‘Victoria’ airs Sunday on PBS filling a ‘Downton Abbey’ void (VIDEO)

Missing Lady Violet and her quips? Already binge-watched season one of The Crown? Don’t despair … we’ve got a new show recommendation and a recipe for you.

Jenna Coleman plays Queen Victoria in "Victoria" aired on PBS, Episode 1. Photo courtesy of ITV Plc

Netflix’s The Crown recently picked up a few awards at the Golden Globes: one for Best Television Series, and another that proclaimed Claire Foy, who plays Queen Elizabeth II, Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series. Yes, they were so well-deserved, but they were also proof that the general public is hungry for decent historical period dramas—just look at Downton Abbey, “one of the most widely watched television drama shows in the world.” The fans are still on tenterhooks awaiting the announcement of a Downton film … imagine the joy!

But there’s a good reason we’re all such devotees of these mini-series: They take us back to a time when things seemed simpler (well definitely for the upper-echelons of society anyway). We’re transported to a time when people were very mannerly, the only things that was stressed were the seams on tight-fitting corsets. Gentlemen wore hats (and a million other accessories the men of today no longer bother with), and the ladies really knew how to do an up-do. Children were, well, just not seen! Or very well-behaved and quiet. Another world indeed.

MORE TO READ: Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ is a sumptuous, historical tonic

These shows not only teach us a little history, they allow us to fantasize about having our afternoon tea served up on beautiful porcelain by our live-in butler, Jeeves, while wearing silk gloves and great-grand-mama’s pearl necklace. Reality check: our levels of boredom would be as stiff as the Earl of Grantham’s hand-starched collars if we really found ourselves in this era. But there’s nothing wrong with the dream, and thankfully PBS has recognized this in airing the wonderful Victoria this Sunday, January 15 at 9 p.m.

If Downton was witty, full of style, and the seemingly scandalous Lady Mary, then The Crown offered us insight into a much-admired and loved Queen Elizabeth and her family. So how can Victoria impress us? Strangely, a good dose of marital advice; along with the usual costumes, history, and fine acting. If you’re intrigued, click play on the trailer:

The series starts in 1837, with an 18-year-old Victoria, played by the captivating Jenna Coleman, ascending the throne. Considering her age and diminutive stature, (she was just five feet tall), those around her presumed she’d not be up to the task. When asked “Do you really think you can step from the schoolroom to the throne without guidance?” she is more dismissive than concerned. From the outset the young Queen defies everybody with her determination and her outspoken nature. Carefully selecting her allies, Victoria begins a platonic relationship with her prime minister and adviser, Lord Melbourne. The much older and widowed Lord “M” played by the rather handsome Rufus Sewell (whose velvety voice practically doubles his charm), must steer the Queen in the right direction, despite his own feelings.

In some respects, viewers will find themselves dying to push them to the altar, and in others, you’ll be intrigued to know what else could be around the corner for Victoria … the attractive but straight-laced, Prince Albert—no, that is not a spoiler, people! History fans know that England’s longest reigning Queen (until recently when Queen Elizabeth took up the mantle), was married to her German first cousin, Albert. And this is where the show becomes very interesting.

It transitions from the on-screen chemistry of Coleman and Sewell, to the beautiful and intense love of Victoria and Albert, with Tom Hughes as the dashing but rigid prince. The two young people navigate their way through all the compromises of their marriage, balanced with their public roles as Queen and Prince Consort. And along the way, viewers will witness the arguments, concerns, fears, and love they share. Despite their regal status they’re marriage seems very real, very normal and that is because it is based on an unwavering love and devotion to each other.

MORE TO READ: 7 Lessons from the successful marriage of QEII and Prince Philip

Although set in the 1800s, the principles of marriage still seem just as relevant for us in the 2000s—if ever there was a series that gives a “how-to” in marriage, I believe this is it. The couple illustrates the beauty and reality of marriage, while remaining dignified and true to their own morals and religious beliefs. Throughout the show they tackle engagement, natural contraception, careers, and even the occasional brothel dilemma. All with a little humor, and a lot of love.

So if you’re looking for a little entertainment this weekend, grab some popcorn, cozy up to your hubby, and tune in.

Eat while you watch: A ‘Victoria Sandwich’

The perfect viewer snack: A very simple sponge cake that was said to be Queen Victoria’s favorite—and might have accounted for her impressive 50-inch waist. It’s one of the most classic, and delicious, cakes served for afternoon tea. It’s such a staple that Mary Berry, the queen of baking and host of the Great British Bake Off, says everyone should learn to master it.

So I’m sharing my personal recipe, which I’ve served for my family every Sunday afternoon since I was eight-years-old.

A note before we dive into the recipe: The basic sponge cake, which is delicious all on its own, but some people like to add whipped cream in the middle which can be especially nice in warmer months (though I’ll note that this is not very Victorian; Lady Grantham would not approve). But if you’re feeling really improper, I suggest going even further by creating a layered sandwich: simply add a light spread of raspberry jam on top of one half of the cake, followed by some whipped cream, and topped with a layer of fresh raspberries, then carefully place on top the other half of the cake and sprinkle with caster sugar.

Serves: 10–12

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 25–30 minutes

Difficulty: easy

Ingredients:

8 oz of caster* (super-fine) sugar + extra for dusting
4 free-range eggs (room temperature)
8 oz of butter or margarine
8 oz of all-purpose flour (sifted)
5 tsp of baking powder (to ensure there is enough raising agent to mix with the flour)

*Difficult to find, caster sugar is between regular granulated sugar and powdered sugar. You can very quickly make your own version and it does make a difference.

Method:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F and thoroughly grease two circular baking tins with butter, approx 8″ in diameter.

2. Although many recipes have a “chuck them all in” approach to making this cake I find it better to break it down. So start with warming your butter carefully in the microwave (it doesn’t need to melt). Then place in large mixing bowl and mix with the caster sugar until you get a pale yellowish color. The more air the mixture retains the better so don’t over-mix.

3. Add the teaspoons of baking powder into the flour. Put aside.

3. Mix the eggs in a separate bowl until combined, then using two hands, with one hand slowly add the eggs and with the other hand the flour, into the sugar and butter mixture. Then mix until you get a creamy consistency that can drop off a spoon in a dollop.

4. Pour the batter into the tins evenly. Spread evenly and lightly with a fork or spatula, but again to retain the air, don’t press down too hard. I often softly shake my tins until the batter is even.

5. Place in the middle of the oven and close the doors as quickly as possible. The success of this case lies in making sure you have a consistent heat. Cook for 20 minutes and then take a quick peek through the door. At 25 minutes open the door slightly; the cake halves should be golden brown and should have risen with a gentle peak in the middle. If they come away from the sides and are springy to the touch then they are done. (Although sometimes I’ve had to carefully edge my cakes from the side using a palette knife.)

6. Leave in tins for about 5 minutes, then place a clean tea towel on top of a cooling rack, turn each cake tin upside down and pat the bottom of the tin. The cake should then ease out of the tin onto the rack. Sometimes you might need to help it a bit more if you haven’t greased the tins enough.

7. Leave until cooled down. Then take one cake and place on a plate, peak-side down. Spread over the jam (then cream if desired), place the other half of the cake on top (peak side up). Sprinkle with sugar and you are ready to go.

Cerith Gardiner
Cerith Gardiner
Cerith Gardiner was born in London and has been living in Paris for 14 years. She spends her time working as an English consultant, acting as taxi driver to her four children, and wondering if she'll ever be as stylish as the French.

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