Exotic cakes created in the Cotswolds by Sophie Browne
Sophie Browne knew she was on to something good when orders for her M'Hencha cakes poured in at a time of year traditionally associated with cutting back on sweet treats.
Spurred on by the popularity of her coiled almond sugar paste-filled pastries throughout January and beyond, she entered them into the Great Taste Awards, the largest and most-trusted accreditation scheme for speciality and fine food and drink.
Little did she expect that her entry would gain a coveted three star gold award and that a panel of expert judges would pick it from more than 8,800 entries as one of the top 50 food and drink products in the UK.
Since then, the M'Hencha cakes have gone on sale in Fortnum and Mason in London while orders generated from Sophie's website have continued apace, which means she is kept busy baking them in her kitchen in Bourton-on-the-Water almost every day.
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The M'Hencha is just one of the delicious cakes that Sophie has been baking since she gave up her 20-year career in sales and marketing to concentrate on her passion for baking.
She discovered the Moroccan delicacy while she was baking her way through a book of world cake recipes looking for something new for the annual Northleach Christmas Bonanza.
She found a second recipe and went on to develop her own take on the North African classic, which is made from an almond sugar paste flavoured with rosewater, orange and lemon zest all wrapped up in a Mediterranean "brick" pastry topped with pistachios.
Sophie grates her own lemon and orange zest for the M'Henchas after a fruitless search to find anything that matched up to their fresh flavours.
"To me, the quality of the ingredients I use is vitally important as they have a huge impact on my final product," says Sophie.
"When I took M'Hencha cakes to Northleach, the shoppers loved it – they had never tasted anything like it – and I took a huge number of orders.
"Subsequently a Moroccan gentleman I met at Stow Farmers' Market told me he much preferred my M'Hencha to the ones he ate at home because the taste of the rose water in my cakes was not overpowering and he described the citrus element as 'genius'.
"I knew I was on to something good when orders for my M'Henchas kept pouring in after Christmas, which is usually a time when people are thinking about slimming and cutting back on cakes.
"Some people even pile them up and have them as celebration cakes, for birthdays and even weddings – they look so pretty sprinkled with rose petals."
The M'Hencha is one of a number of cakes available from Sophie's Baked Delights: others include an apple and olive creation inspired by the American Magnolia Bakery; carrot, zucchini and coconut and the popular gluten-free chocolate squidge. All of these are made with the best locally-produced ingredients she can find, including free-range eggs from farmer Patrick Bourne in Burford and flour from Shipton Mill near Tetbury.
Ingredients produced from outside the UK are sourced through the Suma wholesale co-operative.
"My primary aim is to use natural ingredients, and no preservatives," says Sophie. "This is important to me because I think food has become devalued: if you produce a quality product and sell it cheaply, somebody has been compromised in the process. I try to buy locally and sell locally.
"I offer a free delivery service within a 10-mile radius of Bourton and my M'Hencha cakes can be posted to addresses throughout the UK."