Comprehensive descriptive reference for classic British sweets?
September 19, 2022 6:56 PM   Subscribe

Do you know of a comprehensive reference for British sweets? The Wikipedia category on British confectionery is missing several things I'm curious about.

I'm reading Welcome to Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop of Dreams, and it's full of references to sweets I don't know. Lavender creams? Mint creams? Maltesers? Rock? Wham bars? Coconut ice? Flying saucers? All new to me.

I've found some sweet shop mail order pages that list several of these things, but few of them really tell me what the candy actually is.

Please point me to any comprehensive, descriptive websites that can tell me (and ideally show me) what all these classic sweet shop goodies tasted like, looked like, and were made of.

posted by kristi to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Maltesers and Wham Bars are candy bars that are still made. Are you looking for something more than what Wikipedia says about these things?
posted by jonathanhughes at 7:25 PM on September 19, 2022

I believe Kristi is looking for something that will say something like, "Maltesers are chocolate-covered malt balls" or "flying saucers are a sweet-and-sour sort-of-fruit candy" or something like that. Kristi, can you confirm?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:48 PM on September 19, 2022

I'm assuming you're in the US? I'll mention sherbet is more like a Pixi Stick than ice cream.

Whenever I want UK foods I hit up British Corner Shop for a look-see. Haven't ordered anything but they have a very extensive list of foods with ingredients and a marketing description.
posted by fiercekitten at 7:54 PM on September 19, 2022

Response by poster: Sorry I wasn't clearer:

I am, indeed, looking for an online reference (like the Wikipedia confectionery page that lists individual sweets and tells me what they are ... the more comprehensive, the better.

Comparing the Candyland Wham Bar page to the Wikipedia Wham Bar page, the Candyland page is nice because it shows me the wrapper and tells me that it's tangy, fizzy, and chewy, but the Wikipedia page is more helpful because tells me specifically, "They are thin chew bars with coloured pieces of sherbet inside. Wham Bars are available in a range of flavours including Original (Raspberry), Strawberry, Cola, Brew (a similar flavour to that of Irn-Bru), Extreme Super Sour (Blackcurrant), Sour Apple and Sour Cherry." It also tells me they were introduced in the early 1980s, so they're fond childhood memories for people born in, say, 1970 and later, but not so much for people born before 1960.

Similarly, the Nostalgia Central page on sherbet fountains shows me a wrapper, but doesn't really tell me anything about what sherbet IS or what it's like or what flavors are common, whereas the Wikipedia page on Sherbet has a section on Sherbet fountains (and another on sherbet lemon!), which tells me that sherbet is a fizzy, sweet powder; tells me about the history and ingredients; and tells me the typical experience of eating a sherbet fountain (how originally the liquorice stick was a straw). And it mentions Pixi Stix as a related thing, which fiercekitten helpfully mentioned above.

Like some of those other sites, A Quarter Of (sherbet fountain) is good but less descriptive than Wikipedia.

And none of them, including Wikipedia, seems to have the whole gamut. Just for a start, nobody seems to have lavender creams, and Wikipedia doesn't have chocolate limes (although A Quarter Of does).

So I guess my ideal resource would be pretty close to the Wikipedia pages I've found, but would cover all the things I haven't found at Wikipedia - and would have pictures of the sweets themselves, not just the wrappers.

I am, indeed, in the USA. I am not actually looking to buy anything; I just want to get a better feel for the beloved sweets in the book I'm reading.

posted by kristi at 8:19 PM on September 19, 2022

I haven't much luck finding something to your exact ask, but i wonder if it's just as useful to come up with a list and have it crowdsourced here directly? Based on your description you might not find one main resource since the book is including both mass-produced sweets like Maltesers and slightly more boutique or homemade ones like the older-fashioned creams (well, i think creams as old-fashioned anyway).

FWIW if it helps, "___ creams" and "____ ices" are just two different categories of sweets and you're then just differentiating by flavour. Creams are basically baked fondant (sometimes on its own, usually in a chocolate shell) and ices is just old-fashioned frozen treats (not quite ice-cream level but can be).
posted by cendawanita at 8:37 PM on September 19, 2022

posted by Rash at 8:56 PM on September 19, 2022

Best answer: Sweets and Toffee at The Foods of England Project is not at-a-glance, but links to individual candy entries, as in:

Coconut Ice - Set sugar fondant with coconut flakes, most commonly made in a slab of two layers, pink and white. [No image; recipe]
Flying Saucers - Flattened spheres, about 1 1/4ins diameter and 1/2ins deep of thin rice paper or similar edible board, filled with dry sherbet. Although often presented as a particularly English sweet they are also known in the USA, but may originate in Belgium. With enormous thanks to Debbie, who passed on the following information to us; "Flying Saucers as a candy may have originated as a medicinal item, created in 1900 by a company called Belgica in Belgium. Belgica invented a flat, round starch-shell capsule to hold pill powder in, to make unpleasant-tasting medicines easier for patients to swallow. The Astra Sweets company of Belgium, which bought out Belgica in 1992, claims that this was the predecessor of the candy. [Has image]

"Souvenirs for Candy Fanatics: Old-Timey British Sweets" visits a retro candy store, Toffee Nose in Covent Garden, and has some of what you're looking for, with pics & descriptions: "Rock candy (named from the place of origin, like Blackpool rock or Brighton rock) is similar to a candy cane, except in fat, stick form. They are made by hand and often have a pattern in the center." [41 British Candy Favorites is more concerned with chocolate bars, has lots of (current) photos with flavor descriptions, year of product introduction. See also Deborah Cadbury's Chocolate Wars: the 150-year rivalry between the world's greatest chocolate makers (2010; copy) (Cadbury --> R. Dahl --> Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.)] The Oldest Sweet Shop in the World has some nice pics. candy
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:38 PM on September 19, 2022 [3 favorites]

I don't know lavender creams but I'm pretty sure they'd be like peppermint creams and violet creams, which are basically just a soft fondant, flavoured like the plant they're named for. They are often covered in chocolate, usually dark chocolate. These guys make Rose and Violet creams which will give you an idea of what they look like. If they're a flower-flavoured cream, they will usually have a tiny candied flower petal on top.

Coconut ice is a super simple treat which I loved as a kid although the thought of it now makes me feel sick. You make it from icing sugar, condensed milk and dessicated coconut, one white layer and one coloured pink. It's very pretty. Recipe and photo here.
posted by andraste at 11:11 PM on September 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

Obligatory link to the Gravity's Rainbow candy scene.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:05 AM on September 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

> ices is just old-fashioned frozen treats

Coconut ice isn't frozen, in case that wasn't clear from the other descriptions. It's normally found in cubes that could conceivably look like ice cubes.
posted by gregjones at 2:03 AM on September 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

I must have gotten myself mixed up with the other kind! But yes, am in agreement as well with the others' descriptions as well, especially as we still use "iced cakes" traditionally over "frosting" (which is getting more popular) here.
posted by cendawanita at 4:13 AM on September 20, 2022

I don't know lavender creams but I'm pretty sure they'd be like peppermint creams and violet creams, which are basically just a soft fondant, flavoured like the plant they're named for. They are often covered in chocolate, usually dark chocolate.

Yeah - think, like, a "mint cream" would be like a York Peppermint Pattie or a Junior Mint, while a "lavender cream" or a "violet cream" would be like, "if the stuff inside was lavender flavored" or "violet flavored", depending.

And as for coconut ice: there is a delightful TikTok channel by a guy named B. Dylan Hollis, who tries baking various "retro" recipes; he tries making his own Coconut Ice at one point, and that's one of the "successes" in his efforts.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:21 AM on September 20, 2022

I'm amazed that the thing you're looking for doesn't exist, but it seems it really doesn't. Even in book form, there only look to be a couple of possibilities: Great British Sweets (which tells you not only what they are but how to make them, but doesn't include Wham bars, flying saucers or Maltesers), A History of Sweets in 50 Wrappers (which seems unlikely to include the kind of sweets you'd buy by the quarter), and The Great British Tuck Shop, which is the most promising option for a complete reference, but is out of print.

Incidentally, yes, you can still get something calling itself a Wham bar, but it's a mere shadow of its glorious former 1980s self. Wham bars were luridly pink, their top surface studded with sour crystals, and they were notably wide compared with other bars, wide enough to stretch the corners of your mouth. Although they were quite thin, they had a consistency like stiff toffee, quite tough to bite through and needing lots of chewing. It took a while to eat one. It was worth it.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:34 AM on September 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

Flossy Treats might also help - they seem to have a lot of the ones you've mentioned in their "retro sweets" section.
posted by scorbet at 5:32 AM on September 20, 2022

Malteasers are 1/2 inch balls of baked malt dough, coated in chocolate. The inside is crisp and airy like a Melba toast, bagel chip or even a bit like a breakfast cereal, then coated with a thick layer of shiny milk chocolate. Think of a corn pop cereal ball dipped in chocolate and you’re not far off.

A mint cream would be like a York peppermint patty - chocolate with soft goo inside that’s minty. And a lavender cream would be a chocolate with lavender flavoured creamy goo inside. The creamy goo is fondant - like thick cake frosting. So it would basically taste like a Cadbury cream egg, but with lavender oil or peppermint oil as the flavouring.

Sherbet fountains are a cardboard tube about 1x3 inches filled with white powder that’s sweet and tangy and fizzes when it gets wet with saliva. I think it’s a mix of powdered sugar, citric acid, and baking soda. There’s a black licorice whip included that you use to dip out the powder and lick it off. It doesn’t taste “good” but it’s kind of novel and fun.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:57 AM on September 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Maltesers are Whoppers.
posted by Ardnamurchan at 6:29 AM on September 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

nobody seems to have lavender creams

Actually, that one stood out to me in your original list. In a lifetime of quite intense interest in sweets and chocolate, I don't recall ever coming across a lavender cream. I can imagine what one would be (as has been said upthread, like a violet cream or a peppermint cream, but flavoured with lavender) but I'm not convinced that they're actually a thing that exists. The author may have been thinking of a violet cream, or may have invented them for plot purposes (they do sound plausible as an old-fashioned chocolate); or perhaps they're something locally common somewhere (now or in the past) but not really known nationally.

Something I don't think anyone has spelt out yet is that the texture of a cream is not well-defined. A chocolate described as a [whatever] cream or creme will definitely have a fondant filling, but it can be anywhere from liquid to firm. For instance, After Eights are a kind of peppermint cream with a filling that's more towards the liquid end; Bendicks Bittermints (you can see a stack of them in the photo opposite "Our Values", once you've closed the In Memoriam overlay) are at the other end of the spectrum.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 8:14 AM on September 20, 2022

We brought back lavender honey from a holiday and there was no amount of it that didn't make me think I was was eating soap. Maybe Lavender Creams are gone for the same reason.
posted by k3ninho at 9:11 AM on September 20, 2022

We brought back lavender honey from a holiday and there was no amount of it that didn't make me think I was was eating soap. Maybe Lavender Creams are gone for the same reason.

Lavender is indeed a tricky and polarizing flavor; it's kind of like the candy world version of cilantro. Done right it can be lovely - but it's hard to do right. So it's not surprising that most candymakers gave up and moved on to something more reliable.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:57 AM on September 20, 2022

I've definitely had lavender creams at upmarket chocolatiers, as well as geranium & orange blossom, alongside the more traditional rose and violet. Mint creams are the same principle.

I think most American chocolate boxes have orange creams, right? Chocolate enclosing a white orange-flavoured sugary creamy centre? Same principle for all of them.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:24 PM on September 20, 2022

Response by poster: What a wonderful assortment of splendid answers!

I'm even a tiny bit pleased to learn that none of you could find the exact thing I'm looking for, either - at least my search skills are up there with the best of the MeFites.

Iris Gambol, your Sweets and Toffee at The Foods of England Project link was the closest thing to what I was looking for, and I've been enjoying clicking around in there. And the list of possible published works was most welcome. Thank you!

I enjoyed and appreciated every answer - your descriptions of specific items were delightful and helpful.

Thank you all so much for your links and all the information - much obliged to all of you!
posted by kristi at 4:19 PM on September 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

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