Posts Tagged ‘Marks & Spencer


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.”


A (really long) word on British desserts


OK, so British food gets a bad rap. British desserts, on the other hand–well, I challenge you to leave empty-handed from the dessert case at Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Marks & Spencer. There are simply too many temptations for dessert-lovers like us.

The array of individually-sized UK goodies like trifles, puddings, fools, etc. will make your head spin. Then there’s the French influence: floating islands (merengue floating in a “sea” of vanilla custard), mousses, creme brulees, pot de cremes, etc.

What I particularly like about desserts you find in the UK are:

(1) the names. Believe it or not, there’s a dessert called spotted dick (a delicious suet-based concoction with currants, not an STD. It’s usually served with hot custard)

(2) the use of real whipped cream, butter, custard and anything that will clot your veins/make me reach for my bottle of lactase. I mean, they actually sell a product called “clotted cream” (you can also find it here at Dean & Deluca) that’s a super heavy cream for spreading on scones and such.

Around the holidays, there’s an entirely new crop of desserts you can only get for a limited time. Like Christmas puddings, which are liquor-infused, heavy fruitcakes (not those bricks like the ones from Safeway) usually eaten with melted brandy butter or custard. Or flute-shaped butter cookies called brandy snaps that are meant to be filled with whipped cream. British cannolis, anyone? BTW just to clarify, what we call dessert the British call “pudding.” But they also refer to specific desserts as puddings: toffee puddings, Christmas pudding, etc.–spongy, heavy cake-like confections. So yeah, it gets confusing.

Here are a few of my personal attempts at making British desserts. The bottom photo is a pseudo-trifle I made for July 4th last year. Making an American flag out of fruit was out of the question, so it got the French flag treatment (sorry, America). It was layers of custard, sponge cake, fruit and whipped cream. You’re supposed to put it in a glass bowl to show off the layers, but I didn’t have one handy. Also, I opted not to include liquor or jello in it.

The thing in the wine glass is something I learned from Nigella Lawson’s Food Network show: Amaretto Syllabub. It’s easy–you just whip together Amaretto liquor, whipped cream, sugar & lemon juice. Then layer it in a glass with shaved chocolate flakes and crumbled cookies. Recipe here:,,FOOD_9936_77083,00.html. Nigella, my taste buds thank you but my cholesterol doesn’t.

Anyway, the next time you decide to rag on the British culinary tradition, just think of all the spotted dick we’d be missing out on.