Friday, October 18, 2013


I’m going to be really honest and tell you I’ve been relishing the time I’ve taken off from this blog the past few weeks. It’s been wonderful to head to bed early or watch a movie at night instead of researching and writing after a long workday, and I admit the further I’ve gotten away from it the less I’ve thought about this blog.

That is, until a few days ago. That was when I saw somewhere on Twitter that this week…THIS WEEK, you guys…is Chocolate Week in the United Kingdom. I think this is worth exploring. I think this is also a great week to knock out the remaining contender in the chocolate category. Cadbury UK Limited holds a royal warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Cocoa and Chocolate Manufacturers.”
Cadbury dates back to 1824, when John Cadbury opened a grocery store in Birmingham where he sold cocoa powder and drinking chocolate. Seven years later, Cadbury opened a manufacturing facility that produced cocoa products for mass consumption. By 1879 it had moved its factory to Bournville and had begun creating a model factory community for its workers. The Bournville factory had so much green space it was called the “Factory in a Garden.” There were ample fields for workers to enjoy a leisurely game of cricket, and all children in Bournville were encouraged to learn to swim in company pools. Workers could participate in morning devotions and Bible readings. Dressing rooms at the factory were heated so that workers wouldn’t have to change in the cold. Cadbury also scheduled outings to the country to allow for socialization and relaxation. As the Industrial Revolution pushed many companies to exploit their workers, the Cadbury family took the opposite approach. This gem of a film from 1953 gives a closer look.

Cadbury launched its popular Dairy Milk chocolate bar in 1905 to compete with Swiss chocolate makers. The company continued to create new and popular products throughout the decades, including Flake (1920), Crunchie (1929), Fudge (1948), Skippy (1960), the Crème Egg (1971), and Twirl (1987). In 2003 Cadbury Schweppes purchased the world’s second largest gum company, Adams, making it the largest confectionary company in the world.
Here in the States, Cadbury invokes images of Easter, specifically Cadbury cream eggs and those iconic Cadbury bunny tryouts commercials.

It’s a little rarer to find a plain Cadbury chocolate bar or the Green & Black’s bars that Cadbury also sells in the UK. It’s nearly impossible to find Cadbury drinking chocolate, a powdered concoction that you stir into hot milk to make a creamy hot chocolate.

To get the full experience of this royal warrant holder, I’ve selflessly sampled Cadbury drinking chocolate (very nice, and I like that the directions tell you to use milk—not water—and to stir in as much chocolate powder as you want until you get it the way you like it). Nathan and I made an expedition to Treasure Island one afternoon for a vanilla white chocolate Green & Black’s bar, which was awesome, and a Caramello bar, which was so-so. We used our plain Cadbury milk chocolate bar to make another Jamie Oliver recipe, velvety chocolate pots (recipe below). These little individual servings are super-rich and sort of an amped-up chocolate mousse without all of the eggs.  
Cities all over the U.K. are hosting their own events for Chocolate Week, including afternoon chocolate teas in hotels across London, screenings of that great Johnny Depp movie Chocolat, chocolate tastings at department store John Lewis, and London’s hosting of the Salon du Chocolat, the world’s largest chocolate show. Until the U.S. catches up and hosts our own Chocolate Week, sampling these Cadbury treats seems like the closest we can get from across the pond.
Where to Buy: I bought my Green & Black's and Cadbury bars at Treasure Island. I found Cadbury drinking chocolate at Spencer's Jolly Posh Foods.
Velvety Chocolate Pots(adapted from Jamie Oliver's Great Britain)
8 1/2 oz. Cadbury milk chocolate
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
2 T amaretto
7 oz. cherries, raspberries, or strawberries
Chop up the chocolate and place it in a large heatproof glass bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water until the chocolate has melted. (Oliver warns not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl). Remove the chocolate from the heat and set aside to cool for five minutes.
Whip the cream and sugar together with an electric mixer until very soft peaks form. Use a whisk to stir in the amaretto. Be careful not to overbeat this mixture, which will make it impossible for the chocolate to be folded into it completely. Slowly pour the cooled melted chocolate into the cream and fold it in with a whisk until just combined. Again, do not overmix it.
Pour the chocolate mixture into small glasses. Refrigerate for at least two hours before serving. To serve, top with fruit.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


If there’s anything writing this blog for the past several months has taught me, it’s that my expectations can be very misleading. Walkers Shortbread is just the perfect example. I love Walkers shortbread. I’m always amazed when I eat it how much it tastes like homemade shortbread. That’s why at first I was undeterred when I realized Walkers holds a royal warrant not for its famous shortbread but for something else. Something called an “oatcake.” Okay, sure, whatever. They’re probably good at making oatcakes too, right? Not so fast. Walkers Shortbread Limited holds a royal warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Supplier of Oatcakes.”

Before I explain to you in vivid detail what I hate so much about oatcakes, we need to be clear about pronunciation. As an American, I pronounce this word giving short shrift to the “oat” prefix. That’s a huge mistake, and you shouldn’t make it too. Keep in mind that Walkers is a Scottish company, that oatcakes are a traditional Scottish food. So instead of pronouncing this “oat-cakes” you need to be saying it more like “ouwt-cakes.” Let’s give a quick listen to how it’s done in this Walkers video.

Let’s circle back now, to why they’re so bad. Oatcakes (ouwtcakes, whatever) are dry and lifeless little snacks not unlike hardtack. I’ve eaten communion wafers that had more personality and flavor. They have a kind of green-gray-yellow tint to them I find unsettling outside the realm of prenatal vitamins and cleaning products. The box recommends serving them with cheese, but I like cheese too much to marry it to one of these beasts. Though they’re nothing like the Ryvita crackers I so despised several months ago, they remind me of them to the extent that I felt like the Queen had really screwed me over by recommending them. It’s not unlike a friend setting you up on a blind date and—almost immediately—you’re thinking to yourself What did that a****** think I would see in THIS guy?
Queen Elizabeth might make the argument that awarding a royal warrant to Walkers is political. This is a longstanding, family-owned Scottish company that prides itself on the quality of its ingredients and the authenticity of its process. It has been making its shortbread, oatcakes, and other baked goods in the Scottish village of Aberlour for more than a century. There’s something incredibly heartwarming about that. This is exactly the kind of business the royal family should be recognizing and calling attention to, in my opinion. Yet, why choose oatcakes when shortbread is clearly the superior product offered by Walkers?

Even Walkers seems surprised by this choice. In the little blurb about the company that appears on the Royal Warrant Holders’ Association website, they acknowledge that a royal warrant is “a great accolade for the humble oatcake.” Yeah. They then try to turn attention to their tastier offerings, suggesting the company is “best known for the quality and tradition of its pure butter shortbreads.” Even at this summer’s Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace, Walkers didn’t just showcase the warrant-holding oatcakes but instead brought its entire product line, including many types of shortbread. It stamped the Queen’s symbol ER (an acronym for the Latin Elizabeth Regina) into samples of its shortbread, not the humble oatcake.
I began to wonder if the Queen was an outlier in her affection for oatcakes. Or, maybe she doesn’t like them but she’s just trying to be nice, like when American politicians gobble down junk food at state fairs when they’re on the campaign trail. Or maybe she considers oatcakes healthy and eats them even if they don’t taste particularly good. My mind led me in that direction all week, but today I decided I’d just double-check reviews of this product on Amazingly enough, all of the reviewers loved oatcakes:

“…Yes, they are crisp, very dry, and rather crumbly, but that is exactly how they should be!”
“…these delicious oatcakes are a bit risky, like running about a Scottish crags with a kilt with no unders. Tiny hard bits might impede your bite. Maybe sturdy extra strong Scottish chompers can handle this. The oatcakes are delicious with wild honey or unadorned in their simple goodness. Just be careful.”

“If you have any Scottish blood in you, treat yourself to some of these fine oat cakes…”
“One time our dog was hit by a car, late on a Sunday afternoon. We had to rush her to the emergency vet, 45 minutes from our house. We put her in the car, loaded the car with oatcakes and poured some white wine. Yes, we drove while drinking the wine, but we got there, etc., etc., and weren’t starving when, hours later we got back with our poor bandaged-up but surviving dog…”

That one with the dog and the DUI that should have been is difficult for me to interpret too. In general, though, I think we can argue from this review and others that people really enjoy oatcakes. Consuming them seems almost a point of pride. These are hard to find—they might potentially break your teeth—they are dry and tasteless, but that’s how it should be. They will land like a brick in your stomach and keep you capable of driving despite having consumed way too much wine, especially when you’ve “loaded the car” with them. (Seriously, what does that mean? Did they bring more than a few boxes of oatcakes?)
If you’re ready to disregard my advice and even Walkers’ advice about which of their products you should be eating, be my guest. I just hope you have a strong set of chompers and an even stronger stomach.

Where to buy: I bought my Highland oatcakes at Spencer’s Jolly Posh Foods. You can also order them from Amazon. Walkers shortbreads are available in most American grocery stores.
Photo credit: Credit for the photos of Walkers at the Coronation Festival goes to Theo Cohen.