The M’Hencha Company — Moreish Moroccan Cake
I stumbled across Sophie Browne’s M’Hencha at The Cotswold Chocolate Company in Broadway, an exotic creature curled up on the counter next to the gift-wrapped novelty balls and Italian nougat.
“What is it?” I asked the shopkeeper.
“It’s a traditional Moroccan cake but made here in the Cotswolds,” she said proudly. “It tastes amazing, won an award recently.”
M’hencha (M’hanncha) is a tear and share filo pastry filled with almond, pistachio and rose water. The name is Arabic for ‘coiled like a snake’ so it’s also called ‘snake pie’ or ‘serpent cake’. When things feel drab, nothing lifts the spirits like fresh mint tea, Turkish Delight and pistachio pastries scattered with rose petals. This is my regular afternoon treat at Liban, the new Lebanese restaurant at the Kino Teatr, St Leonards. Intrigued to see if the M’Hencha lives up to its award-winning status, I bought one to take home.
M’Hencha’s creator, Sophie Browne, is an artisan baker based in Bourton on the Water. In 2003 Sophie was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disorder — systemic Lupus which at its worst, meant she couldn’t walk. She soon realised that juggling a corporate career with motherhood didn’t blend with managing a chronic condition. With a fair amount of trepidation and hope to create a better lifestyle and heal herself, she quit her sales and marketing job and decided to set up her own bakery business.
“I thought baking cake to order would be a grand plan, a pleasure to do, creative, local. I’d start small so there was less pressure and with some serious persistence, a hefty dollop of determination along with an unsustainable business plan under my belt I finally came up with a unique proposition: M’hencha. I created my interpretation of it in 2011, and after taking it to market for the first time and receiving an extraordinary response, I submitted it to the Great Taste Awards. I was utterly overwhelmed to receive three stars and have M’hencha Citrus, Rosewater & Pistachio named as one of the Top 50 Foods in Britain & Ireland 2012. This catapulted M’hencha into the limelight and The M’hencha Company was born.”
Sophie’s version of the North African pastry cake is an amalgamation of five recipes from Algeria to Morocco. She has added her favourite flavours to give it a new spin with citrus and frangipane. “My palate is my guide, I have a passion for Persian flavours and I like what I eat to be a sensory experience.” In 2015, she created an alter ego to the fragrant, fresh Citrus Rosewater and Pistachio, and, inspired by the other flavours of North Africa, the orange, cinnamon and date M’hencha was born.
“The final recipe was an accidental hero born from a bag of dates splitting in the mix when up against the clock. It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened making the fine-tuned recipe punchy and spicy. I submitted this version to the Great Taste Awards where it achieved three stars, ‘Top 50’ status and was awarded the Golden Fork of the South West (the Oscars of the food industry). I am a passionate artisan and incredibly proud to be one of many creative Cotswolds’ foodie businesses.”
Sophie has kept her business small and specialist, personally making every M’hencha order and, in addition to the baking, she manages the business development, orders and events with the help of an enthusiastic support team.
“My health has vastly improved since leaving corporate. I have weaned myself off all medication bar one but it is careful self-management that keeps things this way and my body with low-level rumblings rather than full-on debilitating flares. I’ve learned to listen to my body and what is really right for me — values, ethics etc. Thankfully my little business gives me the flexibility to manage myself far better than any corporate role and to live by the values I believe in. Yoga, walking and clear headspace also play their part and there are so many of us who are having to readjust.”
My M’Hencha didn’t make it home in one piece. I heated it up and had some for breakfast with coffee from Fillet & Bone. Strikingly different, it tastes extraordinary and you don’t need much to feel satisfied. An excellent alternative to almond croissants in the morning and an exotic gift for foodie friends.
Cité is an independent travel + culture publication based in the UK. From Berlin to St Leonards-on-Sea to Sicily, Cité documents the best places to live + work via interviews, features, profiles and photography.