Dining Downton Style: Treacle Tart

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“It seems a pity to miss such a good pudding” —The Dowager Countess

Emotion, intrigue, romance, tragedy, triumph and the time taken to contemplate and savour it all over a sumptuous, sit-down meal. All of these elements can be found in the riveting and award-winning storytelling of Downton Abbey.

Sometimes, a dish plays a key role in the storyline of the show; at other times, it just serves as part of the rich tapestry. Most dishes have their own story to share. In fact, patient Downton Abbey fans won’t have to wait long to be rewarded with a sweet serving of comfort food from Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen in season 3. Served in the servants’ hall early in the first episode, this treacle tart sets the tone for a roller-coaster ride for the season, full of sugar highs and sticky plot lines.

The modern treacle tart is a simple blend of golden syrup and bread crumbs baked in a short crust pastry. It became popular once sugar refineries began producing treacle (molasses) on a large scale in the Victorian era.

Purists insist that a proper treacle tart can only be made with Lyle’s Golden Syrup. It is Britain’s oldest brand (1885) and has been an official supplier to the Royal Family since 1911. Abram Lyle was a Scottish businessman in the sugar business. The sugar cane refining process produced a syrupy waste product, which Lyle refined and marketed.

While pure white sugar was a luxury item, the lower classes could afford to buy treacle, and the treacle tart was a delicious treat, which did not require expensive ingredients.  —Pamela Foster



Treacle Tart

This recipe will make one nine-inch tart, or go wild and make 12 smaller tarts, if you like. I find smaller tarts make a lovely addition to my tea tray.


Short crust pastry

1¼ cups (300 ml)
unbleached all-purpose flour

¼ cup (50 ml)
granulated sugar or sugar substitute

½ cup (125 ml)
unsalted butter, cut in small pieces

1 egg yolk

2 tbsp (25 ml) whipping cream



1½ cups (375 ml) golden syrup

1 tbsp (15 ml) lemon juice

finely grated zest of 1 large lemon

½ tsp (2 ml) ground ginger

1 cup (250 ml) whole wheat bread crumbs

Icing sugar


Short crust pastry: In a large bowl, combine flour and sugar; rub in butter to resemble fine crumbs. Add egg yolk and cream; form paste into a ball and chill for at least half an hour.

Unwrap chilled pastry and roll out to fit  9-inch (22 cm) fluted pan or cut into circles and press into muffin tins, work doughing into crevices of pan. Line with tin foil, fill with baking beans and bake in 375 F (190 C) oven for 10 minutes. Remove paper and beans and bake for another 5 minutes.

Filling: Heat golden syrup with lemon juice and zest. Stir in ginger. Sprinkle bread crumbs in tart shell or muffin tins. Pour in filling. Note: Filling will bubble when cooking so mixture should be not more than halfway up sides of container – unless, like me, you love a crispy toffee crust from the overflow. Use dough trimmings to make a lattice top on the large tart, if you like. Bake large tart in 375 F (190 C) oven for 20 or 30 minutes, individual-sized tarts for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown and firm to touch. Dust with icing sugar, if using.


Author of the e-book, Abbey Cooks Entertain, Pamela Foster is a culinary historian who resides in the Greater Toronto Area with her husband, affectionately referred to as Lord D. Her popular blog “Downton Abbey Cooks” explores food, history and health of the Downton era (1912-1920s). for more recipes, read Foster’s “The Weekly Downtown Dish” at www.visiontv.ca/category/news.