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Cookery kit boxes have been around for ages. The premise is simple: in exchange for a monthly subscription fee, you get a box of ingredients delivered to your door along with a recipe to make a variety of dishes at home.
Britain Loves Baking got in touch with me to explain their alternative offering, offering me the opportunity to put its World Chocolate Day inspired baking box through its paces.
I love cooking and messing around in the kitchen. Armed with my six-year-old helper, we're a dream team when it comes to baking cakes, cookies, and brownies. So, I thought this would be an interesting project to break up the monotony of school summer holidays.
A few days later, a box arrived on my doorstep, full of most of the ingredients to make myself a batch of gooey chocolate brownies, rocky road cookies, and chocolate fruit and nut flapjacks.
Britain Loves Baking
Spearheaded by Greg Wixted, with recipes by brothers Mark and Andy Wixted, Britain Loves Baking seeks to reduce food waste. Its boxes contain specific quantities of dry and ambient ingredients together with recipe cards.
Boxes start from £17, but unlike pretty much every other recipe box service, Britain Loves Baking doesn't tie you into a recurring subscription. Just order as and when you like, choosing from eight different kits. From afternoon tea delicacies to American baked treats, there's a kit for every taste.
The experience is designed to be as foolproof as can be, and the dry and ambient ingredients are all measured out for you ready to bake. You don't need any baking experience, and just need to be able to mix ingredients, pop it on a tray, and bake in the oven. So long as you've got basic kitchen equipment, you'll be able to make these recipes at home.
What's in the Box?
Wrapped inside a layer of clear shrink-wrap film was a weighty, nondescript white cardboard box. Inside sat a neatly packed set of ingredients, each sealed inside press-seal plastic bags. The oil and syrup arrived in thick plastic bottles, inside a press-seal plastic bag for extra safety. A tub of vanilla flavouring was heat-sealed inside a plastic wrapper (a good job too, as it had leaked in transit).
In this press sample, Britain Loves Baking also bundled in a copy of the 54-page Don't Waste a Crumb recipe book as well as a handy magnetic kitchen timer (both sold separately).
Britain Loves Baking Chocolate Taster Box contents:
Approximately 180ml rapeseed oil
Approximately 190ml Maple Flapjack Syrup
Approximately 15-20ml vanilla extract
165g Special Brownie Mix
440g Flapjack Mix
215g Rocky Cookie Mix
180g chocolate chips
100g Rocky Road chocolate, fruit and nuts
250g brown sugar
20g mini marshmallows
In addition to the dry and ambient goods, I needed to go shopping for a 250g stick of butter (only 100g is needed for this kit) and a box of six eggs (only three are needed here).
The recipes include suggestions of extra bits and bobs you could add in, such as extra nuts, dried fruit, or chocolate. I wanted to taste the originals and so I stuck to the recipe to the letter for temperatures, measurements, ingredients, and the method.
Chocolate Fruit & Nut Flapjack
Flapjacks are a firm family favourite here and a great way to use up porridge oats and golden syrup. These loaded flapjacks on the recipe card certainly look delicious, don't you think?
This Chocolate Fruit & Nut Flapjack recipe sees 100g butter (not included) simmered with the contents of the Maple Honey Syrup bottle. The syrup had part crystallised so didn't easily pour out. After submerging the bottle in warm water for five minutes, it largely poured out, leaving a film of syrup lining the bottle, much to my annoyance. I gently simmered the mixture for three minutes, as directed, being careful it did not change colour nor burn.
Separately, I poured the contents of the 440g bag of Flapjack Mix (an assortment of flours, oats, fruit, nuts and chocolate chips) into a mixing bowl. While it felt like too much, I eyeballed a third of the vanilla extract (a very messy process) and added this too.
I mixed the hot buttery syrup in with the powders, which melted the chocolate chips, resulting in a wet, sweet-smelling dark brown mixture. I poured this into a lined baking tin and popped it into a 140°C fan oven for 25 minutes.
My heart sank as I opened the oven door to find a dark molten bubbling mess. It didn't match the picture on the recipe card nor the description of a golden and "just set" flapjack. I let it cool, hoping it would firm up in the process.
I let it cool fully but even then it wouldn't hold together. The texture was very greasy, and some of the butter fat had solidified on the surface. The taste was just plain weird. The vanilla was far too overpowering and with this set against the maple flavour, it was unpalatable. I tried eating it over the course of a few days but the flavours didn't improve. I hate food waste and actively try to minimise it, so it pained me to consign this batch to the food bin.
What went wrong? At a guess, I reckon I the butter-syrup mixture didn't need to simmer for three minutes, and this hot liquid was no match for the chocolate chips, which melted in a heartbeat, tainting the overall colour. A third of the vanilla extract (around 5-7ml) felt like too much for this recipe, and instinct told me not to add as much. If I baked this again, I'd leave the vanilla out or add just a couple of drops.
Chocolate Rocky Road Cookies
Disheartened but not defeated, we turned to the Chocolate Rocky Road Cookies. Cookies are another firm favourite here, and are a fun way to use up butter. We'd recently made a batch of rocky road, crammed with digestives, raisins, and mini marshmallows, all entwined in Columbian milk chocolate. Fusing Rocky Road with cookies sounds like a marriage made in heaven.
Unlike my go-to recipe, this Chocolate Rocky Road Cookie recipe uses vegetable oil as the source of fat rather than butter. The eyeballed 60ml of the bottle of oil is mixed with one egg (not supplied), a third of the vanilla extract (I learned my lesson and went with just a few drops instead) and the cookie mix powder. It was difficult measuring out the oil to get exactly 60ml as the bottle didn't have a scale printed on the side.
The thick, dark chocolatey batter looked great, and just needed the bag of rocky road inclusions mixed in to complete it. Suddenly, I found my moist batter had turned dry and crumbly thanks to the inclusions. It was very difficult to work these into flattened balls, as they kept falling apart. Instinct told me to add more liquid, but the recipe didn't call for it.
I did my best, and popped them in a 200°C fan oven for five minutes. Then, I topped each one with the mini marshmallows and popped them back in the oven for a further five minutes.
Normally, I'd expect the cookies to spread out and flatten, but these didn't. As with the flapjacks, these didn't really resemble the recipe card image, but they were close. While edible, these cookies were very dry and tasted floury and were best served alongside a large drink.
I expected these to spread in the oven so I didn't flatten them into a traditional cookie shape, and so that probably didn't help with the texture. If I was to make this again, I'd add more oil to the dry mixture, and flatten the cookies out more. I'd also stick to using just a few drops of the potent vanilla extract.
Gooey Chocolate Brownies
We'd saved what we hoped would be the best until last. Again, I'm a keen baker and my trusty recipe for rich, gooey chocolate brownies, derived from a Paul. A Young recipe, blends copious amounts of butter, sugar, and chocolate couverture for the most divine dark chocolate brownies in the world. The bar was set high.
This chocolate brownie recipe sees chocolate chips melt in a bowl of warmed vegetable oil. Separately, I creamed together the brown sugar and two eggs (not supplied), and a third of the vanilla extract (again, I used just a few drops instead). Then I folded in the Brownie Mix, 100ml of water, and the chocolate oil mixture. The recipe warns against over-mixing so as soon as the goo was a uniform colour, I poured the ingredients into a baking tin and popped it in the oven.
25 minutes later, I checked the progress and found the cake was ready, 10 minutes earlier than the recipe calls for. I whipped it out of the oven and left to cool.
I cut into 16 pieces and was very excited to see the brownie was gooey inside. A resounding success!
The edges of the brownie had a gentle bite to them, and the centres were nice and gooey. The flavour was very chocolatey, thanks to the cocoa powder, but wasn't as rich nor as filling as my go-to recipe, so one piece at a time just wasn't enough.
These Gooey Chocolate Brownies are best served warm from the oven, and are best eaten within a few days. I also discovered they make an indulgent dessert heated in the microwave for 30 seconds and topped with a ball of vanilla ice cream.
The Britain Loves Baking Chocolate Taster Baking Box is certainly an interesting concept. Rather than focussing on cooking main meals, Britain Loves Baking focuses solely on baked goods and treats, and the boxes are available on a pay-as-you-go basis.
My personal experience with this Chocolate Taster Baking Box was very mixed. I ended up with food waste as the flapjacks were inedible and I had vanilla extract left over (as I chose not to use as much after the first bake). The fact that the recipes require additional ingredients also bugs me a little. I would have preferred to see all the ingredients shipped in this box, with recipes that didn't call for fresh ingredients, perhaps using vegetable oil and pasteurised shelf-stable liquid egg as alternatives.
I'm not a fan of the amount of single-use plastic the kit uses, but can't see a better way to ship exact quantities of ingredients. Plastic tubs instead of plastic bags might be an option as they're a bit easier to recycle, but they;'re cumbersome. Chocolate makers are beginning to use biodegradable film wrappers for their bars so there might be innovative alternatives to the humble press-seal plastic bag emerging soon. In the Don't Waste a Crumb recipe book, there's a section with novel uses for the leftover plastic packaging to give it a new lease of life.
As a keen baker, I had most of the box's ingredients in my cupboard already, so for somebody like me, who loves weighing out ingredients and methodically piecing together a complex recipe, I don't think there's any benefit to using a recipe kit like this. For me, it created more plastic waste, removed control over the measurement process, and still required me to go out and buy fresh ingredients.
Where such a kit would be useful for me is in an area I don't typically explore. Britain Loves Baking's American Baking Box, for instance, contains cornmeal, chopped dates, and other ingredients I don't tend to buy, so having the right amount of dry and ambient ingredients delivered in a box for these types of recipe makes total sense to avoid food waste.
My own experience saw a failed batch of flapjacks, a dry batch of cookies, and a perfect batch of brownies. Your experience may vary, thanks to plenty of variables in the baking process. According to Greg, my experience is certainly not the norm:
The recipes have been tried and testing by our bakers in Oz and our test baker customers. We only get amazing feedback from customers. I bake them every week and in fact I baked the brownies (with some hazelnut peanut butter) and the flapjacks the same time.Greg Wixted, Britain Loves Baking
Regardless of my own experience, I can see this being an especially handy kit for elderly people, students, and people who don't tend to cook but would like a step-by-step guide to baking. If you don't bake often, a kit like this can reduce food waste as you won't need to buy a big sack of flour or a great big bag of sugar and only use part of it.
If I was using this kit again, I wouldn't follow the recipe so rigidly, using instinct to add more liquid where it felt necessary, not simmering the butter mixture for so long, and using considerably less vanilla extract.
Despite the mixed results, my son and I had fun with these bakes and that's the whole point. It's a family activity where everyone can get involved and have a go. If you're looking for a school holiday activity to keep the children entertained, a Britain Loves Baking box might be worth considering.
If you fancy giving the Britain Loves Baking Chocolate Taster Baking Box a whirl, you can buy the kit here. It's priced at £17 including delivery.