PURE TASTE Christmas Treats
Stephanie Mackentyre meets three Essex producers who are willing and able to provide something extra special for your dinner table this Christmas
Discover some special tastes for the season
SIMON HATCHER, Coles Great Chesterford
Coles is a specialist pudding manufacturer based in Saffron Walden. The company was originally founded as a family bakery in 1939, but became part of Wilkin & Sons in 2010. Originally from Somerset, Simon Hatcher has been with the company for more than 20 years and began working for them as a bakery supervisor. As managing director, since 2017, Simon still regards the all-important pudding recipes as being crucial to the business.
‘There are some which we’ve kept from those early beginnings, but we also like to bring new lines in with modern twists every year,’ says Simon.
New for this year is a Butterscotch pudding, made with dates. This pleasingly light pudding is topped with a wonderfully rich butterscotch sauce. Their classic Christmas pudding, with beer in it, used to be known as the Traditional, but now it’s branded as the Classic. They also create own label puddings as well as the Coles branded puddings. Some other popular ones are the brandy pudding as well as the Connoisseur and Figgy puddings too.
‘We supply quite a lot to hamper companies and often the trend is set by them each year. We wouldn’t sell to the larger suppliers as we prefer to deal with the high end specialist distributers,’ adds Simon. All of their puddings are available from Tiptree Tearooms and online too. The new Butterscotch Pudding is also currently available in branches of Lakeland as a deliciously satisfying alternative to the classic Christmas pudding.
‘We use the finest ingredients from all over the world in our mixes, even baking our own bread to ensure that our exacting product specifications are matched,’ says Simon. ‘We do not mass produce, using only a small batch delivery system.’
In fact, all the carefully constructed recipes are handmixed and then the puddings are baked for up to eight hours, while being gently steamed to ensure moistness and freshness.
RACHEL RAWLINGS, Cakes from Rachel in Braintree
Of course, not everyone is a fan of the traditional Christmas pudding, so what other options are there? Rachel Rawlings runs Cakes From Rachel.
She says: ‘It was really just a hobby that has developed. People started asking me for cupcakes for different occasions, including Christmas, and it really went from there.’
Her Christmas cakes and cupcakes are now so popular that she bakes batches of them each and every year. Based in Braintree, her business began almost seven years ago and in August she moved the business from her home to a purpose-built studio.
‘Now customers can come and discuss the cakes they’d like in my professional kitchen, which is much better. I’ve had the honour of making many special cakes.’
Rachel loves to use her creative flair to come up with something new and a bit different to adorn your table. ‘I will turn my hand to nearly anything. I do love a challenge, but my absolute favourite area of cake craft is making sugar flowers and cupcakes.’
Customers order by phone or in person and collect their cupcakes before Christmas Day.
‘Ideally I try to get people to come to me to collect their cupcakes. I can deliver, but I have to charge a fee for it. I don’t really have a limit if someone is happy to pay the mileage, but to be honest I’d rather be baking.’
Her most popular cupcakes are vanilla and Rachel can even personalise each cup cake for a festive treat for each of your family.
‘I bake all cakes myself using quality ingredients and all my decorations are handmade and edible.’
Rachel can also make traditional Christmas cakes, but orders need to be in for those by October but you could be ultra-organised and get your order in now for Christmas 2019 perhaps. Each of her cupcake orders are packaged in pretty cardboard boxes specifically designed to keep the cakes safe during travel. Of course, flavour is just as important as the decoration.
‘If you want a mix of flavours for your cupcakes I like them to be in multiples of three. So if it’s a box of six I’d do three in say chocolate and three vanilla cakes. If you’re reading this and thinking what a brilliant idea, but when’s the Christmas cut off? I’m happy to report I’m busier than ever, but happy to still take orders for sponge cakes and Christmas cupcakes certainly in the first week of December at least.’
SARAH KNIGHTS, The Chappel Chocolate House in Marks Tey
Once you’ve indulged in dessert there’s always a little space left for some carefully crafted petit fours. And what better than some beautifullycrafted chocolates handmade in Essex?
Run by chocolatier Sarah Knights, The Chappel Chocolate House offers not only a shop full of wonderfully colourful, gleaming chocolates to choose from, but also gift vouchers for her workshops and the regular chocolate demonstrations she hosts.
As well as decorating her chocolates in glossy, vibrant colours, Sarah creates her own recipes too. Earlier this year she won a Great Taste Award for her plum and orange chocolates.
‘Years ago I used to make a plum and orange crumble at Christmas time. I’ve done workshops with the UK Chocolate Academy and the UK Chocolate Masters winners and they’re very enthusiastic about using herbs and spices to create your flavourings. After one such course I had a eureka moment and thought, if I put star anise and plum together let’s see what it tastes like? It’s really, really nice. I don’t buy any fillings as I make them all myself.’
Sarah opened her own shop in March of this year, prior to that she was making her chocolate creations from her home workshop.
‘When the lease came up on this building it was a no brainer; it gives me space for a workshop, a shop and a kitchen,’ she adds.
Things are going really well with the footfall building up and some local businesses, including New Hall Vineyard and Peter Watts Wines, also stocking Sarah’s fine wares.
‘We’ve made chocolates to put into their hampers for the past two Christmases,’ adds Sarah, who is also planning to be at the Braxted Park Christmas Market and also the Coggeshall and Mark’s Tey Christmas Fayres, all on December 1.
‘The bakery on Mersea Island will be another stockist of my chocolates, which is another really exciting development for us.’
Her remarkable chocolates are decorated with coloured cocoa butters. ‘If you went into one of the top shops in London you’d see chocolates like these, or check out Facebook and Pinterest. I enjoy putting a stamp of my personality on my chocolates.’
Her chocolate courses include lunch or afternoon tea. Each course is half a day and Sarah will also tailor courses to specific needs.
‘We can do bake-off style competitions for hen parties and team building too. If somebody wants to try something, just come and have a chat and we’ll see if we can do it.’
These treats are just the kind of addition to take your Christmas from fabulous to spectacular this year.