Duff Goldman Conefetti Premium Cake Mix

I’m not sure if I’m the only person that watches Food Network on freeview, but in case I am I’ll give it some context. Food Network as the name would suggest features a selection of food programmes for 21 hours a day and fills the other three with some teleshopping. It’s intriguing in its scheduling in that it shows some great programmes like vintage Nigella, Jamie and Delia in the day when people are at work and can’t enjoy them and then in the evening when people are free it shows a stack of dreadful programmes like Barefoot Contessa featuring the endlessly smug, misinformed and irritating Ina Garten; Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives presented by a chap called Guy Fieri who only knows how to shout; Bitchin Kitchin for which I have no words and also Ace of Cakes featuring Duff Goldman a beardy, cap wearing baker who creates cakes that look incredible but I always suspect taste a bit dry and bland. It is Duff who has created this weeks product, a packet cake mix which is usually only stocked in the US, but which you can pick up on Amazon or in Harvey Nichols. As I’m not crazy about funding tax avoiding corporate giants, I spent my money at the Manchester branch of the temple to middle class consumerism Harvey Nichols.

Duff Box

The history of cake mixes on this blog has not been good, first there was the Mary Berry disaster then the Jane Asher fail so I wasn’t full of hope for Duff. The picture on the box didn’t even make it look like that nice and presumably that is the ideal version of the cake so it was a real toss up as to how this would go.

The box is surprisingly heavy and on top of whatever sachets I would find in there, Duff also required me to provide one and a quarter cups of water, four egg whites (a bit extravagant I thought), and a third of a cup of oil. So with everything in place it was time to bake.

I opened the box to find just one sachet of white powder dotted with brightly coloured flecks (the confetti). I was a bit dissapointed to be honest as that meant I had spent £5 on a bag of flour with some mini sweets in it. There was no topping or icing sachets – I was just getting the basic sponge and anything I wanted on top of that was at my expense. The instructions are pretty specific telling you first to mix all the ingredients and then “Beat 2 minutes at low speed or 450 strokes by hand” I can’t say I was in the mood to count to 450 so I dug out the electric mixer. The resulting mixture looked like a bowl of sick from a toddlers birthday party, a sort of food colouring flecked thick slurry. This was then poured into the baking tins and 30mins later the cakes were ready.

Duff Slurry

Now as there was no icing provided and as I don’t really like icing anyway I decided to eat the sponge cakes as they were, this probably meant they would be more boring than they are intended to be, but it also means I can judge the product Duff put in the box without any extra things getting in the way.

Duff cakes

The cake was OK as packet mixes go, but as cake goes it wasn’t so good. The sponge was light and airy with a crumbly texture and the bright coloured flecks were fun but ultimately it was too sweet. It had a mechanical, pre packed pound shop cake flavour to it and I fear that after a long haul flight from the US, a £5 price tag, four egg whites, a big dose of oil and 40 minutes of my time I won’t be eating anymore of Duff’s cake. I’m left feeling poorer, wasteful and unsatisfied and I won’t be returning to Duff’s range in a hurry.

Duff Goldman Conefetti Premium Cake Mix – £5

3/10

 

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Sean Wilson Signature Collection – Scouse

A while back I posted a blog called “A sign of things to Come” which talked about my yield of Sean Wilson products. When I wrote it I thought I would write a series of blogs in consecutive weeks all about Sean’s products, however as I tried them and it became clear just how bad they were I couldn’t face eating them in quick succession. It has taken me a long time to pluck up the courage to try the scouse in a can and as the moment approaches I feel struck with dread at how it looks and what the smell will be like when I open it.  I can’t help thinking, why oh why does this product exist? I see it and remember the words of my mother as she saw it go into my basket and she said “Are you actually going to eat that?” well the answer is yes mum, yes I am. I didn’t start this blog so that I could shy away from the worst celebrity endorsements out there, I started it as I felt I could rise to the challenge and offer a public service saving others from the fate to which I was destined.

Scouse Can

Unlike the packet for Sean’s pancake mix which tried every trick in the book to persuade you that you were in for a good time, the marketing copy on the can of scouse is non existent. It is like they already know they’re onto a losing battle and trying to convince you that the contents are edible is futile. In fact the packaging in general looks like the result of a GCSE Design Technology project.

Scouse is a meat and veg stew largely associated with Liverpool. As far as I know there isn’t an official recipe for it and it’s open to interpretation- some people use beef and some people use lamb. When I was growing up my mum used to make a good one using beef that I would drown in brown sauce. If you go to Liverpool you won’t have to look too hard to find a pub or cafe serving it and I’m sure each place will have their own ideas about how it should be done. What is a bit strange about Sean Wilson coming up with his version is that generally he is all about Lancashire – even the logo on his products is a blatant rip off of the Coronation St one and so for him to go all Merseyside/Brookside on us is a bit off message.

I opened the can and the smell wasn’t as bad as I feared, it smelt like a can of beans or something, nowhere near as pungent and farty as I anticipated. It did look worse than I imagined though, it was watery like a meaty soup rather than a stew. The meat was really weird- it was like mince that had then been minced again, so instead of strands there were miniscule lumps of brown protein each one about the size of half a maggot.

Scouse -pan

I heated the Scouse through and had a taste. It was horrid. The meat got stuck in my teeth and the gravy somehow managed to be simultaneously watery and gloopy. The carrot, which was completely devoid of anything that I would call flavour, disintegrated as soon as it hit my tongue, the potato tasted exactly the same as the carrot but was a different colour and firmer in texture and the pea which tasted like the carrot and potato was trying as hard as it could to be green but was fighting a losing battle and had turned into a sphere of dejected brown. I can’t really describe the overall taste as I’m not sure there was one, but I do know that my my mouth was salty for the next two hours and no amount of water was going to help.

So once again Sean has created another crap product. I’ve only got strong cheese crisps, Yorkshire Puddings and then dumplings left to try and I will be free of the range (unless it gets expanded – which could well be the end of me) see you on the other side!

Sean Wilson Signature Collection – Scouse 400g can – 99p

2/10

 

 

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Heston from Waitrose Chocolate Box

At Christmas Heston released a box of chocolates for Waitrose and they cost something daft like £20 a box and I thought to myself – I’ll never buy them. Christmas came and went and Easter approached and Heston came out with a mini box of chocolates that cost £5 and I thought to myself – I’ll never buy them. I mean why would I? £5 can get you a decent amount of Ferrero Rocher and what other chocolates do you need. Then one day my girlfriend came home with a box and said “I know you were never going to buy them, so I just went and got them for you.” which was very nice so I put them on a side table and they have sat there ever since until this week when I decided the moment was right to give them a go.

Heston choc box

The first thing to say is that Heston is taking the piss with these chocolates as the mini box costing five pounds has four chocolates in it. That is £1.25 a choc which I can stomach if it’s a William Curley chocolate but I can’t quite take from a supermarket shelf. Of course if the chocolates taste as good as William Curley ones I’ll forgive Heston, but looking at the extensive list of ingredients and the fact they have a four month shelf life I somehow doubt they will.

The box contains a macadamia praline, a mandarin caramel, a thyme and rosemary and a BFG (Black Forest Gateau) based on the dessert of the same name at the Fat Duck, and quite possibly the nicest dessert I’ve ever eaten. If you’ve got the time and fancy a fun read check out this blog for a home made attempt.

Heston chocs

The chocolates were no better than gussied up versions of Cadbury’s Roses. They were all waaaaaay too sweet and whilst the flavours might have been more interesting than your usual fare they didn’t taste much better. The macadamia praline was the biggest offender for sweetness, it had a white chocolate coating and whilst the nutty praline had the potential to be decent the sugar overload just got in the way. The mandarin caramel was an intense citrus blast that reminded me of my current 99p orange and tea tree shower gel but without the soapy bit. The BFG was like some nasty Christmas special choc that would normally have a name like “Kirsch Surprise” or “Cherry Explosion” that everyone would be keen to try, but once they had they’d be left at the bottom of the box with the strawberry creams. Finally the thyme and rosemary one was the best of the bunch, they weren’t stupidly sweet and whilst the herbs could have been more intense it was an interesting enough chocolate.

So if you’re the kind of person who is willing to spend £1.25 on a chocolate then do yourself a favour, avoid being ripped off by Heston and get yourself to William Curley to see what delights you can get for your money.

Heston from Waitrose Chocolate Box £4.99 for four chocolates.

4/10

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Rosemary Shrager – Spicy Ginger Biscuits

Rosemary Shrager is one of those names that I know and one of those faces I recognise but I’m not really sure why. I know she is famous for her work in food rather than being a historian or a sports star or something, so the fact she has biscuits on a supermarket shelf makes sense but I still struggle to know exactly where she fits in. It is times like this that I turn to Google. Google tells me she “is an English chef, best known for being an haute cuisine teacher on the reality television programme Ladette to Lady, and as a judge on Soapstar Superchef.” which perhaps explains why I couldn’t quite place her. A bit more digging and I learnt she has published a stack of cook books, runs cookery schools, has worked with every chef worth knowing and in 2012 she appeared on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. So all in all we can deduce she’s earnt her stripes and I can only apologise for not knowing more about Rosemary already.

Rosemary Biscuit Box

I found Rosemary’s biscuits on the shelf of the best supermarket in the UK – Booths. Now it is possible that you may not have heard of Booths as they are a mini chain operating in the North of England, primarily in Cumbria, but also in Lancashire and slowly creeping into other counties as well. It is the nicest supermarket you will ever walk round and is ethically superior to all the others – even I dare say Waitrose. If you want to know more check out this article by Jay Rayner from OFM a few years back and if you are ever near a Booths just go in and then weep that there isn’t one on your doorstep.

Not only is Booths brilliant but so is the donation of 10% of the profits that Rosemary’s biscuits give to the Veterans’ Artisan Bakery – a charity that does therapeutic baking with ex-Servicemen struggling with post-traumatic stress amongst other things. It sounds to me like one of the nicest charities around. However after going all gooey over Booths and Rosemary’s charitable endeavours it was time to see if the biscuits actually tasted nice, so I made a pot Earl Grey and prepared to dunk.

Ginger Biscuits

The biscuits are oaty based and have a hint of the hobnob about them, although they are less dense than a hobnnob. I dipped one into my tea and took a bite and the  packet doesn’t mislead as they are spicy. There’s an almighty ginger kick which provides heat, but this is tempered by a rich butteriness. There is also a satisfying crunch to the biscuit that comes from using raw cane sugar rather than finer caster sugar and it works wonderfully. I had to stop myself from working my way through the whole packet as I’d eaten two profiterole pots from Waitrose a couple of hours earlier and I thought I should give my arteries a fighting chance.

These are the best biscuit discovery I’ve made in a long long time and I can only pray that other supermarkets get wise to the charms of Booths and stock them or alternatively that Booths opens up a branch in spitting distance of Peckham.

Rosemary’s Spicy Ginger Biscuits 150g packet £1.99

8/10

 

 

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Sean Wilson Signature Collection – Pancake Mix

My Sean Wilson adventure continues with his pancake mix and it is pretty hard to see what could go wrong with a product that is essentially flour and milk powder. I should get off my chest right now that I think pancake mix is the most pointless, idiotic product to exist in this world. If you are a person that sees it on the shelf and thinks “Oh wow – there’s a pancake mix, I should definitely get that in, because making pancakes without it is such a bind” then you are a person that should consider washing your face using a hand blender because you are an idiot. Pancakes require three ingredients – flour, milk and eggs and if you buy pancake mix you still have to provide an egg so there’s not much in it, except with a pancake mix you’re paying way, way over the odds for your flour.  It isn’t like you’re even buying batter – with a packet mix you still have to do all the whisking and you still have to measure out the liquid. So basically don’t buy pancake mix. Ever…. unless you happen to write a blog about food products that have a celebrities name on them and find a celebrity endorsed one, in which case it is perfectly acceptable.

Sean Wilson Pancake Mix

With that off my chest it is time to see what Sean had to say about pancakes and it is this “Pancakes are fun. Kids love pancakes ANY day of the week, spread with their favourite topping and devoured with great gusto!”. I can’t believe the marketing department let “devoured with great gusto” feature on a packet in the year 2014 it’s like marketing copy according to Enid Blyton. It continues with a pantoesque ask the audience style question, before an attempt at alluring food writing, moving into Butlin’s holiday camp type encouragement and ending on a Carry On style innuendo – it goes like this “But it’s not only the kids that like pancakes is it?” (panto section) “Either as a breakfast or a supper, spread with maple syrup and lemon or daubed with Creme Fraise and berry’s.” (alluring food writing section) “Whichever way you have them, make sure you have FUN.” (Butlins section) “Happy Tossing” (Carry On innuendo). Now even if we put aside the misplaced apostrophe and assuming  creme fraise is an alternative spelling to creme fraiche that is some pretty poor copy right there.

But all that being said nobody that was daft enough to buy pancake mix in the first place would ever bother to read the blurb so it is an irrelevance and it was time to make them and cook them. I whisked an egg and some water with the mix and stuck it in the fridge for half an hour before some frying and “Happy Tossing”. They looked just like any other pancakes which was a good sign so I served them up with a home made cherry compote and in the absence of “Creme Fraise” some yoghurt.

Pancake Cooked

The pancakes were a bit rubbery and had the texture of thin washing up sponges. They didn’t taste of much, but then pancakes aren’t meant to, they’re just a vehicle for the toppings and I think bland is better than them being overly sweet which was my concern.

I’m obviously not going to reccomend this product as it is a pancake mix and I’ve made my thoughts on that very clear but here’s the deal anyway….

Sean Wilson Signature Collection – Pancake Mix £0.39 for 128g

4/10

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Alan Brazil – Brazil’s Nuts

If there is one topic where my knowledge is shamefully inadequate it is sport, I have extremely limited interest in it and go through life blissfully unaware of what is going on in that arena. Sure I can get excited when the Olympics are on and can sit through a football match during the world cup and not be 100% bored, but generally speaking when sport of any kind is concerned my reaction is one of complete indifference and consequently I don’t know any facts or info about it, I don’t for instance know who the manager of the England football team is. The other day someone mentioned the world cup and I had to ask when it was happening and when I was back home last week I caught the end of a football match between Arsenal and Hull, I thought Arsenal seemed particularly giddy to have won the match and the disbelief and disappointment in my Dad’s eyes was palpable as he had to explain they had not only won a game but the FA Cup.

I’m not wearing my sporting ignorance as a badge of pride, but wanted to illustrate that when I found a packet of nuts with an endorsement from a chap called Alan Brazil it wasn’t immediately clear to me who he was. It didn’t take long for me to find out though as the packet was covered in a logo from Talk Sport, a digital radio station that Alan works for.  The packet also went on to give an abridged biography of Alan that says “Alan Brazil. Former Scottish International, Ipswich footballing legend, keen horse racing enthusiast and hugely-entertaining radio broadcaster for talkSPORT radio.” which is a cracking list of achievements to ensure he is qualified to sell nuts.

Brazil's Nuts Packet

I decided to go to his website and see what more I could find out about Alan and the answer is not much, but I did find this excellent quote:

“More nutritious than beef wellington, lobster thermidor or my favourite bottle of bubbly”

“That’s nuts”

“No – that’s Brazil’s Nuts”

Don’t be nuts – insist on Brazil’s Nuts.

Brazil's Nuts Ramekin

With a claim as bold as that it was only right that I got stuck in. There are two classic varieties of Brazil’s Nuts – dry roasted and original salted, I ate both and they were very nice. I can’t say I’d ever choose them over a beef wellington or lobster thermidor and I’ll take Alan’s word for it that the nutritional value of his nuts is greater than those haute cuisine classics but it isn’t an analogy I would have made myself. The nuts taste exactly as you’d hope they would – like nuts, the salty ones are salty and the dry roasted have that unique dry roasted flavour that I’ve never really understood, but they taste like all other dry roasted nuts I’ve eaten so Alan has got it bang on.

Alan Brazil – Brazil’s Nuts 29p for 50g from Home and Bargain

8/10

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Raymond Blanc Pear and Walnut Dacquoise

This is the third and final product in Raymond’s new dessert range following a pretty good cherry clafoutis and a fabulous chocolate delice. It took a while to track this one down but the food hall in John Lewis on Oxford Street came up trumps as it so often does. Unfortunately though it wasn’t on offer so for the first time with a Raymond dessert I was forced into stumping up the asking price of £6.

In my previous blogs I’ve covered my love of Raymond, his TV programmes and Le Manoir so I won’t cover old ground again – you can look up the blogs if you can be bothered. I will however confirm that since writing my previous blog I have heard direct from the horses mouth that Raymond no longer has any stake at all in Maison Blanc. In addition the word “craquonet” (which I got from a patisserie documentary that Michel Roux Jr did when he interviewed Philippe Conticini, who runs the amazingly spectacular Patisserie Des Reves) isn’t actually a real word to describe the texture between crisp and crunchy, I think it is just a word that Philippe made up, but the onomatopoeic nature of it made it sound so credible that I took it to be common knowledge.  I feel like the French should adopt it anyway. 

Dacquoise Box

The description of the pear and walnut dacquoise was tempting “Pieces of pear in soft walnut cream, between light layers of meringue. Traditionally French. Classically romantic.” and myself being a classic romantic, I defrosted it and shared it with my girlfriend and her sister whilst we watched the incomprehensible Jamaica Inn.

Defrosted Dacquoise

 

I love pear, I love meringue, I love cream and I’m fine with walnuts too, so this dessert was onto a winner before we began eating, unfortunately when we did begin eating the winning theme began to die. The pear had the texture of pear, but as for flavour, it had none, which is a real shame when it is one of the main ingredients. The nutty meringue was indeed nutty but the “Dacquoise meringue” or “light crispy Dacquoise biscuits” as the packaging also describes them really struggled when it came to texture. It had a stale edge to it, like the base of a jaffa cake, only it was lighter than that so perhaps soggy polystyrene is a closer fit. The creamy bit was nice, but there wasn’t enough of it to pull everything together. The packet suggests serving the Dacquoise with a ginger creme Anglaise which might have been a good idea for some added creaminess, but being lazy and having spent £6 already I didn’t want the hassle of buying milk, cream, ginger, three large egg yolks and caster sugar to make my pudding complete, besides I’d already worked hard enough transferring the Dacquoise from box to plate and letting it sit in the fridge for a few hours.

So the new Raymond dessert range is a real mixed bag, if you want to try one definitely go for the chocolate delice, but if you happen to not like chocolate then get the cherry clafoutis and if you don’t like chocolate or cherries then you’re a) a weirdo but b) left with no choice but the pear and walnut Dacquoise – so good luck with that.

Raymond Blanc Pear and Walnut Dacquoise £6 for 320g

4/10

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