Archive for the 'UK desserts' Category


In hono(u)r of the royal spawn, a scones post

Kate Middleton’s due in July, so I thought the timing was appropriate for posting about these scones I made earlier this year.

Afternoon tea is one culinary tradition we can’t fault the Brits for. Imagine how much nicer people would be if we all took an afternoon break to nurse a hot mug of tea and nibble on tiny pastries. Bet it’d go a long way toward alleviating road rage during the evening rush hour.

Meyer lemon scones with jam

Easy-to-make lumpy, bumpy lemon scones with dried cherries.

If the word “scone” evokes those triangular bricks from the Starbucks pastry case, think again. Scones are easy to make from scratch, don’t require any special baking equipment, and are infinitely tastier than anything you’ll find commercially. Straight from the oven, they’ve got crunchy exteriors that give way to fluffy, moist pastry on the inside. The leftovers also hold up well re-heated in a toaster oven. (Note: if you want yours to be triangles instead of circles, work your dough into a big rectangle and cut it into even triangles. Adjust your baking time accordingly.)

If you make them yourself, you can customize the ingredients by adding whatever combination of chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts, and flavored glazes you want. Just be mindful not to overwork the dough. You need those pieces of cold butter to stay solid so they can create pockets of fluffiness while baking.

Glazing your scones is optional.

Glazing the cyclops scone.

I used this recipe for Meyer lemon scones from the White on Rice Couple, substituting dried cherries for cranberries. They were mighty tasty with jam. If you’re feeling extra fancy, you could also whip up some cream to serve with these, and pretend you’re having high tea at Claridge’s. I’ve also seen jars of the aptly named clotted cream for sale at Dean & Deluca, if you want to get super authentic.


3 products that baffle and delight

Mast Brothers teamed up with Shake Shack for no apprent reason except that they're both based in NYC.

This Mast Brothers-Shake Shack bar (available at the cash registers at the Dupont Circle Shake Shack) perplexed me. Was there burger or bacon in the bar? No, it’s just dark chocolate. Apparently the only connection is that they’re both based in NYC.


The copy on the back of this ginger & chilli biscuit tin (really spicy gingersnaps from Fortnum & Mason) is as good as the cookies themselves. In fact, these were so tasty, they made Mr. X-sXe admit that maybe not all British sweets suck. (“Biscuits” courtesy of Ms. & Mr. Pie, who schlepped them across the pond.)

Red velvet fudge from Reading Terminal Market

Beware your bowels, screams the label on the back of this chunk of red velvet fudge. Ms. Pie brought this gem back from Reading Terminal Market. Noteworthy because (1) it’s telling diabetics to talk to their doctor about incorporating it into their diet–like, reach for red velvet fudge when your blood sugar’s low? Dubious marketing. (2) I’ve never seen a diarrhea warning on candy that didn’t have artificial sweeteners. But I appreciate the heads up.


An Irish pub that doesn’t serve up your typical grub

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Irish Inn at Glen Echo, which I’ve been meaning to try forever. But when my shepherd’s pie came out in its own tiny copper pot, meticulously prepared and perfectly seasoned, I figured this was more than a few notches above your usual pub fare.

The Irish Inn's version of deconstructed banoffee pie

That definitely held true for the banoffee pie. The way this dessert was presented was something you’d expect from a much fancier joint, not a place that serves up bangers and mash. This particular take on the traditional English dessert (a richer version of American banana cream pie) was deconstructed: an oozing pile of bananas, cookie crumble, and toffee generously layered on top of each other.

Without a true base crust to ground it, this banoffee “pie” felt overly rich. Almost like I was shoveling caramel sauce from the jar into my mouth. I would’ve liked more crunch to balance the softer textures. All said, though, we did clean the plate.


UK vs. US: chocolate bar face-off

Hershey’s new Air Delight bar is clearly a rip-off of the British Wispa or Aero bars you find in every UK corner store: chocolate with air bubbles in it. But Americans don’t give a crap about texturized chocolate, if you believe this article. In some ways, it feels like whipped yogurt or cream cheese: an excuse to give you less product for the same money.

Hershey's Air Delight, from Click on the photo for their review.

In contrast, the British are all about texture. They even name their bars for it: the Cadbury Flake (chocolate that, uh, flakes off), the Cadbury Crunchie (chocolate coating over a crispy honeycomb center), the Galaxy Ripple (like a Flake but coated in smooth chocolate and made by one of Cadbury’s competitors).

Cross-section of the Cadbury Flake. Difficult to eat gracefully but delightful with your soft serve cone. Photo from

So, what are Americans looking for in a chocolate bar? I quickly surveyed the candy rack at Target to find out. If I had to pick an overall trend, I’d say we’re suckers for a good salty-sweet mix—usually involving peanuts.

1)      Snickers: chocolate coating, peanuts, caramel, and nougat

2)      Twix: chocolate coating, caramel and a subtly salty cookie

3)      Reese’s: chocolate coating, salty peanut butter

4)      Take 5: chocolate coating, caramel, peanuts, and pretzel

5)      Butterfinger: chocolate coating over a peanuty, crunchy center

In summary, I don’t think the texturized chocolate thing is gonna catch on here. Personally, I love a Flake or Crunchie now and then (pick one up at the Classic Cigars & British Goodies store in Clarendon, World Market, or Dean & Deluca). Plus the overall quality of British chocolates is better, due to higher cocoa content. Eat a Cadbury Dairy Milk bar side-by-side with a Hershey’s bar and you can tell the difference.

But given that my UK friends used to always ask me to bring them bags of mini-Reese’s cups, it seems there’s a gap in the UK market for more salty-sweet bars. Got that, Cadbury?


“American-inspired” cookies. What are those Brits playing at?

“I hate it that the British assume American cookies are s***,” declared Ms Pie, as we cackled over the ridiculousness of these cookies from UK chain Marks & Spencer.

Maybe the Marks & Spencer food scientists have never been to an American grocery store. What American cookies have currants in them? Or sunflower and pumpkin seeds? It’s like they tried to cross-breed a chocolate chip cookie, oatmeal raisin cookie, and granola bar. WTF?

We’d recently had a ho-hum experience with some other Marks & Spencer cookies, so we were ready to be underwhelmed again. Rant aside on the cultural authenticity, these cookies are actually pretty good. Well, let me qualify that. First, I had to strongarm Ms. Pie into even trying them. She conceded the crispy cookie base wasn’t disgusting. Then she took another bite and literally spat it out, having hit a currant (they’re not for everyone–explaining why mince pies aren’t a global phenomenon).

As for Mr. X-sXe and me, we actually enjoyed these. They eat like a buttery oat cookie, with an errant seed or dried fruit here and there. Still, we worry for America’s culinary reputation abroad. What other foods are being billed as American-inspired? Tuna-sweetcorn pizza? Hamburger-flavored crisps? One shudders at the possibilities.


Sizing up mini treats from Marks & Spencer

Ms. Pie and I do agree on one thing: the cookies she brought back from UK chain Marks & Spencer are totally unremarkable.

This may sound like a 180-degree reversal of my previous position on British desserts. However, I’d like to clarify that the Anglo-treats I most covet are the refrigerated kind (chocolate mousses, trifles, sticky toffee puddings, and the like). Not the ones you find in the cookie aisle.

BTW, M&S is a UK department store chain as famous for its cotton undies as its range of ready-made sandwiches (although poorly conceived combinations like “cream cheese with strawberry and grapes” give me pause. I hope that flavor got phased out). Their groceries are pretty pricey, more so than your average Tesco, Safeway, or Sainsbury’s. So you’d think their cookies would be decent. You’d think.

Here’s what we tried:

Jaffa cakes: These are named for Jaffa oranges. They’re a spongecake with a layer of orange (or another fruity) jelly, coated in chocolate on one side. I used to eat these by the boxfuls in college. I guess my palate has evolved, because now there’s half a bag that’s been sitting in my pantry not getting any less stale.

“I refuse to eat them, because I do not believe that orange marmalade and chocolate belong together. In this case, two great tastes make me want to barf,” commented my pro-pie counterpart.

Er, if you’re still curious to try them, you might be able to find them at your local grocery store under the Le Petit Ecolier brand.

Oat biscuits: I’m guessing these are M&S’ version of McVitie’s Hobnobs, a fibrous oat-based cookie from the company that made Prince William’s groom’s cake. The texture would make you think were made by Metamucil if they were in American grocery stores. These were ok-tasting with a glass of soy milk. But they need more butter, lard, bacon grease—something to make them taste less healthy. Maybe M&S should take a cue from McVitie’s by offering a chocolate-coated version.

Wafer curls: Due to my lactose intolerance, I usually steer clear of milk chocolate. So I left this one entirely up to Ms. Pie: “I love flute cookies, where there’s a thin layer of chocolate within a buttery and flaky rolled cookie. It’s crunchy and slightly salty and then full of delicious chocolate—like a chocolate pie in cookie form. But then Marks & Spencer had to try to improve on perfection by dipping the whole thing in chocolate, thus smothering the delicate nature of the dessert. Don’t try to do over-the-top, Britain. Leave that to the Americans, who know how to engage in excess without killing flavor.”


Desserts at the Royal Wedding might suck

British food is an easy target. But I’ve always been a fan of British desserts, even if they’re called things like spotted dick.

So it was with disappointment that I learned the 2 cakes slated for the royal buffet don’t sound particularly appetizing. If royalty can’t have good cake at their wedding, what does that mean for your average British commoner?

The main cake will  be a traditional fruitcake that supposedly gets better with age because it’s made with brandy. From People:

Cairns, 56, sent samples of different fruit cakes to William and Kate, who chose their favorite, and she has now started baking to allow the cakes the necessary four weeks to mature.

“Age” and “mature”: words I associate more often with stinky cheese than anything cake-like. This fruitcake sounds impossibly rich and bowel-moving, not something you’d want to stick in the freezer to savor bit by bit.

Photo from

The other cake, by William’s request, is a chocolate-cookie cake being made by McVitie’s biscuit company. You might be thinking Mrs. Field’s, but in this case, the “cake” will be made of 1,700 of their Rich Tea biscuits (cookies that actually are actually pretty plain) and almost 40 pounds of chocolate. Interesting, but it reminds me of a recipe you’d make for an office potluck, like these inexplicably addictive saltine candies.

Photo from

Finally, Kate has apparently requested that Snog frozen yogurt be served. That I can get behind, as long as there’s an extensive toppings bar to go with it.


This sushi cake is fish-free, thankfully

Our friends-of-friends at Eat Me. Drink Me. created this birthday cake using rice krispy treats posing as rice, licorice as seaweed, marshmallows as shrimp, etc. Even the cake part is in technicolor. Everything except the chopsticks was edible. Amazing!


Eccles cake, aka British currant turnovers

Faux Grant brought back this cookbook from England (cheers, Faux!), which encourages you to make a proper meal out of afternoon tea. Aside: if we Americans paused for afternoon tea, I bet we’d have a lot less road rage. Anyway, the book is split into savory dishes (potted meats, sandwiches, spreads/pastes) and traditional British desserts, which I’m a big fan of–even the ones with sketchy names like spotted dick.

On my first outing I tried the Eccles cake, which dates back to the 18th century. A coworker had mentioned enjoying this pastry on a trip to England, which was the first time I’d heard of it. The recipe in Mrs. Simkins calls for pre-made puff pastry filled with a mixture of brown sugar, butter, lemon zest, and currants. Basically, a turnover with a mincemeat-type filling (less the meat).

Currants are the raisins of the UK but way less sweet, and smaller. You’ll find them dotting baked goods such as scones and buns, and there’s a ubiquitous drink called Ribena that’s blackcurrant flavored.

The nice thing about this recipe, besides its simplicity, is that you can fine-tune the filling. Citrus peel give you the fruitcake heebee jeebees? Leave it out. Want to spice it up? Add some cinnamon and/or nutmeg. Here’s the variation I used, but you can take creative license with it. Just remember to keep tasting the filling as you’re cooking it.

Recipe: Eccles cakes

Adapted from Tea With Mrs. Simkins

8 tbsp currants (avail. from the bulk bins at Whole Foods)

3 tbsp butter

3 tbsp brown sugar (or more, to taste)

1 tbsp water

Finely grated lemon zest of 1/2 lemon

1 sheet of ready-made puff pastry (I got mine from the freezer case of Trader Joe’s, a 9″x9″ sheet)

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg (optional)

1 tbsp sugar in the raw to sprinkle on top (optional. Use any large-grain sugar you have on hand.)


Cook the currants, sugar, butter, water, lemon zest, and nutmeg in a small pan, stirring constantly until the sugar has lost its graininess and the currants are plumping up nicely (about 5 minutes). Taste the mixture before you turn off the heat to see if it could use additional sugar, spices, etc. Let mixture cool.

Defrost the puff pastry (less than 10 min. at room temp, or defrost in the fridge during the warmer months). Cut the sheet into four 3″x3″ squares with a non-serrated knife. Put a couple spoonfuls of the cooled currant mixture into each square. Brush 2 adjacent edges with the beaten egg, then fold over the edges diagonally to make a triangle shape. Press the edges together to seal. Brush the top of each triangle with the egg wash, and sprinkle with the sugar in the raw.

Bake at 375 degrees on a greased baking sheet (or use parchment paper) until the tops are nice and brown Since ovens vary, start checking them around the 12-minute mark. I ended up baking mine about 20 minutes.

Makes 4 eccles “cakes.”


Buffy the Vampire Slayer Cupcakes

This recipe comes courtesy of the ladies across the pond at Eat Me. Drink Me. While Cadbury Flakes make a great addition to any dessert, they’re hard to find here (try World Market or Dean & Deluca) or substitute a Kit Kat. Also, for those who don’t want to do the measurement conversions, we recommend whipping up your favorite red velvet cupcake recipe and adding some red food coloring to the icing. Because a Red #40-stained mouth is a genuinely scary thing.

Cupcakes Buffy would approve of.