Category Archives: UK

Surprise Train Station Snacks…


I mentioned in some of my earlier posts about how awesome the food was on my recent trip to Europe. Of course I was expecting the food to be great in France what with all the bread, the cheese, various alcoholic delights, and the ability to take ingredients that nobody on this earth would think would go together, and make them taste heavenly. For the record, it’s all true. The food that I experienced in France was exactly like that. (Shout out to Creperie La ville d’Ys and Le Pont Neuf in Huelgoat, Au fil des saisons in Méry Corbon, and Restaurant Un Air de Famille in Paris.)

The UK had it’s share of culinary delights too, with the highlight being the Hundred Monkeys Cafe in Glastonbury.

But I think the biggest culinary surprise on the entire trip occurred on a travel day between Cardiff and Chepstow. While at one of the train stations we wandered into the convenience store attached to the station to browse the snack shelves, and noticed a stack of (what looked like) packaged bread products. It looked like a collection of crumpets, english muffins, or scones, but they turned out to be a sweet buttery flat cake with currants and other raisins and dusted with sugar.

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… and when a pat of butter was smeared on these Welsh Cakes, they were stellar.

I had never heard of these delightful confections before, but apparently they are a very popular treat to have with afternoon tea in the UK. They are also known as (or could be mistaken for) bakestones, drop cakes, heavy cakes, or YUM.

Later in the trip, when we were in Plymouth, we discovered them again at the Marks and Spencer (they even had a mini version), and this time the Welsh Cakes were consumed in France using the amazing butter of Brittany, and every time we were in train station, from that point on, we looked in the attached convenience stores, just in case we came across them again.

In the final days, while in London, we stocked up to bring some back to Canada. My two packages lasted for two days.

Back in Winnipeg, I started to scour the bakeries, the specialty shops, and even the convenience stores in search of them, but to no avail.

Now I consider myself a fairly good cook, but I’ve never been very good at baking for some reason, and I was a little gun-shy about the prospect of making them myself, but after a little research, it turns out that these little round beauties are heated on a bakestone or a cast iron griddle (which is why they are sometimes called bakestones), so it was more like frying than baking. So I decided to give them a try.

Welsh Cakes inspired by some train station’s convenience store in Wales.

In the UK there is a baking spice called mixed spice or pudding spice that is very similar to what North Americans would call pumpkin spice and it is used in a variety of their baked goods. It’s hard to find over here, but fortunately it’s very easy to make a batch.

UK Mixed Spice

Ingredients:

1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger

Mix together and seal in an airtight jar. Alternatively, take equal part of the whole spices and grind them into a powder adding the dried ground ginger at the end.

Welsh Cakes

Ingredients (Makes 12 cakes or 24 mini-cakes)

2 cup flour
1 1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup currants (raisins or other small dried fruit can be substituted)
3/4 cup caster or icing sugar
1 tsp baking Powder
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice from above.
2 eggs
1 dash salt
milk

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Directions

Sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, and mixed spice) together into a mixing bowl. Cut up the butter into small chunks and stir into the flour.

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Stir in the sugar and fruit, then pour in the egg. Mix to form a dough, similar to a cookie dough (use a little milk if the mixture is a little dry).

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Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about the thickness of a pancake.

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Use a pastry cutter or a small bowl to cut out rounds and cook the cakes at medium on a greased bake stone or griddle or thick frypan for about 5 minutes or until until golden. Flip and repeat. The heat should not be too high, as the cakes will cook on the outside too quickly, and not in the middle.

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Once cooked sprinkle with caster sugar and serve with butter… preferably Breton butter with huge hunks of salt in it.

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Eat them warm, or store them in the fridge for up to 5 days.

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There are also many variations of these including the Jam Split which is basically a welsh cake jam sandwich, an Apple Dragon which has grated apple added, and a Mynydd Cymreig (Welsh Mountain) which has double the baking powder added to make it fluffier.

I think I’ll have one and dip it into a steaming cup of english tea and pretend I’m looking at the UK countryside.

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Train angst and side trips…


The next morning in Bayeux marked the beginning of a whirlwind of activity that would take us to our last days in Europe, and that whirlwind started with a 3 hour train ride into Paris’ Gare Saint-Lazare.

The train system in France is basically like spokes of a big wheel, with the center of that wheel being Paris. All of the main Paris train stations (Austerlitz, Bercy, Est, Lyon, Montparnasse, Nord, and Saint-Lazare)are termini and the spokes of the wheel go out from these stations. For example, all the trains coming from the northwestern parts of France like Brittany and Normandy end at Gare Saint-Lazare, and all the trains coming from the North Eastern parts like Calais and the chunnel to London end at Nord, (also known as Paris Nord, or Gare du Nord).

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So, if you are traveling from one section of France to a different section by train, you have to go through Paris, most of the time there is no other way, and some of these stations in Paris are quite far apart, however all of the stations are connected by the RER system and the Metro.

We were prepared for a three hour layover in Paris which would give us plenty of time to get from Gare Saint-Lazare to Gare du Nord using the RER E commuter train that travels between the two stations.

No problem.

Gare Saint-Lazare is basically a huge shopping mall that has a train station attached to it. Loads of shops, cafés, fast food kiosks, etc. and all of the crowds that go with it, so it was a little overwhelming trying to navigate through the crowds with large pieces of luggage during the lunch rush hour when we arrived, but we were armed with research and all we needed to do was follow the signs and get to the RER platform and we would be fine.

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When we got close to the platform at a junction in a hallway, there were two SCNF officials blocking the way to the RER E and a large crowd of people pointing to the metro map and waving their arms. I waded into the crowd to see what was what, and found out there was a problem with the train so they were giving instructions on a convoluted alternate route involving two Metro trains and a walk down a street that I couldn’t quite follow from the poor woman trying to explain it to me.

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SO, instead of taking the chance of getting lost and missing our train out of Nord to Calais, we decided to go to the taxi stand and cab it. I was a little nervous about taking a taxi because I had read how large Paris is in area (14th largest city in the world) and we didn’t know how far it was or whether we would encounter gridlock in a Parisian rush hour, or even what the rates were.

Ten minutes and seven Euros later, we arrived at Gare du Nord and I exclaimed out of surprise “That’s it!?”

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The lesson learned from this, for me, was that the area within the inner part of Paris isn’t nearly as large as I imagined it, and this trip gave me a scale in my head that I could apply when looking at a map, which would be helpful when we got back here in a few days.

We killed some time in Gare du Nord (wishing that we were killing time in Gare Saint-Lazare instead) where L found a great bakery for some bread and pastry and then it was off to Calais and a lovely beachside suburb called Sangatte. The Kerloan B&B where we were staying was right across from the beach and right beside a great restaurant called Le Relais de Sangatte (formerly called the Country Cottage Pub if you’re looking for it on Trip Advisor), so our first night was filled with great food and some fantastic scenery.

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The next morning, very early, we made a side trip.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, our original plans for the area wasn’t going to happen. L had noticed that the Eurostar stopped in Calais and it was only a 55 minute train ride into London (actually closer than Paris) and there was a Vikings exhibit on at the British Museum.

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So after some more confusing times with a French train (there are no machines to collect the Eurostar tickets in the Calais-Fréthun train station and you have to wait until the gates open 1/2 hour before the train leaves to collect your tickets and go through security and customs… which turns out is plenty of time, but there wasn’t a single indicator or instruction anywhere about it including the website) it was off to London for about 8 hours to see some wonderful exhibits…

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…and fantastic sculpture.

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After the museum, we had a lovely walk to St Pancras station where there was a Marks and Spencer and we loaded up on snacks and Welsh Cakes.

We took the Eurostar back to Calais, and repeated the previous night with some food at Le Relais de Sangatte and another sunset on the beach.

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The following morning, it was a first class train ride back to the final destination, Paris.

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