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Friday, 30 December 2011

New, Improved Recipe!

Two tracks for this train of thought on improvements: an example of the way some companies feel the need to 'improve' their recipes, and the way food companies package their wares these days.

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By the time I finished my 7 Months of Baking challenge, I'd picked up my next round of Wright's flours for baking, including their Madeira cake, which wasn't available at the food show earlier in the year. The selection on offer wasn't great, but I did bag another couple each of the chocolate and carrot cakes. The first one I baked was a second chocolate cake, according to my own embellished 'recipe', specifically so I could take some round to my folks because I'd neglected to do so the first time round.

The other day, I decided - on a whim - to bake myself a carrot cake. After all, I have plenty of Betty Crocker icing left over, and even those shop bought carrot cakes that refrain from pollution by walnut will invariably be iced to one degree or another. The perfect match, surely?

I noticed something was different the moment I started tipping the mix into my bowl: the carrot pieces were larger. Back when I baked the first carrot cake, I noted that the carrot pieces were basically crumb-sized. Now, they have officially graduated to 'flakes'. Still not the full-on gratings that some ready-made cakes contain, but a noteworthy change nonetheless, particularly since it seems to have happened without any fanfare. Then again, other than that, the mixture is unchanged, so maybe larger fragments of root vegetable don't deserve announcement.

The cake was fine as it was, but the larger carrot pieces do add to its texture and, with a carrot cake that tastes as good as this one (let's face it, nothing tastes better than freshly baked cake!), the last thing we need is for the delicate balance of spices to be upset.

There have been times when a 'New, Improved Recipe' has basically ruined a product so, while I'm fully aware that the thing that sets the best companies apart is their response to customer feedback and their constant striving to improve the quality of their products, I believe that some things should always stay as they are.

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Anyone who spends any amount of time shopping in supermarkets will no doubt know the frustration of packing cardboard food boxes into their fridge or freezer. Nine times out of ten, the boxes are oversize for their contents, so it's always appreciated when packaging is minimised. Where the food is contained in a plastic tub or foil tray, extra packaging is often limited to a printed band around the container - less wasteful of cardboard, more easily compacted, and just as recyclable as a full-size box.

When restocking my freezer in Iceland today, I found that some of their foodstuffs that used to be packaged in oversized boxes (and the product contained in a plastic bag within) are now packaged only in their standard heavy-gauge printed plastic bags. These take up far less space in the freezer drawers and become even more convenient as their contents are removed (cardboard boxes can be folded, sure, but tend to unravel, flap about and generally become a pain in the backside).

I should point out that there's no indication on the bag as to whether or not the plastic is biodegradable, recyclable (are either mandatory now?), or even what type of plastic it is. Then again, there's no council-provided recycling collection from my home, so whatever I don't transfer to my parents' place for recycling will end up in the bins. Also, and perhaps more worryingly, while investigating one bag I discovered that the particular chicken product I was looking at was prepared and packaged in Thailand... and, no, it wasn't Thai Chicken.

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