One of the really fun aspects of having visitors from America spend time with us is that they get a glimpse of life here that might not be immediately obvious to a more casual tourist coming over to Great Britain. And it’s always interesting to see what cultural differences or nuances they pick up on. So when my sister visited last week and said, “Wow, they’re really into cake here,” I thought this would be a good topic to shed a little more light on.
Cake. What’s not to love, right? That is certainly the mindset here. In the U.S., I typically only think about or eat cake before a birthday party, or maybe some other type of celebration. That doesn’t mean I don’t love it, I most definitely do. But I’ve learned more about cake since moving to England 8 months ago than I did my previous 33 years of life.
When I first moved here, I noticed that some of the coffee shops and tea rooms offered cake as the primary food option. When we were exploring many of the tourist areas around our home this past summer, we quickly realized that outside of the major meal times, cake might be the only food available for purchase at some refreshment stands. Indeed, at our local pub, a sign stands along the road advertising “coffee and cake all day.” I often visit around the noon hour, only to find my table is the only one eating a warm meal, while the other patrons are eating cake.
Then, when my son started school a few months later, I learned that hosting what’s called a “cake stall” was a big fundraising tool for various causes by the parents’ group. It’s the equivalent of a bake sale in the U.S. And then I read about cake club meetings around town, and lessons in cake decorating and baking at various bakeries and shops.
My realization that cake is king here was cemented when I started watching the Great British Bake Off. It’s a television show meets cooking competition, where amateur (but very experienced) bakers compete in various challenges to see who is the best baker among the group. I was instantly hooked (and often hungry while watching!) While it wasn’t limited just to cakes, I learned a lot about the various types of cakes by watching, and even some of the expressions used. For instance, the judges would often say, “that was a good bake” to a contestant when they had achieved the right consistency in their cake.
So what’s my favorite type of British cake? It’s hard to go wrong, especially if you have a sweet tooth, but I’ve fallen in love with Millionaire’s Shortbread. I’m not sure if it’s technically a cake (what defines that anyway?), perhaps it’s more of a bar or brownie. Regardless, it’s delicious and if you ever visit, put it on your “must eat” list. The base is a shortbread (like a crumbly vanilla cookie), the middle layer is caramel, and the top is a dark chocolate. It almost tastes a bit like a Twix candy bar, only better. I don’t bake, but I found this recipe here if you fancy trying to make it yourself. I asked my 4-year-old son, and he said he loves when his school serves sponge cake as their pudding after lunch. “Any flavor, I like them all,” he added. Smart boy.
What’s your favorite type of cake? I’d love to try them all before I move back to the “birthday party cake” culture of America!