Dowager Countess, brilliantly played by Maggie Smith. Pay attention to the tea scene in this week’s episode and how it demonstrates the importance of social graces.
Madeleines (Pronounced: mahd lehn) are little cake-like cookies that are baked in special molds that give them a delicate shell shape. They date back to 1755 in the court of Louis XV, reportedly prepared in honor of his father in-law’s cook Madeleine Paulmier.
I do try to provide easy recipes which don’t require special equipment, but these are baked in special Madeleine pans. You can still make these without pans by spooning tablespoons of batter directly onto cookie sheets, but technically you couldn’t call them Madeleines.
Healthy Madeleines de Proust
This version is named after Marcel Proust, who described them as “a little shell of cake, so generously sensual beneath the piety of its stern pleating.” We have reduced the fat content by replacing butter with unsweetened applesauce. You can also reduce the sugar by using sugar substitute.
Makes 24 cookies
- 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup ground blanched almonds
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
- 1 tsp. grated orange zest
- confectioners’ (icing sugar) for dusting
- In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the flour, almonds, baking powder, and salt and beat until well blended.
- Stir in the honey, applesauce, and lemon and orange zests.
- Cover the batter with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours, or up to 1 day.
- Preheat the oven to 325°F. Prepare two 12-well Madeleine pans by lightly greasing with oil, then dust with flour.
- Spoon 1 rounded tablespoon of the batter into each well. They should be 2/3rds full.
- Bake the two trays in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, switching the positions of the pans halfway through baking, for 20 to 25 minutes total, or until golden around the edges.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack. Invert the pans to remove the cookies and dust with icing sugar through a sieve.
Chocolate Madeleines: To make chocolate Madeleines, substitute the ground almonds and zests with 3 tbsp. dutch cocoa power and 1 ounce (1 square) bittersweet chocolate which has been melted, and cooled. Add the chocolate in Step 2.
Watch Downton Abbey Wednesdays at 9pm ET/6pm PT.
Pamela Foster is a culinary historian who resides in the Greater Toronto Area with her husband, affectionately referred to as Lord D. Her popular blog Downton Abbey Cooks explores food, history and health of the Downton era (1912- 1920s). Her ecookbook Abbey Cooks Entertain can be downloaded from her website or through Kobo or Amazon.ca. (Get a sneak peek here.)
all Downton Abbey photos (c) NBC Universal/ITV
photos of Pamela Foster/Abbey Cooks Entertain/recipe dishes courtesy Pamela Foster