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Award winning afternoon tea at the Palm Court in Langham Hotel in London.

Welcome to Tea Tuesday, my weekly tribute to the art of having tea. As Henry James once said: “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.

I host Tea Tuesday each week, a virtual tea party which was inspired by Christine, a follower who lives in France, who was curious about English tea traditions after watching a few episodes of Downton Abbey. The British may have failed miserably in other culinary areas, but they excel in the tea ritual. Join me every Tuesday as I dish on Downton Abbey, the Royal Family, UK tourism and other topical tea issues one might discuss at tea, served up with a tea treat recipe with a history.

My Online Guide to the Tea Ritual

Many of you will have been to the UK for the Olympics and perhaps have lingered to looking for a chance to have “afternoon tea”. To help avoid disappointment (there is a difference between afternoon and high tea), I have created a handy guide to help you enjoy the experience: Downton Abbey Cooks Online Guide to Afternoon Tea. The guide includes:

  • The history of Tea in England
  • Tea Lingo
  • The difference between Afternoon and High Tea
  • Proper tea etiquette

The guide also includes tips and recipes to host your own tea party, perhaps to gather friends to watch your favorite Downton Abbey episode:

  • How to make a proper cup of tea
  • Sweet and Savoury tea recipes, including a great scone recipe you can adapt many ways.
  • How to build a tea service on a budget.

We are So Social

A heart felt thank you for sharing my passion for Downton Abbey, history and food.  We have now surpassed 100,000 views here since January when I started this particular blog, over 4,000 twitter followers (@downtoncooks).  Check out the posted links to Facebook and Pinterest.

If you do tweet, you may wish to join me @downtoncooks, and other fans of Downton Abbey and tea from around the world by entering the hashtag #downtontea Tuesdays at 4 pm GMT, 11 am EDT, 9 am PST. We just hang out and chat, not unlike what you would normally do over tea.

Dishing Downton

When I sent a tweet this week to Hugh Bonneville (@hughbon) asking him about the smelly lobster on set, he tweeted back saying we shouldn’t believe everything we hear or see, so take some of these reports with a grain of salt.

  • New clips are here:  last week there was a leak of the trailer which was shown at the July TCA (Television Critics Association) event (you know the one where Hugh Bonneville revealed his “free Bates” tshirt.  I am pretty sure most copies have been pulled down for copyright reasons.  But the good news is that his week ITV released two clips which hint at the battle of the wits.
  • Downton gets a Toaster:  If you thought the telephone was a big deal at Downton Abbey, imagine Mr. Carson’s reaction to the other new technological miracles like a toaster and vacuum cleaner which appear in Episode 4.
  • Benedict is back to Downton Bashing: Benedict Cumberbatch, star of Sherlock took time in his interview with Reader’s Digest to poke jabs at Downton Abbey while promoting his new TV period drama Parade’s End.  Julian Fellowes was quick to publicly forgive the lad who he has known for many years.
  • Cashing in on the Snob Vote at the Emmys:  As we already know, Downton received a number of nominations for this year’s Emmys. There is some speculation that they might grab the snob vote in the same way that Frasier became a favorite of the Hollywood press.  That should give us much to celebrate.  How are plans for your Downton Abbey themed Emmy party coming along? My ideas on what to serve on Sept. 23.

Low Fat Custard Tarts (Pastel de nata)

the burn marks distinguish the Portuguese version of custard tarts

Angel food cake is one of my favorite summer desserts to make for family and company.  It is light, low fat and loves to be dressed up with fresh fruit.  Since a cake will use almost a dozen egg whites, the question became what to do with the yolks.  In our household it was to make lots of custard tarts, a classic English tea sweet which many European countries have adopted to make a variation of their own.

My Sister-in-Law, the Caterer, introduced me to the Portuguese version of custard tarts, which I make special for our niece when we all get together. OK, I really love it too. The other dessert I always have on hand is my chocolate peanut butter fudge.

The story goes that the tart, called pastel de nata, was created in monasteries in the 18th century as one of many desserts which used egg yolks.  A massive amount of egg whites were used for starching clothes (such as nuns’ habits) and in the process of making wine.  I was horrified to discover how many calories each one had so with some experimentation I found a way to reduce the number of egg yolks required, and replace the cream with skim milk.  It doesn’t help me use up lots of egg yolks, but makes a  healthier dessert, and besides you can now buy pasteurized egg whites which I can use for my angel food cakes.  There is still some fat, as can’t resist the puff pastry crust which makes the tart very easy to make, but this version cuts the calories by 2/3rds.


  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • ½ cup caster sugar (or sugar substitute like sucralose)
  • 2 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 ¾ cup skim milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • one sheet of puff pastry


Make the custard

  1. Put the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a pan and whisk together. Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth.
  2. Place the pan over a medium heat and cook, stirring, until the mixture thickens and comes to the boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Transfer the custard to a bowl, cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool.

Make the tarts

  1. Lightly grease a 12 tray muffin pan.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees 200 C.
  3. Roll out puff pastry to thin rectangle.  Roll up the pastry tightly from the short end and cut the pastry log into 12 rounds, about 1/2 inch thick. Lay each pastry round on a lightly floured surface and use a rolling pin to roll out or press with the palm of your hand to create a really thin circle which will fit into the muffin tray.
  4. Press the pastry rounds into the muffin tin.

Assemble and bake the tarts

  1. Spoon the cooled custard into the pastry cases and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry and custard are golden.  I will sometimes turn on the broiler for a few minutes to get a few extra burn marks which is a distinct feature of this tart.
  2. Leave the tarts in the tin for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.