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Coconut Cream

Saturday 17 Jul 2004

Well here we are sitting on the sofa in our very nice holiday house somewhere on the west coast of Ireland. The weather this week has been fantastic. In fact it was so temperate on Tuesday that we heard on the radio that a lady in Limerick had opened her kitchen window. However, its not all been waltzing around this week clad only in two layers of clothing, no there has been serious biscuit reviewing to be done. As I mentioned in the news section there is one glaring omission in my Irish biscuit knowledge and that is Jacob's Coconut Cream.

The coconut cream forms a biscuit trinity along with the Mikado and Kimberly, both of which we have previously reviewed. Now for some time now I have been made aware by Wifey and others of Irish blood of the TV advertising for these three biscuits, which has the jingle "Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Cream, somebody you love would love some too". That may well be lyrically incorrect, and I've just checked with Wifey who is semi lashed up on Chardonnay and trying to finish a book before we leave tomorrow and has just given me three different versions. Anyhow, I was obviously far more excited than is strictly necessary when last night I witnessed on RTÉ2 a 21st century version of that hallowed advert. Not only was that thrill enough, but the advert also imparted two vital bits of information. The first was that all these biscuits are meant to be soft. The advert featured this as a key message with 'work hard', 'play hard' accompanied by suitable imagery of welding and rugby (again I may be wrong, I only saw it the once) and then 'eat soft' with pictures of people scoffing the biscuits. Now of course I've always known that the biscuit in Kimberley's was soft, I also knew it was soft in the Mikado, but I never really fully took it on board. However when faced with the last piece of the puzzle, it all clicked into place. The coconut cream's base was apart from shape and decoration was indistinguishable from that of the Mikado. Somewhere, however its carrying a small amount of lemon oil like the Kimberly and so could be providing a link between the other two biscuits. Two coconut creams left out over night from the photo shoot indeed hardened which by most people's crude jaffa cake metrics would make them cakes. This of course reminds us all that for every rule there are always exceptions, and that we should not be in search of miracle directives when trying to draw arbitrary boundaries around biscuits and cakes. It also means that I shouldn't have left the biscuits out overnight.

I suppose the very first thing that I wanted to know about the coconut cream was 'where is the cream?'. Well after dispatching six or seven I'm none the wiser, there isn't any. They taste as creamy as anything else made from biscuit and marshmallow, which is not that creamy at all. So it must be some form of poetic license and probably a more evocative name than 'coconut thing'. Pity it evokes images of cream, which as I have said is completely absent.

As to what they taste like I found myself simply missing the jam from the Mikado so I followed them up with one one and found I experienced heightened jam awareness, which I took to be a good thing. I slightly enjoyed the choice of pink or white mallow on the biscuits almost as much as I liked the 2 packs of the classic threesome for two euros offer in the local supermarket.

And now for the second bit of important information apparently there are now two extra biscuits in the range. What they are I couldn't say as I was already hopelessly over stimulated by biscuit unfamiliar biscuit advertising. Despite keeping my eyes peeled in several shops I have failed to spot these two newcomers which have now effectively moved me two steps back for my one forward.

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Ringtons Ginger Snap

Thursday 8 Jul 2004

There are many rules to follow when reviewing biscuits, such as trying to remain objective and fair, or not throwing the packet away before you finish the review. This weeks is a very important rule indeed, 'make sure you review the biscuits that your mother in law gave you, before visiting her'. I'm sure you can all see the wisdom in that one. Ramp up the pressure a little more by adding that these biscuits were given to her by a friend who insisted that she got her oddly biscuit obsessed son-in-law to review them or whatever it is he does, and you can see why I'm fairly bereft of free will this week. Good job these Ringtons Ginger Snaps look to be fairly tasty.

So I for one had never heard of Ringtons, who are based up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, despite making a lightning visit up there last summer, and divulging to a Taxi driver that I had an interest in biscuits. It seems that Ringtons is a bit of an institution having been in business for very close on a hundred years, and through out that time being under the management of the Smith family. Today the fourth generation of Smiths are running it, and you may well be wondering why they aren't 'Smith's Ginger Snaps'. Well they used to have a partner at the beginning called Tetherington, so they pinched the end of his name, took the S from Smith and the name of Ringtons was born. Ringtons are very much a one stop shop for the tea and sit down aficionado, starting life as a tea merchants and selling tea, caddies, their own range of biscuits and even coffee. Just as they did in 1907, Ringtons specialise in door to door delivery, which today relies on a fleet of vans and network of 32 sales offices. They also have a website through which their goodies can be purchased.

Good. What about the Ginger Snaps? Well they are giving the 'only the finest ingredients', line pride of place on the pack, so its with some interest that they are using hydrogenated vegetable oil, which one would hope is the finest fully hydrogenated stuff. Anyhow, I have to say they do taste very good. A quick comparison with three other sorts of ginger nuts (McV, M&S and Griffins) revealed they do have their own distinct ground ginger flavour.The Ringtons magic bullet would seem to be a pinch of nutmeg in the recipe, which is nice, as nutmeg doesn't get as much action as it would like. The biscuit is very light and porous, and much more like the Bothams biscuits we reviewed last year than any of the control group. Often with such a well risen biscuit there is a soda taste, but this was pleasantly absent. They are also fairly large affairs with a diameter identical to a digestive. Given their texture it's quite plausible that 3 or 4 will need to be despatched per cup of tea.

Now I'll need to pack up what is left of them and bring them with me as the mother in law hasn't actually tried them, and again it wouldn't be wise for me to simply rely on my own findings on this particular biscuit.

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Café Noir

Wednesday 30 Jun 2004

It should be fairly obvious that we are tea drinkers. Not that we don't have the occasional cup of coffee, because we do. In fact as a student I drank rather a lot of the stuff, however, that aside I've always had my reservations about coffee flavoured foodstuffs. For example the coffee creams in Milk Tray or was it Black Magic, always got left till last. Occasionally some deviant would chime up that coffee creams were their favourite, and a mental note was made that the afore mentioned confection could be disposed of safely with said individual, much like spent motor oil can be taken to your recycling center. My theory was that they ran out of good ideas for chocolates and just bodged something up using whatever was in the larder. It could have equally been a Bisto cream, or perhaps a Branston Pickle cream in the selection box. The other thing about a coffee cream is that it seems to be a product of the 1970s much like Surprise freeze dried peas, or the Bay City Rollers. Or those Nylon carpets that had sort of swirly relief patterns on them and that our cat used to get hopelessly snagged up in, often requiring cutting free with a pair of nail scissors. Actually I used to quite like one of those (yes the peas). Anyhow coffee flavoured things do seem a bit dated, which is no-doubt why I have given the Café noir a bit of a wide birth till now.

So how has the Café Noir endured? Well from where I'm standing four reasons. Its made by biscuit giant McVities in one of their Dutch factories, which is handy. Tesco's seem to have taken it upon themselves to champion this biscuit, when others have passed it over. It plausibly cultivates that continental street café image through its name and packaging which always cuts sway with those who are impressed by posh coffee. Perhaps the most important factor is that its the only surviving example of a Coffee iced biscuit generally available.

At 56mm by 40mm by 8mm its a compact little biscuit. The coffee flavoured icing has an elegant simplicity to it with smooth rounded lines and a just discernible speckly pattern underneath its silky sheen. The biscuit base is light and crisp and a good bit thicker than one would expect in a biscuit of this type. It holds its graphics well, with the Café Noir logo looking like its been lifted directly from a Toulouse Lautrec poster. The icing is also fairly thick at about 3mm, and is also light and crispy. The coffee flavour whilst distinct isn't overpowering, and all credit to it didn't reek of ghastly instant coffee mediocrity. I suspect given its continental production and the speckling, something far more refined is involved in obtaining the coffee flavour.

So it appears that the Café Noir through thoughtful restraint and elegant styling has managed to carry off the feat of being coffee flavoured, whilst preserving its dignity.

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