‘Downton Abbey’ dish: Food has starring role in hit PBS series



Raspberry Meringue Pudding

The recipe makes 12 large meringue cookies. Enjoy the extras with a cup of tea. The meringues must be made at least 2 hours in advance, and can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. The pudding needs to chill for at least 4 hours, and improves in texture after an overnight rest in the refrigerator.

For the meringues:

4 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup superfine sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the pudding:

Unsalted butter for greasing the casserole dish

2 cups nonfat milk

2/3 cup superfine sugar

4 large egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 cups plain fresh bread crumbs

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons (about 2 tablespoons)

For assembly:

3/4 cup seedless raspberry jam

1 pint raspberries

Superfine sugar for sprinkling

Place racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners.

Beat the egg whites on high speed in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Once the egg whites are foamy, add the cream of tartar and beat until they hold soft peaks, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar a little at a time, beating until the meringue is shiny and holds very stiff peaks, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.

Test to make sure the meringue is ready by rubbing a little between your thumb and finger. When it is no longer gritty, you are good to go.

Create six equal-size mounds of meringue on each baking sheet. You can swirl the tops with a spoon or pipe the meringue through a bag fitted with a large star tip.

Transfer the baking sheets to the oven, reduce the heat to 275 degrees and bake 60 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from front to back and top to bottom halfway through. The meringues are done when they are pale and fairly crisp and sound hollow when gently tapped.

Turn off the oven, open the door a crack and leave the meringues in the oven for at least another hour to dry.

To make the pudding, bring a kettle of water to boil. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Grease a large casserole dish with butter.

Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and slowly bring it to a boil over medium heat.

Combine the sugar, 4 egg yolks and 1 whole egg in a medium bowl, whisking until light and creamy. Temper the egg-sugar mixture by adding a little bit of the hot milk, whisking constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling. Gradually whisk that egg-sugar mixture into the hot milk. Strain the hot milk mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding any solids. Stir in the vanilla, bread crumbs and lemon zest.

Pour the pudding mixture into the casserole dish, place in a roasting pan and transfer to the oven. Fill the roasting pan with enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake 30 to 40 minutes. Keep checking until the pudding is almost set yet still slightly wobbly in the center. Remove the dish from the water bath and place on a wire rack to cool. Cover the cooled custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours and preferably overnight.

To assemble, melt the jam in a small saucepan over low heat. Just before serving, place scoops of the pudding on six dessert plates. Top with the melted jam, the 6 most presentable-looking meringues and fresh raspberries. Sprinkle superfine sugar over each portion. Makes 6 servings.

Source: Adapted from “Abbey Cooks Entertain” by Pamela Foster (Pamela Powered, 2012).

Per serving: 380 calories, 8 g protein, 79 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 175 mg cholesterol, 160 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 64 g sugar.

‘Downton Abbey’ viewing party

In addition to the accompanying recipes, consider these dishes for your spread:

Deviled eggs: A staple on Edwardian appetizer platters, according to blogger Pamela Foster.

Roast chicken: Mrs. Patmore, the cook, saw hers fall on the floor.

Shepherd's pie: Something that might be enjoyed in the servants' hall.

Side dish

Potato Puffs

A 1920s cookery book recommends this as a side dish for a pre-theater dinner. The puffs would accompany a green vegetable, such as peas or green beans, on a serving platter. The balls can be formed, rolled in the crumbs and refrigerated, loosely covered, a day in advance. Bring to room temperature before baking.

1 medium onion, cut into 8 wedges

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters, or into sixths if the potatoes are large

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 large egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

2/3 cup plain fine dried bread crumbs

1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Line a work surface with a few layers of paper towels.

Fill a large pot with several inches of water, add the onion wedges and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the onion is very soft, about 40 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the onion to a colander and allow to drain for several minutes, then transfer to the paper towels. Use more paper towels to press on the onion, extracting as much of the moisture as possible. Transfer to a blender and puree.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with cooking oil spray.

Add the potatoes to the water in the pot, adding water if needed to cover them by 1 inch. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, 12 to 15 minutes or until potatoes can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Drain in a colander.

Return the empty pot to the stove over medium heat. Return the potatoes to the pot and cook, tossing, for 1 to 2 minutes or until their moisture has evaporated.

Put the potatoes through a ricer or mash with a potato masher. Stir in the pureed onion, then quickly beat in the butter and egg yolks. Add the salt and pepper. Beat in 1 to 2 tablespoons of cream, keeping the mixture thick enough to hold its shape.

Use a fork to beat the remaining whole egg in a small bowl. Spread the bread crumbs on a small plate. Use your hands to form the potato mixture into 21 golf-ball-size balls (about 1 1/2 ounces each). Brush each with beaten egg and sprinkle with a little parsley. Dip them in the crumbs, rolling to coat evenly. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

Bake 20 minutes, until hot and slightly browned. Serve hot. Makes about 21 small puffs, 7 servings.

Source: Adapted from “Kitchen Essays,” by Agnes Jekyll (Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1922; reprinted in 2008 by Persephone Books).

Per serving: 200 calories, 4 g protein, 32 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 3 g fiber, 3 g sugar.

Main dish

Saute Chicken Lyonnaise

As “Downton Abbey” began, the Titanic had just gone down at sea, taking with it the heir to the elegant Yorkshire estate. Perhaps he had recently eaten this dish, served to the ship's first-class passengers.

1/3 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried thyme)

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 2 1/2 pounds total), tenderloins removed, patted dry

1 large egg

3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

2 onions, thinly sliced

1 large garlic clove, minced

1/3 cup white wine

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons tomato paste

1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

Pinch sugar

Heat the oven to 170 degrees or to the lowest possible temperature.

Place the flour, salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of the thyme in a sturdy plastic food storage bag, seal and shake to combine. Beat the egg in a medium bowl.

One piece at a time, dip the chicken into the egg, letting the excess drip back into the bowl. Transfer to the bag, seal and shake to coat. Transfer chicken to a plate.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Place chicken pieces in the hot pan, smooth side down, working in batches if necessary. Cook 5 minutes, until golden brown. Turn the pieces and cook 5 minutes, until golden brown on the second side. (The chicken will not be cooked through.) Transfer to an ovenproof platter and place in the oven to keep warm. (If the oven can't be set as low as 170, place the platter in the oven, turn the oven off and keep the oven door closed.)

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Stir in the onions, garlic and remaining 1 tablespoon thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, 7 to 10 minutes, until onion is translucent. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, 10 minutes or until a light golden brown.

Add the wine and vinegar; cook, stirring to scrape up any browned bits, until the liquid has reduced by half. Stir in the tomato paste, broth and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes or until sauce is slightly reduced. Return the chicken to the skillet, along with any accumulated juices. Turn the pieces to coat with the liquid, then cover, reduce the heat to medium and cook 5 minutes or until the temperature of the thickest part is 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

Transfer to a serving platter and spoon the sauce over the chicken. Makes 6 servings.

Source: Adapted from “Abbey Cooks Entertain” by Pamela Foster (Pamela Powered, 2012).

Per serving: 310 calories, 42 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 10 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 140 mg cholesterol, 260 mg sodium, 0 fiber, 2 g sugar.

Washington Post Service

The romance. The intrigue. The big, beautiful country house.

We can analyze the recipe for success of Downton Abbey, the British television import whose Season 4 makes its much-anticipated debut on PBS at 9 p.m. Sunday, until our cups of tea go cold. But one element that can't be overlooked is the food.

Rather than letting it serve as mere eye candy, creator and writer Julian Fellowes has worked crepes, puddings, roast chicken and other edible props into some of the series' most memorable plots.

Who can forget Mrs. Patmore's disastrously salty raspberry meringue pudding? How many fans fell for the implication that Branson the chauffeur would off a British general with poisoned soup? And how very American of Lady Crawley’s mother, Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine), to organize an “indoor picnic” when a malfunctioning stove threatened to torpedo a dinner party.

The lavish spreads enjoyed by the aristocratic Crawley family in early 20th century England are enough to inspire envy — and interest — in those who might be watching with a microwave dinner in their laps.

“Because [fans] love the show, it makes them more interested in the history of the food that was on the show,” says Pamela Foster, a Toronto marketing professional who has put her history degree to use on her Downton Abbey Cooks blog. “It's sort of a teaching point to connect people to history.”

The cuisine received an extra surge of elegance thanks to King Edward VII, who had an affinity for French food.

“He loved a good time and a good laugh and a good meal,” says Foster, who self-publisheded an e-cookbook, Abbey Cooks Entertain, with plenty of dishes inspired by France.

Some noble families employed French cooks on the weekend — “What is a weekend?” as the Dowager Countess of Grantham might say — when they did a lot of entertaining, according to the Countess of Carnarvon, who, with her husband, the Earl of Carnarvon, lives at the 50-plus-bedroom Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed.

“There might be a Mrs. Patmore perhaps, but over the top of her there might be a more highly paid chef to impress the guests,” the Countess says.

The downstairs scenes are filmed on a kitchen set the Downton Abbey production team built at London's Ealing Studios, about 60 miles from the castle. Production designer Donal Woods says visits to nearly 40 English country houses informed its creation. The cast-iron range, which in its heyday would have run on coal, is modeled after one in a home in Leeds.

“You can actually cook on top of the range,” Woods says. “It can sizzle and steam.”

Food economist Lisa Heathcote consults her library of historical cookbooks to decide which comestibles will appear on the show. Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management is an important guide for her, as it is for Foster.

The film crew goes to extremes to convey authenticity. Designers created a family crest for the Crawleys, which is printed on menus and baked onto the china, production designer Charmian Adams says.

And when there are slip-ups, the audience is bound to notice. In Season 1, an identifying mark on the bottom of a cup held by the Dowager Countess gave away the anachronism that the piece had been manufactured after 1912, when the action is supposed to be taking place.

“All it was was Maggie Smith lifting up the teacup to her mouth,” Adams says.

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