Category Archives: Wales

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.

20140614-183554.jpg

… 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

20140614-185848.jpg

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.

20140614-190101.jpg

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).

20140614-190738.jpg

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

20140614-194533.jpg

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.

20140614-191151.jpg

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

20140614-191417.jpg

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

20140614-191619.jpg

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.

20140614-193158.jpg

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Huzzah for British banks, Marks and Sparks, and floating hotels…


The British must really love their banks. I mean really, really love them. Americans celebrate their patriotism, the French their liberation, India celebrates the end of the Raj, and Canada celebrates the birthday of the grandmother of a Queen who’s country used to rule them but doesn’t anymore.

Each of these countries designate one day a year as a holiday to celebrate those occasions. One day.

England has 8 bank holidays… which means they like their banks 8 times more than Americans like their patriotism. That’s a whole lotta bank love.

The day after the convention in Chepstow was the “Whit Monday Bank Holiday”, so we were prepared for a busy and crowded day of travel with the rest of the holiday travelers. We had an early breakfast with the golfers and said our goodbyes to the actors and other Robin of Sherwood fans before making our way to the Castle Cary train station for a four hour train ride to Plymouth by way of Newport and Bristol Parkway train stations.

The Castle Cary station was almost deserted, but it is a small station and I was expecting that, but when we arrived at Newport, I was surprised to see a fairly small crowd and all of the services at the station were open. This was good because the hotel we were just at was isolated and we were eager to get provisions for our long journey.

20140511-205323.jpg

The train trip was smooth, on time, and scenic, so we settled in for the ride looking at southern Wales, and the coast of England as it sped past our windows.

20140511-182842.jpg

We arrived at our last UK stop, Plymouth, at 1:41pm. Our ferry for France didn’t start boarding until 8pm. Six hours in Plymouth, on Whit Monday (Yay for Banks) Holiday with a pile of luggage at a train station with nothing to do.

Google and GPS told us that there was a grocery store nearby, so we followed the little man and the arrow on my “smart” phone and headed off down the road with packs strapped to our backs.

Due to a dumb operator using his “smart” phone, I got the directions wrong somehow. But I found the ocean, so we knew where that was.

20140511-183949.jpg

Wandering around the area, I am reminded of Winnipeg’s exchange district…

20140511-185057.jpg

On one of the maps in the area, I noticed that there was a Marks and Spencer’s nearby, so we followed the little arrow to that. It led us into a large shopping mall called the Drake Circus that was a bustle of shoppers. I guess the people of Plymouth don’t stay home to celebrate their banks.

20140511-184050.jpg

The front of the Marks and Spencer’s looked like any other department store with mannequins in sweaters (or as the British say, jumpers) and pants (or as the British say, trousers) and underwear (or as the British say, pants). But in the back, there was a very large grocery so we stalked up on foodstuffs including sandwiches, bread, and a full metric tonne of cheese (all in bite sized packages).

20140511-184611.jpg

After a stop for a coffee, and a small wander around the mall, we found a bench outside in the courtyard and plopped down to enjoy a Whit Bank Monday feast.

20140511-184746.jpg

We must have looked very odd because we received many strange looks from the locals who were curious about what we were doing, and kept trying to steal our cheese.

20140511-185554.jpg

Upon the completion of the feast of the Holy Bank upon the courtyard of the Circus Drake, we flagged down a carriage to take us to our schooner at the dock.

Again, I was expecting crowds of people rushing to get to Bank Holiday celebrations, but the ferry terminal was almost empty when we arrived at 6:30, and there were only about 50 people when it was time to board.

The Armorique is a monster ship with 11 decks that can carry 1500 people and 450 vehicles, with 247 cabins, 1200 reclining lounge chairs, a restaurant, a cafe, a very large bar, a casino, a video arcade, a reading room, a souvenir shop, a liquor store, and two movie theatres.

20140511-185705.jpg

We had booked staterooms… well, actually they were closets with a fold down bed and attached armoire that contained a toilet sink and shower. I had to open the door and stand in the hallway in order to take this picture.

20140511-185758.jpg

After stowing our stuff, we had a pleasant meal at the restaurant, and then headed to the deck outside to wave goodbye to the UK and look ahead to the English Channel and the French countryside that awaited us the next morning. Roscoff… Bretagne… France.

20140511-190419.jpg

Tagged ,
%d bloggers like this: