Fox's Mint Echo
|Wednesday 16 Feb 2005|
|If this week's 'Biscuit' wasn't made by Fox's whom we hold in some regard then I'm afraid it would have probably found itself so far into the the chocolate bar circle of the Venn Diagram as to be off our radar. However, having as it does a vestigial backbone of biscuit baked by Batley's finest biscuit bakers we thought we would swallow our pride along with a couple of packs of these and see what they were all about.
First off apologies for the rather less than perfect cross section of the biscuit. It's not quite at the required 90 degrees, plus the trusty NCOTAASD Kitchen Devil has managed to smear the chocolate a bit. However, what it does admirably demonstrate is that Fox's have painted a very honest representation in the form of their own pack front Echo bar dissection image. The ratio of pale green stuff to brown stuff appears spot on, and it's also possible to make out in the bottom right of the plucky little biscuit spine a granule of the green candy pieces that have been embedded into the biscuit. And whilst we are talking of the pack it has to be said that old Fox's M&S bells are ringing louder than ever. This pack looks like it was designed for M&S, the fonts, the colours, layout everything shouts M&S food hall, but yet is strangely a bit 80s retro. I'm half expecting to find an airbrush picture of a cocktail glass and somebody in leg-warmers with hair extensions. So before Kenny Loggins gets started, it's on with the review.
Fox's have always been keen on these little sugar pieces, perhaps most extremely so in their Sprinkle Crinkle Crunches of 2002, a biscuit so sweet that it made a boiled sweets seem like wholefood. The other exciting thing about the green granules indeed all of the green stuff in this biscuit is that apart from a pleasant minty flavour, they are rendered green due to chlorophyll. OK, maybe I shouldn't be impressed by that as plants have been pulling off the same trick for the last 3 billion years.
Upon opening up this or indeed any other of Fox's Echos one is immediately stuck by the quality of the moulding and smooth shiny chocolate surface. This feels like it's been carefully crafted and not just slapped together. The placing of all the elements is flawless and one feels quite destructive as you set about biting into it. The younger members of staff had no such compunctions and quickly decided that removing the green stuff from the biscuit was the first and most obvious plan of attack.
So enough of the aesthetics, what did it taste like? Well the bubbly mint flavoured chocolate is plainly some sort of cousin of the classic Mint Aero chocolate bar. Indeed Fox's must have thought long and hard to come up with a four letter name ending in 'O' that makes you think of large expanses of air. On another day no doubt I would get very pre-occupied with exactly how the bubbles get into the chocolate. However, today I'm still thinking about the Chlorophyll, so we'll take the bubbles as a given. Suffice to say the chocolate fans are going to love these, as they do taste a notch above the run of the mill. I suspect that the shiny surface and dark colour are a testament to a high proportion of cocoa butter in the milk chocolate. The biscuit, bless it's heart, hardly even made an appearance in the overall taste/texture picture, which when you consider is 76% comprised of chocolate is hardly surprising. Sure these are nice enough, but the next Fox's product I get my hands on would do well to find its way back to the biscuit part of the Venn diagram.
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|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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