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Abricot Barquettes

Friday 4 Feb 2005

Well this week we are looking at something that if it was British no doubt would cause all sorts of heated debates along the lines of the perennial Jaffa Cake debate. The reason is the use of sponge cake, French sponge cake at that. Perhaps even more alarmingly it's a French version of an Italian sponge cake. However it is a very well known genre of French tea time treat so we girded our loins as its been a while since we've had a good girding and piled in with a pot of tea.

The French inform us via that conduit of raw information that is the box, that the sponge is a Génoise. That is, it's a sponge in the manner of those emanating from Génoa. Now I quite often have a slice of Genoa cake when traveling in the train back from Kings Cross, so the evidence is pointing to Genoa being a world center for cake matters. Perhaps Unesco could make it world heritage site. Perhaps it already is, let's check. Nope Byzantine stronghold in the 6th Century yes, cake capital of the western world no. Perhaps this explains why it's sponge cake has been relegated to playing a supporting role in a French biscuit affair.

Actually talking of the train to Kings Cross I was alarmed to see in an episode of the Tweenies last week, Max getting on it at our local railway station. His car had broken down and he decided to leave it at home and take the train. Allegedly he was on his way to see the Tweenies who are apparently somewhere near Whittlesford. This came as quite a revelation to find out that Max is local to us, and that the rest of the Tweenies are only just down the road.

Anyhow these French biscuits are really small cakes, for all the same reasons a Jaffa cake is a small cake. Like the Jaffa Cake they operate in the same territory as biscuits, and go as far as referring to themselves as biscuits. To be fair to the French they work very well indeed with a cuppa, in a very similar way to jam tarts, the Apricot ones especially. As with a great many French teatime treats the leading exponent is LU, however, we plumped for an own brand pack in the Casino chain of supermarkets. On Saturday night we passed a very large complex alongside the motorway with a very large neon sign saying Casino. I became quite excited as I love to get stuck into foreign supermarkets. Alas the complete lack of trolleys outside indicated that this was indeed an actual Casino, and as such not much good for biscuit shopping.

The biscuits looked fairly much like small inflatable sponge cake canoes that had been sensibly filled with jam. They made a fairly hopeless attempt at fending off the entire NCOTAASD team, despite their three inner sachets of six biscuits ploy. The younger members of staff decided that removing the apricot jam from its small trough then pushing your index finger through the bottom bore a strong resemblance to an airplane. The sponge texture was non standard lying somewhere between Jaffa cake base and trifle sponge finger. Given its unusual jam boat function this would seem to be just about right in terms of mechanical properties and jam flattering texture.

So on this occasion the French seem to have come up with a plausible offering even if they had to plunder Italian sponge technology. The rapidly emptied box indicates that we will most probably make fuller exploration of this area in future.

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McVitie's Milk Chocolate and Orange Digestive

Sunday 23 Jan 2005

Hot on the heels of the McVitie's rebrand comes the exciting news of a new development in the Digestive arena. In the recent Dunk for Britain promotion where McVitie's toured the country inviting people to dunk, the Digestive based biscuits romped away. 2005 is thus shaping up to be the year of the Digestive, although it's supposed to be the year of the HDV video standard according to Steve Jobs. Perhaps if he drops by he'll notice it's the year of the Digestive instead and amend all his 2005 keynote speeches accordingly.

July 2003 saw the introduction of the Lemon and Ginger Digestive, the first radical change to the Digestive recipe in 90 years. We were breathless with anticipation, but when we finally got our hands on some we were a little underwhealmed. Maybe it's because we had got ourselves in such a state waiting for them, or maybe it was because the overall contribution of the Lemon and Ginger (the Lemon particularly) was very mild and as such wasn't much of a departure. No doubt extensive taste trials settled upon this as a suitable level of flavouring, whilst still unmistakably being a McVitie's Digestive.

So with the prospect of some McVitie's Milk Chocolate and Orange Digestives heading our way and promising "the great taste of tangy orange" we were very curious indeed. If you didn't already know the McVitie's Milk Chocolate Digestive is the nations number one selling biscuit.

Sometimes a business will seek to grow its market by bringing out new products in new market sectors. This is an expensive and risky business that involves large investments in product development and promotion. The other route is take a tried and tested cash cow product, do a little tweek and spend a little promoting it to a public who already have their gaze turned towards it. The former route was taken with the McV soft cookies, this Digestive is most definately takes the later. This may even be indicative of United Biscuits UK aquiring a new MD back in August. Then again they may have just fancied knocking out few batches of these to see how they went.

So what does the new biscuit taste like? Is it tangy and zesty? Well I found it to be unsurprisingly orangey but not overwhelming so. Once again we are back in the same waters as the Lemon and Ginger Digestive, presented with a small incremental change rather than witness to the birth of a radical new biscuit as was the case with the Caramel (now renamed McVitie's Chocolate Digestive Caramel). It's a fair bet that any one bringing out chocolate and orange product has to tip toe around the Terry's Chocolate Orange issue quite carefully. No doubt this accounts for the 'and' in the middle of this biscuit's name. As to if it tastes similar, well in this case we are tasting 75% McVitie's Milk Chocolate Digestive 25% 'chocolate orange' I would say. The orange flavour definitely seems to reside in the chocolate not the biscuit as the name could suggest. The Digestive also seemed a little crumblier than normal, but that may be down to slight disorientation brought on by the orange flavouring. Now none of this is not to say we didn't enjoy them, of course we did. Its just that when the number one selling biscuit in the nation decides to do something a bit different it comes in for a good bit of scrutiny.

How will we know if these new orange based Digestives are a success? If in six months time we see a Dark Chocolate variant then they will have served their apprenticeship. If in a years time we see a mint chocolate Digestive we'll know that the new strategy has really paid off.

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South East Asian Multireview

Thursday 13 Jan 2005

About two years back we took a look at some biscuits from China, which turned out to be really quite nasty. This did a fairly good job of stemming any biscuit curiosity that I might have pertaining to that part of the globe. However back at the start of November, long time NCOTAASD reader Monika Duhig in Sydney got in touch to offer us some Korean Purple Yam Biscuits from the Spring Wind Food store. These sounded too bizarre to miss, so naturally we jumped at the chance to try more iffy oriental biscuits. A woman on a mission, Monika then treated us to some other scary biscuits, including Cantaloup sandwiches, Tomato layers and Nucleolus cakes. Intuitively sensing that this was going to be more of an ordeal than a pleasure I decided that one big multi-review was the way forward.

The purple Yam Sandwich crackers turned out to be Vietnamese in the end, made by Kinh Do, although it's hard to be sure of anything really. The usual gamut of biscuit tasting metaphors are made largely redundant by the 'tastes' on offer here. The two crackers are somewhat like a desalted non savoury Ritz cracker, but the purple stuff in between, which does contain yam powder, was more of a challenge. There was a hint of perfume here, but not your Chanel No5, more like the stuff they mix with liquid soap for the dispensers in a Motorway services toilet. I'm sure there are a great many things that could be made that would taste worse than these, however, Purple Yam Crackers are probably a once in a lifetime sort of biscuit. That is to say you don't need to try them more than once in your lifetime.

So on to the Cantaloup Sandwiches, and back to China. Again it's hard to be sure but these could have been made by Yingdali, or maybe D&A. Much the same idea as Purple Yam biscuits, only square crackers this time, no purple, no yam and melon flavoured soap. Good to see that the Chinese decided that Monosodium Glutamate should also be given a chance to weave its magic as a taste enhancer in these biscuits. Not so good as it appears to have had nothing to enhance. Clearly you are not meant to eat many of these in one go, as they come wrapped in little two biscuit sachets. Perhaps there are sound medical reasons for this. The melon flavour is probably the only possible conclusion that one could arrive at when tasting these, so let's at least recognise a degree of accomplishment in this regard. Quite the best thing about the biscuits was the box, which bears a picture I assume is attempting to evoke a melon biscuit eating ambiance. The vital elements of this appear to be a distant Ginko tree, a wicker basket of wheat ears and croissants, some milk in a jug, a few blue flowers and a large glazed ceramic jar of facial soap. A small cut away image shows some hacked open melons. I'm pleased that the soap has put in an appearance up as I feel it has been with us from the start. At an outside guess I think maybe you are supposed to have these for breakfast, no doubt a terrific plan for anybody wanting to lose weight and who would benefit from feeling queazy and off their food well into the afternoon.

Next to the 'Tomato layer' things, which were easily the most unappetising members of the foursome. Again made in China by Dong Gaun Kam Tai, you lucky folks in Canada, the US and Australia should be able to get hold of these. Once more a two biscuit sachet system protects the casual eater from possibly eating three of these in one go. Anybody who is having trouble getting started as a bulimic might want to consider these as an after dinner treat.

Finally we come to the Nucleolus Cakes, a product of the Macao RongHau Cake factory. The small yellow domed shaped things within the box were actually a welcome relief after the Tomato Layers, however, I don't think I could be persuaded to call them nice. Maybe at gun point. The pack which is mostly red, perhaps for danger, shows a small cluster of Nucleolus cakes glowing in the corner. I haven't turned the lights off to see if they glow in the dark as the name suggests. The pack again is much better that the contents, and has terrific stuff on it such as "Directions: Open the package andd eating". Yes, that's 'andd'. Ingredients are given as "Wheat flour, sugar, vegetame oil, peanut, egg, qishuoil, penshonggji, lemonyellow, butter". If anybody knows what qishuoil or penshonggji are please let me know as I've now eaten some of it.

So by my reckoning that's my south east asian biscuit curiosity sated until 2013, I may also have an attack of the 'Spring wind' soon despite it only being January.

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