EATING FOR BRITAIN: OOH BETTY'S
The first thing that strikes you as you enter the craft bakery of Betty’s, a short distance from Harrogate, is the quiet. Oh, there’s the clatter of mixers and the odd bang from a tray being replaced, but that’s about it.
No industrial machinery, no machines whizzing and buzzing, just a small brigade of people each at their own station and each getting on with their allotted task. A person here making Florentines, another there measuring out the mix for the Betty’s signature “Fat Rascals” The feeling is one of being in a home kitchen on a larger scale.
For any one from The North, the name Betty’s immediately sums up nostalgic images of afternoon teatime treats with the grandparents and plates of freshly baked cakes, sandwiches and pastries served with cups of tea, fond memories of a more simple, forgotten time.
Except, at Betty’s, still very much a family firm, it’s not forgotten. They may be ninety years old this year and in that time have grown from the single famous shop in Harrogate to six tearooms, a cookery school and have formal links with another Yorkshire icon, Taylor’s Tea, but if my day spent with the bakers of Betty’s proved anything, it is that for them, the old ways are still the best.
Laura Crisp in the Betty’s press office had only been with the company for three years, but many people have been employed there for ten, twenty and even thirty years with parents and children combinations on the work floor common enough to be barely worth a comment. I had contacted Laura to see if they could help with my quest for the perfect Parkin, one of the Yorkshire dishes on the list for EATING FOR BRITAIN and she had immediately invited me up to join them for a morning’s baking to see how things were done the Betty’s way.
I arrived at 8am as instructed to be greeted by Bakery Manager, Caroline Grant and after a restorative cup of tea and a long search to find a white coat to cover my ample and increasing girth, I was allowed to spend the next few hours in the craft bakery in the company of baker, James Proudfoot and his colleagues as they took me through the processes of making three cakes; a Genoese sponge (the Betty’s equivalent of a classic Victoria Sponge) a lemon & lime drizzle cake and, of course, parkin, the spicy ginger and black treacle cake which made Yorkshire what it is today.
With the exception of a small amount of invert sugar, used to maintain moistness in the cakes, the ingredients are identical to those you would use at home, just in quantities enough to make up to 120 of each cake at a time. Not being a talented baker myself, I found the whole process fascinating and watched the different methods as James made the different cakes before dividing up and taking away to be baked.
While we waited, Caroline took me for another cup of tea in the staff canteen where on offer to the staff were plates of cakes to be sampled (yes folks, you heard right, work at Betty’s you get free cakes) and I helped myself to a feather light vanilla slice before being taken on a quick tour of the cake decorating and confectionery departments where steady hands were at work preparing Easter Eggs and celebration cakes.
When the cakes were ready, I was allowed to try my hand at decorating a lemon and lime drizzle cake and injecting streams of hot syrup into the sponge to add extra flavour. Despite the fact that I have huge fat man hands, I don’t think I made to bad a fist of it.
Betty’s guard their recipes well, but Caroline was kind enough to give me the following recipe for Lemon & Lime Drizzle Cake from the Betty’s Cookery School for those who might like to try making one at home.
LEMON & LIME DRIZZLE CAKE
8cm x 19cm loaf tin
125 butter, softened
200g caster sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Grated zest of one lemon
Grated zest of one lime
125g plain flour sifted
1tsp baking powder sifted
125g sour cream
2tsp lemon juice
2tsp lime juice
30g caster sugar
1) Preheat the oven to 150oc. Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy
2) Gradually beat in the eggs a little at a time so the mixture does not curdle
3) Add the lemon and lime zest. Carefully fold in half the flour and baking powder. Fold in the sour cream and then the remaining flour mix. Mix gently until smooth. Spoon the mixture into the greased lined loaf tin
4) Bake at 150oC for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean and the cake feels springy to the touch when lightly pressed.
5) After 5 minutes, pour the glaze over the cake. Allow to stand for a further 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.
6) To make the glaze, mix the lemon and lime juice with the caster sugar.
Finally, as an extra treat, Laura took me over to the Taylor’s Tea part of the complex to meet Ian Brabbin, the head Tea Buyer. If I tell you that, for me it was a bit like meeting Elvis, you will understand just how important Taylor’s Tea is in the life of Dos Hermanos. There is never a moment when I am more than about ten feet from a bag of Taylor’s Yorkshire Gold (hard water version) and I have even been questioned by American immigration about the stash of tea bags I had muled in with me to save me from the murky rubbish the Americans try to pass off as tea.
As I took off my fetching hair net and overalls, Laura presented me with a bag filled with many of the cakes I had seen being made, along with a copy of the rather fun “A Year of Family Recipes” written by Lesley Wild and a box or two of tea.
It tells you all you need to know that, as I sit writing this I have a large cup of tea and a slice of parkin in front of me, neither will last long, which is why I was delighted and slightly scared by the fact that they now have Betty's By Post.
My parkin may not last for long, but my memories of my time in Betty's Craft bakery will, a very special place