Posted in Bringing Alive The Past, History, Mrs Beeton, TV Programme

Afternoon tea with Mrs Beeton

The Victorian Kitchen display at Tudor House and Gardens, Southampton, Hampshire

Time to cook with Mrs Beeton again.  This posting is inspired by the second series of BBC’s The Great British Bake Off which began yesterday, Tuesday 16th August, 8pm on BBC2.  I love the mix of contemporary baking and historical background of some of the food created.  This week the 12 amateur bakers tackle 24 perfect cupcakes in 2 hours, Mary Berry’s recipe for coffee and walnut battenberg cake and finally, a tiered, showstopping cake.  Compulsive viewing for all foodies and food historians!

I have selected a few lovely recipes from my 1915 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, to create afternoon tea à la Mrs B:

  • Tea bread;
  • Macaroons;
  • Ratafias;
  • Queen cakes (the forerunner of cupcakes and featured in one of the history segments on The Great British Bake Off);
  • Saucer cake for tea;
  • Afternoon tea scones;
  • How to make marzipan;
  • How to make the perfect cup of tea.

    Assorted Pastry from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 Edition


25g = 1oz      100g = 4oz       225g = 1/2 lb     450g = 1lb

Tea Bread

Ingredients: 2lbs of flour, 1/4 of a lb of butter, 1/4 of sugar, 1oz salt, 1 1/2ozs of yeast, 1 1/2 pints of milk and water, 4 yolks of eggs.

Method: Make the milk and water lukewarm, turn it into a convenient-sized basin, dissolve the yeast and 2ozs of the sugar in it, stir in 1/4 of a lb of flour, cover over with a clean cloth, and stand aside in a warm place for 20 minutes.  While this is standing, weigh the remainder of the flour on to the board, rub the butter into it with the hands, then make a bay; add the other 2ozs of sugar, the yolks of eggs, and the salt in fine powder, and then if the ferment is ready put it into the bay, wet up into a smooth paste, give it a good kneading, then cover over with a clean cloth, and leave it to prove.  When well proved, divide up into pieces about 2ozs in weight, and form them into various shapes – twists, crescents, scrolls, rosettes, or any other shape fancy may suggest.  As these are formed, set them on to a clean tin, cover them over and leave to prove.  When well proved, wash them over with a beaten-up egg, and bake in a moderately warm oven to a nice colour.

These rolls are very much appreciated for afternoon tea, tennis and garden parties, and are an excellent adjunct to coffee, cut up into slices and dried in the oven as rusks.

Time taken: About 2 hours  Quantity: sufficient for 30 to 40 rolls.


Ingredients:  1/2 lb of ground sweet almonds, 3/4 lb of caster sugar, the whites of 3 eggs, wafer paper.

Method: Mix the sugar and ground almonds well together on the board, then put them into a large marble or porcelain mortar, add the whites of eggs, and proceed to well rub the mixture into a smooth paste.  When it begins to get stiff and stands up well it is ready, or if uncertain whether the paste has been pounded enough, try one in the oven, and if all right, lay sheets of wafer paper over clean baking-sheets, and lay out the biscuits upon it with a spoon, or savoy bag, place a few split almonds on the top of each, then bake in a cool oven.

Time taken: 15 to 20 minutes in a slow oven.  Quantity: Sufficient for 24 to 36 biscuits.


Ingredients: 3/4 lb of sweet ground almonds, 2ozs of butter, 1 1/4 lbs of caster sugar, the whites of 6 or 8 eggs.

Method: Exactly the same as for macaroons, but the paste must be a little softer and they must be laid out in very small drops on to sheets of clean white baking paper, laid over baking-plates, and baked in a cool oven to a very pale in colour.

Time taken: 20-30 minutes.  Quantity: Sufficient for 60 or 80 ratafias.

Queen cakes

Ingredients: 1lb of flour, 1/2lb of butter, 1/2lb of caster sugar, 3 eggs, 1 teacupful of cream, 1/2lb of currants, 1 teaspoonful of baking-powder, essence of lemon, or almonds, to taste.

Method: Sieve the baking-powder well with the flour on to a sheet of paper.  Put the butter, sugar and cream into a clean basin, and beat up to a light cream.  Add the eggs 1 at a time.  When all the eggs are in, add the flour and fruit, and moisten with milk to the consistency of cake-batter.  Put it into small buttered tins, and bake the cakes from a 1/4 to 1/2 an hour.  Grated lemon-rind may be substituted for the lemon and almond flavouring, and will make the cakes equally nice.

Time taken:  1/4 to 1/2 hour.  Quantity: sufficient for 2 or 3 dozen small cakes.

Saucer cake for tea

Ingredients: 1/4lb of flour, 1/4 of a best cornflour, 1/4lb of castor sugar, 1/4lb of butter, 2 eggs, 1oz of candied orange or lemon-peel.

Method: Mix the flour and cornflour together; add the sugar, the candied peel cut into thin slices, the butter beaten to a cream, and the eggs well-whisked.  Beat the mixture for 10 minutes, put it into a buttered cake-tin or mould; or, if this is obtainable, a soup-plate answers for the purpose, lined with a piece of buttered paper.  Bake the cake in a moderate oven from 3/4 to 1 hour, and when cold put it away in a covered canister.  It will remain good for some weeks, even if it be cut into slices.

Time taken: 3/4 to 1 hour   Quantity: sufficient for 1 cake

Afternoon tea scones

Ingredients:  4ozs of flour, 1oz of butter, 1 tablespoonful of caster sugar, 1/2 of a teaspoonful of cream of tartar, 1/4 of a teaspoonful of carbonate of soda, 1 egg, a little cold water.

Method: Rub the butter lightly into the flour, and add the remaining dry ingredients.  Beat and stir in the egg, adding cold water or milk to make a light dough.  Roll out thin, cut into small rounds, and bake on a hot griddle or in a sharp oven.


Ingredients: 1lb of loaf sugar, 12ozs of ground almonds, 3ozs of sifted icing sugar, 2 whites of eggs, 1 1/2 gills of water (gill is approximately 1/4 of a pint).

Method: Boil the sugar and water to 240F, then draw the sugar boiler or pan aside, and when the syrup has cooled slightly add the almonds and whites of eggs.  Stir by the side of the fire for a few minutes, then turn on to a slab, stir in the icing sugar, and work with a spatula until the preparation is cool enough to handle.  Knead until perfectly smooth, add flavouring to taste, and mould into desired shapes.

How to make the perfect cup of tea

In order to make good tea it is necessary that the water should be quite boiling, but it must on no account be water that has boiled for some time, or been previously boiled, cooled, and then re-boiled.  It is a good plan to empty the kettle and refill it with fresh cold water, and make the tea the moment it reaches boiling point.  Soft water makes the best tea, and boiling softens the water, but after it has boiled for some time it again becomes hard.  When water is very hard a tiny pinch of carbonate of soda may be put into the teapot with the tea, but it must be used very sparingly, otherwise it may impart a very unpleasant taste to the beverage.  Tea is better made in an earthen than a metal pot.  One good teaspoonful of tea will be found sufficient for two small cups, if made with boiling water and allowed to stand 3 to 4 minutes; longer than this it should never be allowed to stand.  The delicate flavour of the tea may be preserved, and injurious effects avoided by pouring the tea, after it has stood 3 or 4 minutes, into a clean teapot which has been previously heated.

Fancy Cakes from Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1915 edition.


Social historian, based in the UK.

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