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.
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.
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.
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.
the 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.
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!