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Pan European Choc Sandwiches

Monday 7 Mar 2005

Well after our stomach turning new year south east asian multireview we decided to round up several of the recently sent in review biscuits from Europe. As they were all variations around a the theme of chocolate cream sandwiches a multi-review seemed the way forward. So for ours and your consideration we have from Italy the Ringo, from Czechoslovakia the Disco, from Slovakia the Kakaové Venecky, from Turkey the Tempo and from Greece the, erm, the.. well I don't really know what its called. The expression 'Its all Greek to me' is very apt, except there is the odd bit of English. Perhaps you can work it out from the packet. We'll refer to it as the 'Greek one', if that's OK.

So to the Ringos sent to us by Daniella Whittall. With a mere six large coin sized biscuits in the pack it's clear you are intended to eat them in one sitting. Full marks go to Pavesi, now part of the large Barilla group, for fusing together two different biscuits a plain, and a cocoa to produce a composite sandwich. It is such an obvious thing to do but I don't recall seeing such a thing before. Alas the biscuit doesn't quite come up to the standards of it's design, being a bit small and unremarkable. Mind you Daniella says that she has become somewhat addicted to them, so maybe I haven't properly bonded with them.

James (Yorkshire Tea Man) Watson, has achieved levels of attention to detail in biscuit hunting and retrieval worthy of say Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. James sent through three packs of biscuits in a particularly well padded foam lined box complete with flow pack. Really the only level above this is to have a custom made moulded foam insert produced, in the manner of the collector in Toy Story 2. Not only that but James included the till receipt, the carrier bag used and a photograph of himself standing outside of the supermarket in Prague. He wisely omitted the longitude and latitude of the supermarket less the information fall into the hands of a hostile group of anti-sandwich biscuit types with a cruise missile going spare.

To start with the Diskos, what exactly does 13.90 Korun (that's Czech money, about 32 pence) buy you? The biscuits are made by Opavia who are now part of the Danone Group as was our own Jacob's until recently. Opavia are the biggest producer of biscuits in eastern europe and were formally state owned. The company has seen extensive modernisation since the early 1990s and has also appropriated that other Danone brand of LU to become LU-Opavia. So it's not much of surprise to find out the Disko is really petite LU Prince. Two extremely light crispy biscuits sandwich a dark cocoa creme filling, repeating a formula found across continental Europe. Unfortunately there was nothing new here, so we moved on to the back up pack of Slovakian cocoa ring biscuits, called Kakaové Venceky. Unfortunately these proved to be a bit chalky and harsh with flecks of coconut. More chalk downland core sample than tasty snack.

So hoping for third time lucky we reached for the third pack ülker Tempo, a Turkish version of the Oreo by all external appearances. The pack evokes nature's warning colours of black, yellow and red. However once inside the biscuits turned out to be a lot less hazardous than Oreos and a lot paler despite the picture on the pack. In fact they were almost pleasant. A paler cocoa biscuit actually allows the vanilla creme filling to make its contribution to the overall taste (no they don't taste of overalls). So this is a possible survival biscuit if you find yourself in engaged in some form of tea activity in the Balkans.

Finally we move to Greece and Papadopoulos, whose weeny little 85 gram packs of 'Upside down backwards capital L, backwards 3, strange upside down h, i, upside down sort of Q, T (hoorah T), almost an a' look very attractive. Arriving at NCOTAASD HQ via a London based network of hand couriers, the Greek ones were aquired by Jennifer Courtney. Not only does the biscuit have a strong resemblance to the Tempo, with a central raised letter and but it also tastes similar. WIth much the the same sweet warm brown biscuit, you have to wonder who is copying who, although the 'Greek ones' do claim to be 'neo'. The chocolate creme in the Greek ones however seems to produce a slightly more coherent and confident offering. I could probably subsist in biscuit terms on these for a few days.

So after a whistle stop tour of Europe what are the conclusions drawn? Well there are a great deal of biscuits that if push came to shove you could just about get by on for a few days. However all too often they are either crudely over sweetened or just a bit too bland, to really get on well with a cuppa. It might be wise to pop in an emergency pack of your own into your case before you leave these shores.

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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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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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