Ask people to name a Bettys’ product and they will more than likely say the Fat Rascal.
And although the much-loved Yorkshire tearoom and bakery is celebrating its centenary, its iconic grizzly- faced scone is a mere 36 years old, although its roots go back much further.
A Turf Cake is said to be the origin of the Bettys Fat Rascal.
This old regional specialty was a wholesome and filling cake which a shepherd would cook in a covered pan over a peat fire.
The Turf Cake was rediscovered by Jonathan Wild from the Bettys family, who added a few Bettys touches to create the much-loved Bettys Fat Rascal in 1983, including the famous gnarl made out of glace cherries and almonds.
But even Wild couldn’t have predicted the success of his Fat Rascal and how it would become synonymous with the tea rooms.
Bettys Craft Bakery in Harrogate makes more 8,500 a week – that is an incredible 435,000 each year – which are sold at their six tea rooms and through Bettys online shop which sees them transported worldwide.
There are three dedicated days a week at the craft bakery when Fat Rascals are made, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tues and Thursday are dedicated to the newly introduced Cheeky Rascals, a box of smaller flavoured Fat Rascals meant to just celebrate the centenary, but they have proved so successful they are set to stay. So far this year they have sold 21,000
Cheeky Rascals and 1,000 are made every week and sold in boxes of six.
I visit the craft bakery on a Wednesday when the Fat Rascal baking is in full progress.
The magic starts in the stores where Mark Amstrong is weighing out the all-important ingredients.
Although they are happy to tell me what goes into a Fat Rascal the recipe and quantities remain a closely guarded secret as many have tried to recreate the Bettys’ favourite, and failed.
Mark has only worked at Bettys for six months, he tells me, but it is his job to ensure that all the day’s ingredients from the predicted number of Fat Rascals needed at each of the six tearooms and online are weighed correctly – with a little help from technology.
We watch as, with the help of a computer, he weighs out the ingredients including currents, mixed peel, sugar, baking powder, flour and then adds a scary looking amount of butter – they are a treat after all – and he reminds me that the mix he is putting together will make 485 Fat Rascals.
“There are eight mixes a day made three days a week,” he explains – that’s a lot of Rascals.
Chris is one of Bettys’ longer-serving members of staff andd he says he has been making Fat Rascals for the last 29 years – although he admits he has never even eaten one.
“I am more of a meat pie man myself,” he says.
Each branch of Bettys has to predict how many Fat Rascals they will need in any given day.
“This might be taken from last year’s figures but there may be a special event on which would make the tea room busier and therefore increase demand.
No tearoom is allowed to run out of Fat Rascals – they are so associated with Bettys that it would be unthinkable to run out of them,” explains Joanne Baron, who has the title of Bettys Craft Trainer, but in her 32 years with the company has worked just about everywhere in the bakery and probably knows it better than anyone.
“I started work here when I was 17 after working a small bakery in Starbeck from the age of 13,” explains Joanne. She started in confectionery, before moving to chocolate, pastry, bread and then back into the bakery.
“I have seen a lot of changes. I was one of the youngest when I joined and now I am one of the oldest,” she says.
The move to the bakery’s current location 20 years ago saw the biggest changes and the introduction of machinery to help the bakers, such as lifting equipment to help with the sacks, which Joanne remembers staff having to carry on their shoulders.
“There are a lot of health and safety changes,” she says, Another big change can be seen in the actual making of the Fat Rascal.
After the ingredients are weighed out they are wheeled into the bakery where pastry assistant Fran Murphy tips them in to an over-sized mixer to be thoroughly combined before moving over to the Fat Rascal machine.
“In the past there were six bakers working on a marble table weighing and shaping each individual Fat Rascal,” explain Chris I’Anson who has the quaint title of Pastry Lead Hand.
“That was a lot of work and when you are making 3,000 a day it was causing people problems with things like RSI (repetitive strain injury).”
And so the company invested in researching and designing a machine that would do the weighing and shaping.
“It took 18 months to get the machine designed and made,” says Chris. “The machine is more efficient but, more importantly, it is better for the staff.”
However, once the machine spits out the Rascals via a small conveyor belt they are checked manually for any misshapes, before they go over to the good old marble workstation where craft bakers individually add the famous face – which isn’t as easy as it looks.
Prince Charles is said to be a lover of the Fat Rascal and even decorated some during a visit to the craft bakery. (I wonder if he put the almonds on upside down like I did?)
An egg wash is put on each Rascal and then special naturally coloured neola glace cherries are halved to create the eyes. Three blanched almonds are chosen for their size to create the teeth.
The Rascals are then refrigerated to b e baked fresh at 1am every morning in industrial-sized ovens for 28 minutes.
At 6am they are transported in the Bettys vans, which are specially liveried to mark the 100th anniversary of the company, to each branch across Yorkshire.
“The Fat Rascals are baked fresh every day and are delicious served warm with lashings of butter and a cup of Yorkshire Tea,” says Joanne.
We follow our Fat Rascals to the Harrogate Bettys Tea Room where they literally fly out every few seconds from the shop and are in ready demand in the cafe.
“People just love them and they are definitely still our best seller,” says Joanne Smith who has been a waitress in the Harrogate tea rooms for 20 years.
“Once you have tried them it’s hard not to have another one.”
Any Fat Rascals not sold, and those that don’t quite make the grade in the bakery (probably including mine) are sold in the staff shop where proceeds go to charity or to homeless shelters.
“There is very little waste,” says Joanne. “There is something special about working at Bettys. There are generations of families working here. It is a special place.”