About a month ago, I logged into my Word Press to find a comment on a post from last Spring. I did not know the person who commented, yet she told me she loved the way I write and asked if I would ever consider doing a story about her company.
The request came at a good time. I was a little disenchanted with a few things related to the blog that I won’t bore you with and her email was a little reminder to stay positive. Before I contacted her, I took a look at her website. When I learned that her business had been in part inspired by the passing of her mother, the same month and year as mine, I thought it might be a message. I got in touch and we made a date to get together at her home in Westwood, Massachusetts.
I am glad we did. Let me tell you about Helen Coates, her company Copper Kettle Bakery and her product, Welsh Cakes.
Helen Coates was raised in South Wales, and lived with her parents, brother and grandmother in a home that sounds a bit like a fairy tale. On weekend mornings, the kitchen would be filled with the aroma of Welsh cakes, a breakfast or tea-time confection her mother would make for them to enjoy together. Her grandmother also loved to cook, particularly the Sunday roasts they enjoyed as a family.
Helen and her mother often went to tea at a little cafe in their town that also served the special Welsh cakes. It was there that she told her mother that she hoped to one day open a bakery. It would be named Copper Kettle for the vessels that poured the tea at the cafe. Helen’s interest in baking was also fueled by the Wednesday afternoon cooking classes she took as part of her school’s curriculum from the age of 11 or 12 until 15. Ingredients were brought from home to prepare the day’s lessons which she executed alongside her classmates. The results, good or bad, were brought home to share with her family. She says her father always looked forward to Wednesday evenings during those years.
Well, life turned out a little differently at first for Helen who arrived in the U.S. at the age of 20 to work as a mother’s helper in New York for nearly a decade before becoming a citizen and moving to Massachusetts. Over the years, she has worked in the fields of demolition, construction, academia and most recently ecommerce for an online jewelry customization company. She describes herself as a project manager. Her accent is now a mix of English, New York and Massachusetts. She even said “wicked” during our conversation!
Life was good and the idea of a bakery was nestled in the past. She and her partner, Chris enjoyed a nice life in Westwood with their twin sons, now 14.
But in the summer of 2013, two events occurred. First, her beloved mother passed away and within 3 months, she was laid off from her job with the jewelry company. Enter Welsh cakes.
So, what are Welsh cakes exactly?
They are a traditional breakfast and tea time confection that is somewhere between a scone and a biscuit. About the width of an english muffin, they are fried on a griddle similar to a pancake and are traditionally studded with currants. Eaten with butter, honey or jam, Welsh cakes became Helen’s salvation as she strove to recreate the smells and tastes of her childhood as she mourned the loss of her mother.
But what to do with all those Welsh cakes? Her family of four could only eat so many so she began to share them with her neighbors, one of whom suggested that she turn her passion for Welsh cakes into a business. The project manager in Helen decided to give it a go and began furiously preparing Welsh cakes in several varieties and sending them off to friends and family for feedback.
When she received the green light that she was on to something, she went through the task of getting her home kitchen certified by the Westwood Board of Health and the State of Massachusetts. In addition, she said “yes!” to the offer of a $10,000 loan from a former co-worker to start her company. On November 19, 2013, she sent an email to her friends that she was open for business. Little did she know that was the easy part.
With six griddles taking over her kitchen and the alarm clock set to 1:00 AM, Helen began to mass produce Welsh cakes studded not only with currants, but with dried cranberries and chocolate chips (today, she also has a pineapple and coconut variety). The first store to take her product was High Street Market just down the street from her home. Brothers Marketplace, a Roche Brothers company came next. Farmer’s markets were the primary avenue for selling her Welsh cakes and together with her griddle, Helen would do demonstrations to give potential buyers taste of her Welsh treats.
Fast forward to one year later and Helen knew something needed to change. She wanted to break out of the kitchen, literally, and stop producing the cakes in her home kitchen. She needed to rebrand and find a commercial baker to take her business to the next level…
Wouldn’t you if you were making 500 of them at a pop?
Through a Kickstarter campaign (watch it – it is short and really creative as Helen wanted herself to be animated!), Helen raised more than the $5,000 she needed to hire someone to help with demo’s and farmer’s markets, pay some bills and essentially save the business…
Helen secured a company to develop a dry mix from her recipe for people who wanted to make their own Welsh cakes, and then spent many months working to find the right commercial baker willing to take on the task of a griddled product. They now use the mix to produce Welsh cakes ready for immediate consumption (or freezing). Helen was intimately involved in every step of the process, including the selection of the eggs, milk and butter used during production. She also supplies the currants, cranberries, pineapple and coconut as well as the chocolate chips from a trusted supplier…
Her website lists the retail locations that currently stock Welsh cakes and where you can find Copper Kettle Bakery products at the farmer’s markets locally. Through her website, you can also purchase the boxed mixes and any flavor of the Welsh cakes already prepared and ready to be warmed and served with some butter or jam.
So, I learned all of that info in the first two hours that Helen and I sat, drank tea and chatted. There was some crying when the topic of mothers came up. Not a surprise. I knew I was meant to go. After that, it was time to get cooking! Helen did all the work while I snapped pictures and then we got to eat! Helen also sent me home with lots of goodies (full disclosure) – a first for The Kitchen Scout!
Helen in her Westwood kitchen…
Holding to the board of health mandates about the use of rubber gloves, Helen started the process of making the Welsh cakes with these lovely numbers on. We quickly agreed that they had to go…
All that is needed in addition to the contents of the mix are butter, one egg and some milk…
Cut the butter into the flour like you would with any pastry…
But try not to have someone talking a blue streak to you so that you put the currants in before the butter 🙂
Mix your egg and milk…
Add them slowly to the dough until it comes together in a ball. Depending on the humidity, you may or may not need all of the liquid…
Roll the dough out to about the thickness of a wooden spoon (Helen’s reference, I like that!)
And then cut into 3 inch circles using a glass like Helen’s or a metal biscuit cutter…
The lighting was a little tricky for my pictures…
Heat your griddle…
Cook the cakes for about 5 minutes per side…
Helen did not use any additional butter to the griddle, although you could if you wanted to. Her mum used to fry the cakes in a little bacon fat. If you go there, you might never come back!
As the cakes were cooking, the aroma of cinnamon and allspice filled the air. Helen prepared the traditional currant version for me and when they came off the griddle, they were light and airy. I quickly devoured two. They were not too sweet which I really liked and would have only been enhanced with butter or jam. They were a nice treat to enjoy with our tea.
I brought home all of the flavors and have since sampled them all. The currant is still my favorite with the cranberry a very close second. My daughter is going to love the chocolate chips and I did like the coconut-pineapple but prefer the other flavors.
This week, I decided to prepare one of the box mixes Helen gave me and found it extremely easy. I wanted to serve the Welsh cakes as part of a cheese board so I actually cut the dough with a 1 1/2 inch cutter and quickly cooked them over a low heat in a non-stick pan. There were lots of questions about what they were, the curious round things with currants on the board. Everyone really loved them, especially with a nice big dollop of goat cheese. My friend, Anne suggested red pepper jelly would be delicious with them too.
This is a shot of my finished Welsh cakes. I used a fluted cutter to make the big ones have a decorative edge…
Helen’s time is now largely spent on marketing, improving her website that she built herself, continuing to do demonstrations and working on her strategic plan. She is hoping to develop a savory Welsh cake when she finds the right cheese as her products are made in a Kosher facility.
I had such a delightful time with Helen, learning about how she turned a tough time in her life into something really pretty wonderful. I am keeping my fingers crossed that some meetings she was having will lead to more good things and a bigger future for Copper Kettle Bakery. If you are looking for something new to try, or even for a unique hostess gift, I think these would make a really fun surprise.
In the meanwhile, I went to the library (natch) and found a recipe for Welsh cakes in Elizabeth David’s book, English Bread and Yeast Cookery that I am including here. I have not tested it out, but maybe one of you will and let me know how it goes? We can trust Elizabeth David…
Until next time…
One Year Ago: Applesauce Spice Muffins
This recipe is from the book English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David. I have not tested it at this juncture, but given it's from Elizabeth David, to whom James Beard dedicated his book, Beard on Bread, I think we are safe!
You will note the ingredient "mixed sweet spice" which according to Helen Coates of Copper Kettle Bakery is a mixture of cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg or a variation thereof.
The recipe instructions are more of a narrative on the Welsh cake itself. I have included instructions on how to make the ingredients into a dough.
- 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
- 1 2/3 cups or so unbleached flour
- 6 Tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon mixed sweet spice (or nutmeg)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup currants
- Roll or pat out the dough (see my instructions in the notes) to a thickness of 1/2 inch. With a cutter or small glass stamp out rounds 3 inches in diameter. Bake the cakes on the griddle or planc, as the Welsh call it, or in a lightly buttered iron frying pan. They are quickly cooked, and should be soft, not crisp. When well-made, Welsh cakes are light and short. I find them delicious. Sometimes they are eaten with a little butter, although when fresh I find them better without it.
Tips from The Kitchen Scout
In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, sweet spice and baking powder (add a pinch of salt). Cut the butter into cubes and add to the flour. Mix together using a pastry cutter or your hands until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the currants. Beat the egg and add to the ingredients until the dough comes together.
Loved reading Helen’s story – I hope she finds lots of success!!
Thanks, Ellen! I do too!