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Bronte Selection

Thursday 12 Jan 2006

Over the years we have had our fair share of fruit shrewsbury hunts on NCOTAASD. These normally start when somebody gets hold of one those little individual packs that you find on trains and at hotels and the like. The trail usually leads back to one place, the Bronte range of biscuits made by Paterson Arran for what is generally known as the hospitality trade. This is all well and good, but for those who quite like the biscuits the prospect of having to stay in a hotel room for the night or take a long train journey just to get access to a few tasty biscuits seems a bit excessive. So it was with much glee that I spied in Asda's post Christmas 'lets get shot of them' aisle a large stack of Bronte biscuit selections, containing not just the fabled fruit shrewsbury but also six other biscuits more used to to travelling in pairs and perching next to buffet car tills.

Having so many hard to get hold of biscuits in one box was I have to say mildly thrilling. As well as the fruit shrewsburys there were choc chip, double choc chip and golden oatmeal biscuits, as well as some oaty ginger, shortcake and Viennese fingers. All the biscuits at once seemed familiar, after all I was well used to running into them at two day marketing seminars in the West Midlands, or on main line trains. However on breaking the seal on the box it felt a little as if I had been invited to a select private party where all the biscuits had dispensed with their formal twin pack cellophane flow wrap, and were instead lounging around casually in nothing more than a tray insert. "Ah yes the oaty ginger finger, we met in Birmingham about five years ago at the NEC! Hello again the golden oat crunch, weren't you and a bunch of your mates on that train to Guilford last year. Hey look over there its the oaty ginger finger - still looking as rustic as ever do you remember the Swallow Hotel on Cromwell Road?". A la recherche du temps perdu - indeed.

The Bronte range is made by Scottish bakers Paterson Arran in Edinburgh, who have been ticking along for over 100 years now. Obviously they are named after the literary Bronte sisters, and rather than show my ignorance of such matters I would purely like to say that I'm a big Kate Bush fan and I've visited Howarth once and had a pleasant pub lunch there. What was really noticeable about all of the biscuits is that they all showed their combat training experience. Having to get through life with nothing but a thin sheet of cellophane between you and all comers, even if your buddy is covering your back, means you have to be hard. If not a biscuit can easily find itself broken in two or missing a bit off the end, and this often means getting passed over in favour of other able bodied biscuits.

So Paterson Arran have obviously honed their recipes and baking to ensure that their biscuits can deal with life's little knocks. Personally I couldn't be happier about that as the biscuits are all gloriously crunchy and flavoursome, and almost sing with biscuity resonant frequencies when dragged from their comfy tray insert. Even the fruit shrewsbury a biscuit that on appearances alone one might suspect to be a bit crumbly and limp, is anything but. A bright crunchy and open texture are to found under its smooth exterior, with the odd well baked currant to found here and there.

So all in a wonderful little treasure trove, which no doubt will disappear just quickly as it sprang up in the aisles of Asda, to be disbanded and once again sent out to accompany thousands of unlikely and dubious cuppas dispensed from train buffets and hotel bars nation-wide.


Fox's Creations Bites

Thursday 1 Dec 2005

The Fox's Creations range has been going for a couple of years now and I think we have come to terms with what Fox's are up to here on the front line between biscuits and confectionary. Both sides make frequent forays into each others territory, and the Creations range are Fox's crack fighting force ready to don mind boggling amounts of chocolate in order to infiltrate the ranks of after dinner mints and selection boxes. Now normally we would let such actions go largely unobserved as they tend to happen well away from the every day essential tea drinking. However, Yuletide is nearly upon us and to cut a long story short we really liked these new Creations Bites.

Only a few weeks ago we took a look at what for Fox's is their definitive product, the Brandysnap. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that Fox's have teamed up their Brandysnap expertise with their 'covering stuff in lots of chocolate' technology. The first vital step was to make their Brandysnaps smaller and flat, rather than curled up, and we suspect pop in a little more ginger than usual. Now that doesn't sound too tricky, and the next part covering them in Milk, Dark and White chocolate is all in a days work for Fox's chocolate enrobing people. Yes that's the technical name for covering stuff in chocolate, enrobing.

What came as quite a surprise to all of at NCOTAASD HQ was how such a seemingly obvious move by Fox's has turned out a very delectable little treat. The interplay between the two elements is not at all obvious, and quite intriguing. The ginger released from the confines of the Brandysnap adds a delicate aroma over the cocoa flavours, which made all of us definitely take notice. The white chocolate ones seemed to require a bit more chocolate coating than the other two to balance up the flavours, which is to be expected.

So we'll definitely look favourably on a plate of these popping up in an after dinner type setting in the coming weeks, possibly quite late after the other biscuits and the younger members of staff have gone to bed.


Vimto and Vanilla Thriller Jammie Dodgers

Monday 21 Nov 2005

We all have different requirements from our biscuits. At times it's a simple, unfussy and satisfying accompaniment to our cuppa. At others our tastes turn to refined sophistication with the finest ingredients teased into delicate forms. Biscuits that think it vulgar to try and actually feed our appetites but merely desire to stimulate our palettes. Then there are those moments when we seem to need an unselfconscious biscuit with a great sense of fun which appeals to young and old alike. Yes the biscuit equivalent of the DJs stock arsenal of hits for filling the family wedding dance floor. If you will, a Biscuit Birdy Song, an edible Hi Ho Silver Lining, a munchy Rivers of Babylon. At such times we call upon the biscuit hall of Fame and who steps forward? The might of Burton's with their Jammie Dodger.

We have reviewed the classic Jammie Dodger before but in the interim there have been many changes. We have seen the low salt Jammie Dodger, and now we have entered the age of the non-hydrogenated fat Jammie Dodger. Now we all know that this is the right and proper thing and that we should all be feeling very happy about it. Yet this is the Jammie Dodger we are talking about. So before it completely mutates into low-sodium muesli, Burton's have stepped in to up its glam rock appeal by calling on that stalwart of thirsty children, Vimto. Like a collaboration between two giants of 70s rock could this be a biscuity version of Under Pressure? Oh yes and they've also done a Jammie Dodger with vanilla cream in it too.

Back to Vimto, many of you are probably wondering what on earth is in it? Even those of you who have drunk it all your lives probably aren't really sure and think of it as an eccentric blackcurrent juice. It was formulated in 1908 in Manchester by John Knowle Nicholls a wholesale druggist and herb importer. His Vimtonic, as it was originally called, was a blend of grape, raspberry and blackcurrant juice and of course some secret stuff that we are not allowed to know about under the catch all of "natural extracts of herbs and spices". Originally sold in the guise of health promoting tonic, and sold alongside herbal remedies Vimto had such strap lines as "Vimto - Keeps you fit". Of course, the vim implies vigour and energy, but also puts me in mind of the scouring powder "Vim". Not as popular as it once was scouring powder, not since the famous 'skater on ice' advert for Jif lemon cream. Then once they had put the knife into good old scouring powder they covered their tracks by changing their name to Cif. I'm possibly straying a bit now, especially when I recall another powdered cleanser called Dot, which reminds me of my Aunty Dot in Southend.

Now sold around the world mostly as a diluteable cordial and occasionally as carbonated drink Vimto is a British Classic. So how have Burton's gone about incorporating it into their Jammie Dodgers? Well the most obvious way would be to take their Raspberry flavour plum jam and make it Vimto flavour, so that's what they did. Not content with that and possibly under some form of contractual obligation they have literally changed the whole face of the Jammie Dodger. The now standard jammy splashes have grown to a small puddle and are engraved with the words "With Vimto". I like this, even though it's not in Latin it sounds like it could easily have been a historical motto or battle-cry. The really terrific thing is that after a few hearty munches the Vimto flavour just sneaks through.

The biscuit doesn't perform too badly either with its present incarnation using palm oil instead of hydrogenated fat. Initial low salt Jammie Dodgers were definitely a little strange, but these are quite self assured. Palm oil largely contains the same natural saturated fat found in butter, and so technically is a good substitute in terms of how the biscuit texture turns out. There is a bit of a concern that Malaysia which produces most of the worlds Palm Oil is hacking down the virgin rain-forest to make way for Palm oil plantations. Ignorance would be bliss, that's not something that the internet tends to foster, so now you know.

Whilst the Vimto Jammie Dodgers were a bit exciting The Vanilla Thrillers were about as thrilling as a party political broadcast, that rudely shunts your favourite telly program on by ten minutes. The vanilla 'cream' is really more a filler than thriller, containing Titanium Dixoide the stuff that makes paint and toothpaste white, plus numerous starches and celluloses. If this all contributed to the taste then it might be amusing. What it actually does is dilute the Jammy flavour, and thus runs counter to the whole Jammie Dodger raison d'Ítre. Still they are keeping the Vimto ones company so that's nice.

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