“Keep Calm…amidst the mob at Marks and Spencer”

MS choco ms cafe

There was a mob on each floor, a conglomeration of mobs in the food court. That’s how Brussels welcomed the re-opening of Marks and Spencer. I hurried past the crowds who were in united euphoria over baking powder, gammon, clotted cream and shortbreads (the very same things I look for when shopping at Tesco whenever I cross the Channel). But here we are in one new, big building. Marks and Spencer has come to feed Belgium’s hunger for British food. The line was long and the shelves were empty. I headed to the coffee shop for afternoon tea but the line was long and the shelves were empty.

Finally, after twenty minutes and facing three overwhelmed staff at the counter, I ordered a cup of Earl Grey tea, a capuccino and a slice of Victoria sponge cake and chocolate cake. No great expectations. It’s industrially-made but let’s see what a 3.50 euro slice of cake is worth (the same price I would pay in a no fancy tea shop.) The three-layer chocolate cake was dry, meaning far from being moist, and a bit too sweet but luckily the ganache was good. Victoria sponge was “correct” but the strawberry jam and the thin spread of buttercream fillings were far too sweet. And for someone who never adored fondant sugarpaste icing, this was a nightmare. Half a centimeter of icing that you can literally unroll to make a pizza and re-roll to resemble a soiled sanitary napkin. But this was just me and my personal struggle against sugarpaste icing.

MS victoriaMS victoria 2But let’s face it… Marks and Spencer is an honest-to-goodness supermarket that makes no claim to pâtisserie fine. It has no pretensions, has always strive for quality, and promises good value for money, which amounts to the majority of items you find in the store and tells much of what Marks and Spencer is known to be.

MS sliceTo prove this, I bought one of the cheapest ready-made classic pastry, “cream slices made with puff and freshly whipped cream, strawberry conserve and topped with smooth fondant icing.” For 1.10 euro a piece, this was worth what my sweet tooth needed to calm my claustrophobia in Britain‘s flagship store. This, however, did not stop my daughter from crying out loud “Mom, why are doing this to me,” after being coerced to join the tasting. Well, getting scones outside of my kitchen was a display of insolence, so some kind of petty “punishment” was due.

Thank you, Eliza Jane Rodda

rodda'sSo essential for cream tea but not exclusive to, the clotted cream is one of the best “unhealthy” products. It is said that a 100 gram tub of clotted cream is equivalent to a 200 gram cheeseburger. I’m willing to take this creamy gift from the cow before it was reduced to ground meat. My favourite is no less than Rodda’s clotted cream, a family enterprise that dates back in 1890 when Eliza Jane Rodda gently baked rich local cream in her farmhouse kitchen in Cornwall. Since then, Rodda has become England’s number one ‘cottage industry” manufacturer of clotted cream, ranging from five tons to 25 tons produced in a day.  When I bake scones, it has to be the real cream tea experience so I take the long trip to Stonemanor (an English grocery) where I can find the short-date Rodda’s clotted cream and Wilkin and Sons Tiptree raspberry jam (I never made one!). Rodda’s is creamy, thick, velvety and sinful.  I’m ready to take in 586 kilocalories. Read the vital information at the back of the packaging: “take your scone, add a layer of jam, and then (only then!) a generous dollop of Rodda’s….you get a lot more on that way.” Clotted cream also goes best with apple pie, poach pears, chocolate brownie, pancakes, sticky toffee pudding, etc. I buy several tubs and freeze them. Just thaw in the fridge a day before. If unavailable, I get kaymak, the Turkish equivalent or the Maquee de Brabant, the Belgian half-equivalent. Otherwise, simply mix mascarpone with a bit of sugar and vanilla.