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Animal Biscuits Multireview

Tuesday 3 May 2005

Right from their first few months of joining the NCOTAASD team the younger members of staff were very good at telling one animal from another. I found it interesting that very stylised representations of dogs, cats or rabbits made instant sense to them. It's a innate human skill to recognise the animals that we share our world with and maybe that's a reason why animal shaped biscuits are such a favourite. A couple of years back we took a look at some South African iced animal biscuits. Due to some technical icing issues we can only guess at, most of the animals appeared to be white slugs. In this review we are going to take a look at the classic animal biscuits from America, Germany and the UK, and we'll be paying special attention to how much they look like animals, and applying our hurriedly dreamt up lion, elephant, and monkey benchmark.

Once again it's Nabisco providing the the US's contribution in the form of Barnum's Animals Crackers (actually it's biscuit hunter Jennifer Courtney once again). Setting aside our modern sensibilities about the caging and treatment of animals, it has to be said that the box looks charming with its pictures of animals in circus cages and a built in carrying strap. Presumably the strap is there for children to bring the whole pack with them to school or something. Inside is a waxed paper sachet containing the biscuits. I'm told that the addition of some cocktail sticks and few cardboard wheels turn the pack into a very useful circus trailer. I wanted to like these biscuits but I find myself struggling with name which seems to have a surfeit of plurals. Then to make matters worse, is referring to a sweet biscuit as a cracker.

The biscuits tasted predictably American, containing high fructose corn syrup and a big bunch of vitamin and mineral supplements to the flour. All very well meaning but probably a better plan would be to find some way of replacing the partially hydrogenated soybean oil. The pack also maintains that it has two servings of 8 biscuits within. I certainly wouldn't be hurrying to try these again, but as far visuals go they performed well. The elephant looked like a proper one, with tusks, the monkey was very convincing, however the lion caused problems. I'm not even sure if this actually is a lion, but I couldn't find one with a mane so I assumed this must be it.

Now to Germany and Bahlsen's simply entitled 'Zoo', in an equally simple bag. We picked up ours in Waitrose. The biscuits are a development of that elder statesman the Leibniz butter biscuit, and should be familiar to Bahslen fans. I'm quite amazed at how much I like these seemingly plain little biscuits. As a child this was exactly the sort of biscuit I didn't like so what is going on? Either my tastes have changed or Bahlsen have actually gone that little bit further to come up with a simple biscuit that has a pleasantly morish taste. Given the 12% butter, complete absence of hydrogenated fat and the whole milk powder this seems like something much more wholesome than the Nabisco offering and I certainly wouldn't have too many qualms about the younger members of staff carrying out a ruthless cull of their numbers, and indeed they have.

An excellent result on the lion, elephant and monkey test establishes that a classic approach has been taken to the biscuit shapes. The animals chosen also lean towards children's petting zoo rather than big game safari, which makes for quite a gentle atmosphere. Throw in such things as a cheerful duck, happy tortoise and hilarious penguin and its difficult not to really really like these.

Now to our final biscuits the simply titled Cadbury's Animals. A great deal of Cadbury's biscuits are made under licence by Burton's and indeed a couple of weeks back we took a look at one of their new ones, which we liked a great deal. It's a shame I can't say the same about these. Cadbury's Animal biscuits used to be one of the finest little chocolate biscuits on the market, and would have easily taken on all comers in both taste and animal shapedness. A distinctive deep wavy texture in the chocolate on the back also differentiated the pale shortcake biscuits from lesser non Cadbury biscuits. However they seemed to be operating in quite a rarified atmosphere only really turning up at parties in my experience. Perhaps it was due to the entire box needing to be opened or their relatively high price, that the biscuits received a make over. Today's animal biscuits are mostly sold in large sacks containing individual bags of mini biscuits. The chocolate is still there of course but much less flamboyantly. The picture on the pack still imagines that the chocolate inside is wavy, but in fact it has a thin grid like pattern. The biscuits have shed troublesome and easily broken limbs with designs that keep the biscuit as little round splodges, but at what price. The monkey for one has acquired scary empty skeleton eyes, making it look more 'walking dead' than 'jolly chum'. The biscuit itself has become oddly darker almost suggesting that there is some cocoa in there although there evidently isn't. Despite my reservations the rest of the NCOTAASD team tucked into them with relish.

When it came to the Lion, Elephant and Monkey test I would simply say that it would have been actually the Rhino, Elephant, Lion and Monkey test, only I couldn't find a Rhino for the Cadbury's biscuits.

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Marks and Spencer Dunking Cookies

Thursday 21 Apr 2005

Some of you may have heard of this week's biscuit as it has called a mild flutter of attention to itself, by claiming to be the world's first cookie designed for dunking. Such are the lofty heights to which NCOTAASD down has risen that the people behind this obviously provocative claim sent a couple of tubs over to us to see what we thought. We naturally obliged, put the kettle on tucked in and let them know, and now we'll let you know too.

Yes merely putting those two words together 'dunking' and 'cookie' brings two largely opposing world views crashing together in the same biscuit. Add to this that the undersides are dipped in milk chocolate and the whole thing packaged in a tub. Short of walking over and spilling ones pint this biscuit is trying to grab our attention through a mixture of iconoclasm and big green and orange letters.

As we've said before and no doubt we'll say again, something that calls it self a cookie is really communicating a couple of points to us. First, appearance wise we would expect a well risen and very informal look to the biscuit, with deep fissures and lumps of something or other embedded into the dough. The biscuit should be quite voluminous as a result. Well the M&S offering certainly passes on all of these counts. Both the choc chip and double choc chip most obviously are laden with choc chips, white chocolate in the double choc. However, now we come to the points that begin to add serious weight to their claims of 'worlds first dunking cookie'.

First the texture and general demeanor of this biscuit is not that of your typical cookie. The biscuit engineers behind this have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that not only can this cookie dunk as well as classic biscuit stalwarts of the art but in many cases exceed their dunking times, even in really hot tea. They have even produced comparative statistics to back up their claims, which we won't go into here. This does mean that any body eating the biscuit dry will find it has quite a snap to it, and indeed they even managed to hold the younger members of staff at bay for some considerable time. Having said that the flavour was very nice indeed, using 15% butter and not a whiff of hydrogenated vegetable fat in sight. Perhaps the secret weapon in the ingredients is some free range egg, not something that is typical in biscuit recipes and certainly offered up from time to time as one of those rules for differentiating biscuits from cakes.

The finger shape is obviously ideal for dunking, and again a huge departure from what one would normally expect from a cookie. The chocolate on the back is another broadside assault against the non-dunking of chocolate biscuits, and every bit as provocative in my book as combination of dunking and cookies.

So what actually happens when you dunk one of these? Well, the biscuit holds up terrifically well and the chocolate depending on your tea temperature, goes from liquid goo to a glossy film. Again the chocolate is devoid of any nasty stuff so has quite a rich taste. The biscuit meanwhile transforms into its soft state, and is now entirely defenseless. Eating like this will require all your will power to stop you quickly demolishing the tub. If anything does come to your aid then it is simply the fact that they are very rich, that and they retail at quite a price, but that is to be expected given their quality ingredients and the brand.

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Cadbury Oat and Fruit

Wednesday 6 Apr 2005

You have to try fairly hard to come up with a new sort of biscuit. Lets face it most things that can be tried have been tried. Alas its not uncommon for some to try to hard and end up with something vulgar or sickly. So its with a great deal of pleasure that we tuck into this pack of 'new; biscuits to find that its not trying desperately hard and yet has managed to turn in a very acceptable performance.

This week's biscuit is the Oat and Fruit, which bears the Cadbury brand. Like most Cadbury biscuits I can think of this one is actually made by Burton's under license. The biscuit is very similar indeed to its stable mate the Lyons Fruit Snap Jack which we sampled a couple of years back. However, despite the fruit content being an identical 5% I have to say that the chances of chewing a current seem to have increased. The biscuit also has that slightly earthy smell that suggests it oats are really very real indeed, and deserve their headline billing in the name.

Where this biscuit scores very highly is that it manages to bring not one but two interesting things to the table, or mug or whatever. The first of these is the combination of the Cadbury chocolate with the savory yet sweet oaty biscuit. The taste reminds you why the chocolate digestive works so well. The second big plus for all of those morning the brief time in the lime light enjoyed by the chocolate garibaldi over quarter of a century ago is the re-uniting of current and chocolate. As I hinted at the start it's not hard is it to pop some chocolate on something with currents in, but the result is terrific evoking memories of chomping through a bar of Cadburys fruit and nut. This is a very interesting little biscuit indeed. Not only that but I found the chocolate to have a very pleasing profile, tapering towards the edges in and almost aerodynamic way.

The strap line on the pack is 'for chocolate lovers', and the U in fruit has been turned into a little heart shape. Well I don't know about it being one for chocolate lovers, but I think there will be a lot of biscuit lovers who will be very pleased with these.