Today I am bringing together in one blog a duo from two extremes of the culinary scene. Heston with his cutting edge techniques, sous vides, spherifications and ongoing mission to make the simplest of meals as difficult, time consuming and laborious as possible on the one hand and Fiona Cairns with her traditional, back to basics, middle of the road, don’t rock the boat type baking on the other. They are not obvious bedfellows but being the maverick I am, here on Michelin Microwave they are sitting side by side.
Now before you get too excited I haven’t conducted some crazy food experiment, I haven’t taken some Heston bacon and lightly crumbled over some Fiona Cairns biscuits to create a new flavour combination that will change the face of gastronomy forever. What I have done is eaten products from both of them, decided I didn’t have enough interesting things to say about each one in isolation and brought them together in one post for no reason other than blog economics.
I’ll start with Heston and his Alder Wood Smoked Streaky bacon. This is the third of Heston’s bacon flavours I’ve tried, following the vanilla back bacon and the syrup and stout bacon. I liked it, it tasted very nice. The thing with bacon though is that it always tastes nice. It makes me sad to admit that even bacon that is the product of pigs raised in horrendous conditions in Denmark, where they wallow in their own defecation, are covered in sores, have no soft bedding and can barely move from day to day still tastes like a bit of heaven has been sliced off and fried. I am vehemently against that kind of meat production, but it is an unfortunate truth that it still tastes great. For the record and to avoid any nasty legal proceedings Waitrose bacon is produced with pigs raised in good conditions. Bacon only goes wrong if you interfere with it in a bad way – which is what happened with Heston’s syrup and stout version where the added flavours took away rather than enhanced the meat. The Alder Wood version was a success though, there was a sweet smokiness to it, but nothing so pungent that it overwhelmed the meat meaning this bacon is a good all rounder. There was a lot of fat on the rind which you may or may not like – I’m fine it, and the rashers were cut thickly so you got a good meaty mouthful. We had the bacon with maple syrup and pancakes and it did a super job of completing the dish. Thanks Heston.
And so to Fiona Cairns cake baker to the Royals and supplier to Waitrose. If you don’t really know who she is then I’ve covered that topic here so I won’t go over it again in detail, but the main things are that she baked Kate and Wills wedding cake and had a show on ITV. The last thing I tried of hers were some horrid fairy cakes so I wasn’t enthralled at the idea of revisiting her range, but when I saw she had some vanilla shortbread that cost £2 it seemed wrong not to try them. The thing about shortbread is that there isn’t much of a criteria to fail on, as long as they crumble all over your clothes and taste of butter you’re onto a winner.
Fiona’s shortbread did crumble, so for texture she passes the test, but as for taste she disappoints. Instead of rich butteriness I get an overly sweet sugar blast with a back note of manufactured vanilla flavouring, once you fight your way through that, there is a gentle buttery note, but nothing like an acceptable level for shortbread. They aren’t absolutely awful so I’ll probably finish eating the packet, but once I’m done I’ll never buy them again.
Heston from Waitrose Alder Wood Smoked Streaky Bacon Rashers £2.99 for eight rashers (mine were reduced to £2.49).
Fiona Cairns Vanilla Shortbread £2 for six biscuits.