Why do the English like big, very colourful and sprinkly butter-iced cakes? Why do the French like small dainty ones? And why are dainties in Harrods not dainty?

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On a recent trip to London I wandered around Harrod’s food hall, this in tribute to Justine of Eclectic Socks and Trinkets who likes to write about Harrod’s her corner store, where she often buys stuff to bring to Fiesta Friday, Angie’s party over at the Novice gardener, where I will head over to just after I finish this post. (I spotted a very nice flan over there in three layers, flan, caramel and chocolate, pretty indulgences……)- if you like food head over and take a look, or join the Friday party and submit a recipe).  Justine is where I first came across insanely expensive Harrod’s cakes check them out here.   And so on my recent trip over I had to go and check out the food counters.

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I love looking round and exploring food shops all over the world, each nation has it’s loves, I especially love bakeries and I love what you can possibly infer about the nation you are visiting. Take the Irish Bakery – they like their tasty treats in large portions, the American bakery – well no comment needed there, we all know the usual US muffin sizes, you could happily share one with 2 other people, or  a regular size Cinnabon – is warm and yummy, full of sugar and unnatural tasting but despite this I find, hey, once you start you cannot stop – and I suspect one of those babies comes in at around half your daily kcal need I am guessing around 780 kcal….which is why I have had one in my life and then avoided the stalls at airports religiously. Then we have the French bakery – small, dainty specialties, no food colouring to speak of, delicate sizes and to me at least much more tempting because of it. Somehow, like a size 6 shoe, a size 6 pastry also just looks prettier. Swiss bakeries also go for smaller sizes – pretty dainty delicate shapes, we don’t use margarine, nor salted butter the way the English did back in the 70ies, trust me, you may have forgotten but I haven’t. In Switzerland – things are pretty – chocolates come in small sizes and with hefty price tags. Now for my question – why do some nations like it big – and some nations like it small and delicate? Or is it a mere question of pricing – can a baker in Switzerland afford to make smaller sizes because he can still charge enough for them to make a living, and in other countries in the US for example, if you are not getting your moneys worth, i.e. a triple-sized muffin, you won’t buy because size matters? Below Harrods chocolates – double the size of the ones you would get in France or Switzerland, but about Belgium size.

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The Swiss historically are not an aristocratic nation, although famous for making beautiful embroideries and being the land of milk and honey, we are widely considered to be a folk of farmers in the nicest possible way, oh yes, and really good at making sure the trains run on time. The English invented cream tea thanks to a little support from India, they have beautiful stately homes etc. but as far as I can see no real “delicate pastry culture” unlike perhaps the continentals. I seem to remember the English royal family imported French pastry chefs (and one of the most popular chefs for the royals today is in a fact a swiss man but I digress). I realize this might be a sensitive topic so I look forward to comments. Do you agree, if so, any idea why this is? Was it the temperature in the UK that made dainty things appear less attractive? Did Victoria sponges and lemon drops, Bakewell tarts and Crumbles make more sense because the weather is cold and rainy, like puddings made with suet – can be very yummy, but they are not delicate pretty affairs, more the type of thing that will make you ready to stomp out into the blizzard in your wellies to bring in the sheep. How though to explain the love of icings and food colourings? A heavily iced and multicolored cake would not sell in Germany, France, Italy, Spain or Switzerland – not sure about any others but pretty sure I can speak for those countries.

 

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Anyway – often I contemplate writing a list of all the things I would like someone to do research on  – I have come up with a fair amount of what I think would be great thesis topics over the years, but as alas I need to make a living, I cannot spend my time researching it all myself. Maybe a reader has a theory? If you don’t believe my assessment that the English like big cakes then check out the photos below from Harrods, and then check out the French bakery photos. Or even better – travel and research and tell me why you think there is such a big cultural difference in cake fancying.

IMG_4164the cake above – a devils food cake would not sell in Switzerland – the platter is too messy – the crumbs and bleeding red colour would bother customers. I note that cake slices here are each wrapped in individual wax paper so that they are easy to separate into their individual pieces and easy to transport elegantly.

Some very pretty examples below- the one in pink on the left reminds me of leaves breaking through the soil, a symbol of hope and fecundity, very pretty – or the lemon coloured one with rose petals:IMG_4165 (1) IMG_4165

And to finish off even the “dainties” are very large – have the portions become larger in past years, or is this how they have always been? I seem to remember this is the regular sort of size for the UK, but anybody living there now Justine, Mr Fitz, Mr Fitz’s layer or a certain expert Johnny, a certified cook, please do comment. I would love to hear your thoughts! Or anyone at Fiesta Friday, I would love to share my thoughts and hear yours on the question of cake size and culture!

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21 thoughts on “Why do the English like big, very colourful and sprinkly butter-iced cakes? Why do the French like small dainty ones? And why are dainties in Harrods not dainty?

  1. Haha! We need cakes , pastries and sweet things that stick to your ribs for our weather! I think also that post sugar rationing it became a status kinda thing to have big cakes.. We like cake.. And tea.. Problem is not all our cake is good though.. Good cake is hard to find .. Hope you had the roast beef sandwich in harrods temple of food.. It’s wonderful!

    • Ha – Mr Fitz – THANKS for commenting – so it is due to the weather – sticks to the ribs, gets you through the winter, and I also figured might have something to do with post war syndrome and compensation – use more sugar – have BIG cakes! And Sprinkles + and lots of BUTTER – and more sprinkles. Maybe cause we were never that hard hit with rationing, although we did have it too, we didnt develop a love of BIG cakes. But then the french after Marie Antoinette would have to be eating very big cakes indeed to compensate. Nope didnt have the roast beef sandwich it’ll go on the bucket list for next time .)

      • and what could be more important than that? I have a thought coming on – do popluations who like big creative looking cakes in childhood end up being the more creative science fiction novelists – definite yes there -ha so much to think about 🙂

  2. Well, these are extraordinary cakes! Funny, I had never thought of why one culture would make them big or small! I will have to contemplate this for awhile… 🙂 Great photos and certainly food for thought! (pardon the pun!) Thanks so much for bringing all of these awesome pix to FF! 😀

    • Hi Julianna – thanks very much for answering, and really nice to know that I have brought something new to FF – I would love to hear about any conclusions you reach on the BIG CAKE small cake front 🙂 – they are some pretty awesome looking cakes aren’t they- just imagine the time it takes to get them completed….

  3. As I read your thoughts on cake size, my reaction was exactly like Mr. Fitz’s. I have lived in all the countries you mention, and I can tell you, even as a Canadian, I was never as cold as I was in Scottish and English houses in the winter. Our diet there was much richer and fuller of sweets than anywhere else I’ve ever lived – no doubt to keep us warm. Houses are better heated there now, and diets are changing, but there are traditions that will linger for sure. I’m pretty sure there are other factors, like relative cost of food (hence the over-sized in US and here in Canada). Like you, these cultural differences are really interesting and impossible not to notice.

    • Dear Hilda – thanks very much for sharing – now you mention it I too lived in English houses in the winter – there was ice on the inside of the windows in the mornings, you could see your breath as you exhaled and the sheets seemed perpetually damp – beautiful big piles of stone, but not built for comfort! I recently in July! spent 3 days in an english ex-stately home turned hotel – it was cold and damp inside as well – as though they never really dry out. Spent time in a Welsh farmhouse last year – temperature around 17 °c – the heating only got switched on when the guests were inside – and the insulation was so bad that the heat vanished within 10 minutes of being switched off. thank you for reminding me of this AND of the school lunches heavy on custard and suet! Not sure that houses are better heated, the insulation doesn’t seem much improved in the UK despite modernisation of building techniques the world over 🙂

  4. As a representative or overeating Americans, I have no defense. Of course, it makes sense to to eat smallish, well crafted sweets, not the oversized sugar laden desserts we tend to enjoy. Did you read “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat”?? I think that explains it…

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