They were competing in “Britain’s Best Bakery” and as I watch just about every cooking programme that there is on t.v. at the moment, there they were. It quickly dawned on me that this was a local bakery that warranted some investigation as the bakery goods on display through the t.v. programme were superb. I seriously think that they were in the wrong competition - and “Britain’s Best Cake Bakery” would have been their competition (if there was such a thing).
Mind you, having been and sampled copious amounts of their bakery products, I can confirm that there is nothing at all wrong with the bread! I think they were robbed in the competition, but then that’s water under the bridge and I’m sure they made the most of the publicity engendered there from.
Finding the bakery wasn’t difficult, either. The area of Penn Hill really isn’t all that big, with one main shopping area clustered around a complicated road junction and Patisserie Mark Bennett is tucked away down one of the offshoots of that main road. There is good parking along the road outside, ample space to turn around and head back home again - it couldn’t be any better.
I have to admit, at this juncture, that because of the difficulty of getting me into and out of these places, I haven’t actually been inside the shop. Getting my wheelchair in through normal sized doors can sometimes be impossible – and if it’s too far for me to hobble with a stick, then I don’t go. However, I’ve parked right outside their door and peered in on more than one occasion (don’t tell the local traffic wardens!) and it looks as good as it smells. I lived in Germany for some eight years during my childhood and so we visited a number of the local Konditorei (or cake shops) - which smelled just how Patisserie Mark Bennett smells - all coffee and freshly baked deliciousness both savoury and sweet. There are a number of indoor tables and chairs - plus the same outside for those with big warm sweaters or stolid constitutions - all ready for those days when you fancy a coffee and a croissant whilst reading the paper and feeling all Parisienne.
In fact, the shop very much follows a continental Patisserie in that it opens at 8 a.m. – a good hour earlier than a lot of bakeries nearby. I can’t help but think that this is a smooth move on their part, as they must catch a lot of the “after the school run” traffic – which is certainly when we swoop down upon them!
On our first trip – one which was supposed to be reconnaissance only – we came home with one of their superb Mediterranean bread loaves and two gorgeous almond Croissants.
The Mediterranean bread contains sun-dried tomatoes, black olives and rosemary and has a lovely splodge of melted cheese on top. Since then, we’ve tried their wonderful Walnut and Stilton loaf, the amazing Rosemary & Garlic sourdough and the truly jaw droppingly good Cheddar Cheese & Black Pepper loaf – all of which are just a few of the daily speciality breads that cycle through over the course of a week.
|Cheddar cheese & black pepper loaf|
With these speciality breads, it’s not so much the ingredients that go to make up the bread flavours that is the magical part – it’s the flavour that Mark Bennett’s bakers manage to achieve from these ingredients. Take the Cheese & Black Pepper loaf. We have come to the conclusion that they must have a spray can of “cheddar cheese flavour” that gets liberally applied as the bread comes out of the oven, because the intensity of the cheesy flavour is just immense.
The Mediterranean loaf remains our favourite, as the complexity of the flavours from each ingredient seems to have been magnified by the process involved in turning the dough into bread. To toast a piece of Mediterranean bread and top it with a poached egg is just one of life’s little treasures, never mind pleasures.
If there’s one thing that unites every product we’ve tried from Mark Bennett Patisserie, it is the intensity of the flavours.
|Pain de campaigne|
Even the relatively “plain” breads, such as the Pain de Levain and the Pain de Campagne, or the common or garden baguette, have such a depth of flavour! Perhaps it is better that we don’t know what goes into these recipes, as it all helps to keep the mystery going – and keeps us coming back.
Being a Patisserie rather than a Bakery, the main thrust of the shop is of course cake.
However, that doesn’t prevent them from producing a beautiful range of savoury pastries that includes my very favourite Frittata Tart. Just enough for one person and snuggled up in gorgeous buttery flaky pastry, the Frittata part involves red onion, red and green peppers and cooked cubes of potato, all contained in a rich duvet of peppery savoury egg custard. Just divine.
Then there are the cakes. As I said earlier, our first sample was the Almond Croissant. Now I will admit that the Mark Bennett Almond Croissant isn’t quite as good as Kay the Baker makes for Urban Reef in Boscombe – but they are oh so close.
If we hadn’t already have sampled Kay’s Croissants, they’d be right up there in top slot. Beautifully crisp layers of buttery croissant pastry, encasing sweet, rich almond paste and sprinkled liberally with flaked almonds – come on, what’s not to like? You’ll be licking your fingers and using your damp fingertips to pick up any dropped almond slivers – I guarantee it.
Now I’m a bit funny with my doughnuts. Some say I’m a bit funny overall, but we’ll skip lightly over that. I’m a bit of a doughnut purist, in that I love a plain old ring doughnut that’s covered in sugar, fresh out of the fryer. Anything else and I’m a little bit “meh!” about the whole thing. However, doughnuts are a good yardstick to measure a cake shop by.
|I'll bet you thought these were doughnuts. Oh no - they're Berliners!|
However, at Patisserie Mark Bennett, you don’t get doughnuts. You get Berliners. Great big golden sugary orbs of doughnut, sliced across and filled with either spiced apple or black cherry jam. Oh. Em. Gee. (To quote current parlance). I can tell you, I’m certainly not “funny” about Mark Bennett Berliners. The doughnut part of the equation has bounce. Now I didn’t – I’ll admit – try chucking mine on the floor to test its bounce (what sacrilege it would have been!), all you need to do is to bite it. I’m used to doughnuts that submit to your teeth with little more than a sigh – not Mark Bennett doughnuts that stand up and say “yes, I’m a doughnut – but I’m no pushover!”. They are absolutely divine.
|This is how you share two Berliners - with a cup of coffee!|
As with the bread, the depth of flavour in just the doughnut dough is enough to render one speechless – and the flavour of the spiced apple or the black cherry just dances on your tongue. You have to try them. No, you really have to. Words cannot convey ..
Hubby and I have fallen (*cough*) into the habit (*blush*) of having some kind of pastry with our coffee at least once during the week. Yes, I know it’s naughty, but I adjust what I have for lunch to compensate, okay?
I’d love to know what they both use to create that buttery, custardy mix that coats the layers of a Pain au Raisin (apart from the raisins, of course), because it’s flipping moreish.
One of the immediate differences between Asda’s version and Patisserie Mark Bennett’s version, is the size. The Patisserie version is twice as deep and many times crispier, with the trademark chewiness that is just so satisfying. Just oh so perfect to eat with a fabulous cup of Aeropress coffee.
So, needless to say, by this time son and heir was getting a bit fed up with our having been to Patisserie Mark Bennett, but by the time he came home from school all that was left was the last third of a loaf of bread, some crumbs and his parents with beatific smiles on their faces. Hence, one weekend, we bought us all a true Patisserie cake. Our little box of loveliness contained a Tart au fruits (fresh strawberry and red grapes on crème patisserie), an Apple Kuchen (cubes of sweet apple with spices on cream cheese, contained in a shortcrust pastry case) and a Cappucino Slice (layers of delicate sponge cake interspersed with coffee buttercream).
Each delicate confection was carefully cut into three pieces, the kettle was boiled and tea made. Then, with much ceremony, the tasting began. Well, you didn’t expect us to have one cake each, did you? We wanted to sample each one – and buying nine cakes to have at cup of tea time in the afternoon is a bit excessive, even for us!
My favourite was the Apple Kuchen, as the apple was sharp but sweet, the filling was spiced beautifully with warm cinnamon and the shortcrust pastry case was just crumbly and delicious. Hubby loved the Tart au fruits, with its rich custard hiding under the fresh tasting strawberries and grapes. Somewhat predictably, son and heir chose the Cappucino slice as his favourite. He fell in love with the rich dark coffee flavours and the light, delicate sponge layers.
Now I was beginning to wonder whether there was anything that Patisserie Mark Bennett made, that wasn’t utterly divine.
So, Easter being on the horizon, there was only one place to go for our Hot Cross Buns.
These, like the doughnuts, will be another good test of the Patisserie’s mettle, we thought. After all, they’re going to be made in bulk and they’re available everywhere, so they won’t exactly be something that is unique to Patisserie Mark Bennett and maybe they won’t try as hard with them.
How wrong we were.
Hubby got back into the car with his bag of buns and, without any further explanation, said, “smell that” – whilst brandishing the open bag beneath my nose. Oh wow.
There’s a somewhat indefinable something about a well-made, well-baked hot cross bun. It took me back immediately to when I lived on a boat moored at Kingston upon Thames. Each Easter we would make pilgrimage across Kingston Bridge to the bakers on the Hampton Wick side as early as possible in the morning of Easter Sunday, to pick up freshly baked hot cross buns. We would walk back to the boat swapping our bag of hot buns from one hand to the other, whilst smelling the warm aroma that spoke of spice, citrus peel, vine fruits and bakery. Just fabulous – and here it was again.
Unfortunately, one gets so used to seeing flat, limp hot cross buns in sweaty plastic packaging on the shelves of our increasingly not very local supermarkets that you forget what a freshly baked hot cross bun should look like.
There they sat, with a beautiful domed shape and enticingly rich golden yellow colour – just asking to be toasted and eaten hot, with the butter still melting.
God, but they were good.
|Rosemary & garlic loaf|
All of which brings me to their Carrot Cake – which we thought took the crown as the “Best PMB cake”, right up until we tried the Dorset Apple Cake.
Now the Carrot Cake is divine – just the smell of it is enough to tell you that it is going to be a rare treat. However, the flavour is rich with spice, fruity with carrot and vine fruits and thick with vanilla. Even the cream cheese frosting is beyond words. I chose a slice of the Carrot Cake on an occasion when hubby chose a Pain au Raisin – and his cake envy was almost painful to watch.
This is why, upon our next visit – when we had every intention of picking up just a loaf of bread – he came out of there with a loaf of the Walnut and raisin bread, but also with a slice of Carrot Cake and a slice of the as yet untried Dorset Apple Cake.
To be honest, I don’t really even know how to tackle telling you about the Dorset Apple Cake. It featured on the t.v. programme and having tried it, I can totally understand why. With the first mouthful, it makes you roll your eyes dramatically and exclaim “mmmmmmmn….”, with accompanying “OMG this is SO good!” hand gestures. You can’t speak – oh no. Your mouth is far too busy sorting out all the myriad of spectacular flavours that is the Dorset Apple Cake, along with its wonderful barrage of different textures. The soft, sweet cake, the slightly firmer tangy apple, the crumbly cake that is the top layer and the completely dreamy shards of crunchy sugar that run all over the surface. Oh, it is utterly, utterly sublime. I can’t begin to imagine how sublime it would be, with clotted cream alongside. Probably best I don’t go there, eh?
Patisserie Mark Bennett can be found at :
11 Banks Chambers,
Penn Hill Avenue,
Dorset, BH14 9NB
Tel: 01202 733310
256 Sandbanks Road
Dorset, BH14 8HA
Tel: 01202 709111
Patisserie Mark Bennett website link : http://www.artisanmark.com/
Patisserie Mark Bennett facebook link : https://www.facebook.com/pages/Patisserie-Mark-Bennett/112229755568634?fref=ts