Sunday, March 6, 2016

Samantha's High Tea Lemon Butter Biscuits

The best way to have a send off to our favorite high budget soap opera!

Tonight, the last episode of Downton Abbey airs on PBS, and it's a pretty bittersweet moment for me. All good things have to come to an end, it's true, and I'd rather the show end when it's still watchable than drag on and on and on until you're begging for the writers to put it out of its misery, but I'll miss watching it with my mom on Sunday and wondering what crazy antics everyone will get up to next week.

I knew I wanted to have some kind of send off for the show, and after a lot of deliberation, I decided the best way was to find some kind of tasty tea treat. Nothing else really screams Edwardian elegance as much as a tea party, and while these biscuits might not look like anything special, they've got some really interesting history that would've made them a favorite of anyone living at the Abbey, upstairs or downstairs. They're quick to whip up, don't make an overwhelming amount, and most of the ingredients are things you probably already have in the pantry. If you're looking for a snack to much on during the finale, look no further.

Oh, and they taste pretty great, too. 

Watching the show, it often looks like the Crawleys want for nothing when it comes to food. No matter how many people they have over for lunch, tea or dinner, the table is always loaded with tasty looking food, and Mrs. Patmore and Daisy are usually working round the clock to keep that food coming. This season, with the staff greatly reduced, I'm always amazed to think about how what was the work of several people is now basically down to two, and yet they still manage to get dinner on the table every night.

But we have to remember that even though the family is wealthy (or at least, were wealthy, depending on which part of the show we're talking about), there are certain ingredients we have that in abundance that would have been something of a luxury in Edwardian England. These cookies using lemons as a primary ingredient mean they were a treat usually reserved for special occasions like Christmas... or the finale of one of your favorite shows!

Why were lemons a big deal, you ask? Well, at the beginning of the 20th century, lemons still needed to be imported from warmer parts of the world. England isn't exactly the ideal environment to grow lemon trees! Even for a family that had a little money to burn, you couldn't buy lemons by the bushel without spending a small fortune. This wasn't as big a deal for Americans because the climate of the United States is generally less foggy and cool than Britain, so Samantha might not only get treats like this on a particularly special day, but Mary, Edith and Sybil would have been really excited to see these presented on a tray.

How do I know all this?

How else! You all know how much I love Edwardian Cooking: 81 Recipes Inspired by Downton Abbey's Elegant Meals, so it's probably not a shock to hear that this is where I thought to turn when I wanted to do something in honor of the finale. Honestly, there were a lot candidates for this post in here, but these cookies wound up winning because the author really sold them as something that would've been a family favorite for everyone, including the servants. They often didn't get to enjoy the same food at the "upstairs" people, but these biscuits would've been made especially for servants, family and guests alike.

They're really simple to make. You mix together 1 cup of flour, 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, 1/2 of a teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking powder with the zest of one lemon in a bowl. In a stand mixer, you beat 1/2 of a cup of butter (I made sure mine was room temperature), 1/4 of a cup of sugar and one egg yolk together, and then gently stir in the dry ingredients. The recipe emphasizes that you shouldn't use the mixer to do this. You're left with a pretty light, flaky dough.

You roll this into walnut sized balls. The dough was so flaky that this was a little harder to do than other doughs I've worked with before. I usually use a melon baller to make even cookies, but this dough was way too fragile to do that with, so I rolled them by hand. They weren't exactly evenly saved, but they looked okay for a first try.

These bake in the oven at 375 degrees for fifteen minutes. You're supposed to let them cool on the pan for about five minutes after they're done, but some of mine got a little dark on the bottom.

Often, they'd be eaten just like this. They're definitely tasty enough without any other embellishments, but if you're looking to really make your finale party special, you can make a lemon glaze to paint over the top. This would've been reserved for Christmas time, where they'd be served at every single social event.

The recipe only makes about eighteen cookies, so they're a perfect treat if you're going to be making a lot of other things. You don't want to overwhelm your guests with too many goodies to eat!

They're also genuinely super tasty. Very buttery, not too sweet, and a great compliment to a cup of tea. I've been trying to avoid putting milk and sugar in my tea lately so I actually enjoy the tea's flavor by itself, and sweets like this are the perfect thing to snack on to trick yourself into thinking you have dumped some sugar in your cup.

Also, another endorsement: when I served these to my taste testers, one of them said - and I quote - "oh god, get them away from me!" because he didn't want to devour every single one on the plate. Always a good sign!

I was something of a late comer to the Downton Abbey craze, but I'm glad I got sucked in. I'm really going to miss my quality, slightly trashy period drama, and it was fun to take a minute and make something to give it a good send off. Someday, I'd like to do an all out, Downton Abbey inspired tea, but I have no idea when I'm going to find the time to actually sit down and get everything sorted out. A girl can dream!

Are you doing anything for the finale? Any ideas on what I should make from this cookbook next?

Enjoy the show!


  1. These were amazing!!! I would eat them again for sure. Hopefully a new show will fill the Downton void.