Pastries with attitude
Catherine Fellows | lambasts the low standard of Scottish cake-making, but champions a core group of pioneering bakers in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
An American visitor to Edinburgh stopped me in the street recently to ask ifI knew where to get good cakes and home baking. He envisaged some long-established place that had a reputation with Edinburgh old-hands, but that a tourist would never find. He wasn‘t interested in j the high prices and ubiquitous fare of the international ‘delis’. The story I had to tell him was a depressing one: we are grateful here for the inﬂux of foreign baking, because the average Scottish cake is an insult to the taste buds and an assault on the stomach.
As I watched him wander away despondently. and I think incredulously. I decided to check whether things were really so bad. Surely there must’be traditional bakers producing quality shortbread and Dundee cake at the very least?
I am sorry to say that in some respects things are much worse than I had anticipated. There is little distinction between chains such as Crawfords and small on-site bakeries. For a start. everything looks so unappealing — slabs of
indeterminate cake that shout
dryness and such density of texture that you wonder if it is humanly
possible to eat a whole piece; fancy
tarts and fairy cakes iced with
; less like food than polystyrene.
colours lurid enough for a danger warning, if glacé cherries and dessicated coconut were not enough; i and then those meringues that look I was determined not to be ' prejudiced but. yes. the pastry
roan 87 BOOKSL89
around the macaroon from my local
bakers tasted like thick cardboard.
and the cherry ‘log‘ was stale and as dull and heavy as its name implies.
' To addinsulttoinjury.whenl
hurled them towards the bin in disgust. I missed. and the wretched things looked back at me from the floor completely unscathed.
Much more disappointing are the
shops supposed to cater to those
lucky enough to be able to pay for discernment. Delicatessens which offer wonderful cheeses. charcuterie and bread are still fobbing us offwith
awful cakes. I have tasted
homogeneous. half-frozen mousse gateaux. soapy cheesecakes
Elaborate creations with rare
ingredients at Edinburgh's Patisserie Florentin
flavoured with synthetic lemon. strudels whose filo layers have stuck together in one soggy. indigestible mass and whose meagre apple fillings are overpowered by cinnamon. not to mention endless deceitful chocolate cakes whose powdery sponge is smothered in sickly packet butter icing. Hasn’t anybody heard of putting a layer of good rasberry jam in a chocolate cake. or tasted proper fudge icing? But the situation is improving. Certain inspired individuals have recognised that there are plenty who know how good cakes can be. and who are happy to be able to buy them; time-consuming inessentials
such as cakes and pastries being the first things to be jettisoned from the schedule ofthe average busy cook.
At Edinburgh's Florentin, open for just over a year, chef Frederic Pellet and partner Lorna McKey offer gateaux whose superb taste justifies every decorative flourish. But they are doing more than this: they are encouraging an attitude. When you enter the elegant little striped shop in Thistle Street, you are greeted not only by a counter filled with rows of exquisite individual cakes. but also by the dignified presence of Lorna McKey. Her combination of restraint and attentiveness. as she helps you make your selection, says so much about the quality of the cakes themselves: when you eventually leave holding your little gold box by its ribbon tie, you are taking with you expertise and care.
Florentin’s rich and generously-sized delicacies have to
be savoured. I enjoyed a creamy raspberry mousse tranche and a coffee spoon for a whole hour, though a cassis tartlet — crisp pastry, just the right quantity ofcreme patisserie, piled high with piquant fruit — did not last nearly so long. Mouthwatering alternatives include a light mille-feuille, a gold-leaf topped almond-ﬂavoured biscuit sponge layered with coffee cream and bitter chocolate, a chewy chocolate confection spiked likea hedgehog and dipped in cocoa powder, as well as numerous fruit mousses and tartlets. Florentin also make delicious butter. almond and chocolate croissants. The authentic taste of the produce here reflects Pellet‘s training in Lyons. but also the fact that he uses almost exclusively French ingredients; as yet, essential things are simply not available here.
More recently. the Bridges Cake Shop, attached to the refurbished Balmoral Hotel. Edinburgh. has opened its revolving doors to the public. It was felt that the hotel‘s team ofGerman bakers and patissiers could offer the city’s public something rare: a high quality continental cake shop. The selection here is extensive: croissants. Danish pastries, mini brioches. chocolate eclairs. palmiers. cream puffs. brownies. I could goon . . .There is. naturally enough. an emphasis on German specialities. and I suspect that the layer ofdark chocolate
The List l7—30May 199187