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Lu Petit Dejeuner

Friday 1 Sep 2006

Right just back in blighty again after a mammoth three week long French tea tour of departments 41,56,22 and 61 (Loir et Cher, Morbihan, Côtes d'Armor and Orne ). Now I'll make no bones about the fact that when in France the NCOTAASD team slip comfortably into cake mode. Given the dazzling array of them in the average boulanger as one buys the morning bread it's difficult to start the day without a few croissant aux almond or an oranais or two (extravagant croissant beasts augmented with chewy baked almond paste or custard and apricot halves and generally needing a custom built box just to make it out the door in one piece). However, there is still biscuit business to attend to and setting the enormous flans, boxes of individually prepared cakes, slices, tarts and gateaux to one side I did manage to pick up one new, previously unexplored box of biscuits.

The breakfast biscuit is something of a lost art in the UK with Huntley and Palmers famous Breakfast biscuits having long since disappeared before I could become aquatinted with them. The general idea of a biscuity item that can be consumed for breakfast has been taken up by various chewy bars designed for those who want to eat their breakfast whilst on their way to work or having made it to their desk. Indeed the original H&P breakfast biscuit went down a storm in France over a hundred years ago so it seems they are quite open to the idea of biscuits for breakfast.

I have nothing but admiration for the French and their staunch support of their mother tongue (as well as their cake shops obviously). However, I've always thought they weren't really trying hard enough when the came up with Petit Dejeuner (little lunch) as their name for breakfast. I learnt precious little French in my one year's worth of French lessons at comprehensive school. Some of the blame for this I attribute to finding out that the French in addition to not having made a convincing attempt at naming their breakfast couldn't come up with a satisfactory name for the number eighty. They had to cobble something up using some twenties and a four and reaching one hundred comes as blessed relief after the painfully awkward ninety nine and its mates (quatre-vingt-dix neuf (four twenties a ten and a nine)). It's not a good advertisement for a language if some of its words have clearly been made up in a bit of rush with seemingly little thought. My disenchantment was complete when I found out that potatoes were earth apples, and they would readily drop the earth bit to maximise confusion. In fit of peek and not really envisioning that I would ever visit France I switched to Latin for the next two years and then quickly wished I'd stuck with French.

None the less I've been told that the French language is one of the few in the world which is actually contracting rather than growing. The Academy Francaise who police the French language are fond of banning interloping words that have been in common use for some time such as 'le weekend'. We on the other hand have our yearly news item on all the new slang which has made it to the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

I remained ever so slightly irked at the French over their 'small lunch' until probably my early twenties, when holidays in France kindled a desire to communicate with the natives in order to buy their beer, cakes, cheese, wine, sausages etc. Now in my forties I happily chat to the French who continue to pretend that don't understand me despite my three years of self imposed lunch time conversational French lessons.

So with all of this personal history set to one side and still with out a full and exhaustive grasp of French breakfasts, I clasped a box of LU Petit Dejeuner biscuits in my hand and headed for the till in the local Intermarche. The biscuits were set aside for our return to the UK as the NCOTAASD rules of engagement with the French clearly state that we are mostly eating their cakes, apart from the odd packet galettes which many of you will have gather by now I approve of.

Back at HQ I quickly dispensed with any thought of adopting the most blindingly obvious approach to these biscuits and had some just before lunch. I had some again about mid-afternoon and finally the next day managed to have a few about 9:45 am on my way out the door which I suppose was quite close to breakfast. The most startling thing about the biscuits wasn't the fact that they would form a woefully inadequate breakfast. No it was the fact that though they were very obviously a muesli type of affair they tasted strongly of orange peel. Sure there was an out of focus orange pictured behind the biscuits on the pack but I thought that was just set dressing. Eventually a thorough search of the box revealed in the small print on the bottom that these were indeed biscuits with orange, and the ingredients listed all sorts of orange stuff too.

Once again the French are seeking to un-foot me just as I mistakenly think I'm getting to grips with it all. A stealth orange biscuit disguised as early morning muesli. They are nice enough, but they certainly aren't going to see off a few slices of toast, let alone a bacon sandwich and a mug of tea, and the croissant section of the bakery can still expect my full attention.

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Tesco's Organic Fruit Bake Biscuits

Monday 10 Jul 2006

If you thought our last biscuit review seemed a little jaded then take heart as I've just found some really nice biscuits that I'm getting on with like a house on fire. Not only that but the pack extolls their environmental credentials so I can feel all warm and fuzzy about all the various hedgerow creatures going about their business that aren't being sprayed with a cocktail of chemicals. Only one slight fly in the ointment, next to the price on the shelf it says they have been DISCONTINUED.

Good grief, you discover that your local supermarket has had some very tasty biscuits stashed away in it, only then to find that they are awaiting the chop in some kind of biscuity death row. How can this be? The reason I noticed them was that they had been uprooted from where-ever they had been hiding and dumped conspicuously to sell out till their end of their days between the work-a-day Bourbons and Gingernuts. They caught my eye as they seemed a bit like a fish out of water all resplendent in their little green packs with pictures of blue skies and green meadows, designed to appeal to the organic shopper.

I suspect the reason I've missed them till now and for that matter all the other people who were really supposed to buy them is that they have been ensconced in some organic product enclave, up some aisle that we normally scoot through in a semi-daze. Now here at NCOTAASD we are quite keen on some Organic produce like milk, meat and vegetables but haven't quite made the jump to an entirely organic trolley load. Paying a premium for organic produce is something that we don't have a problem with if it's lovely stuff, but something about those Organic only sections in supermarkets makes me feel a bit self conscious and I tend to plough on through.

Anyhow fate has conspired for me to make the acquaintance of these charming and noble biscuits just after Tesco's has signed their death warrant. Very nice they are too with chiselled good looks being provided by organic oat flakes, jumbo oats and currants set into a tasty wholemeal substrate. Some of the sugar is scattered through in discrete crystals which combined with the oats gives a entertaining texture full of little crunchy surprises. The biscuits have a deep brown hue like the crust of a brown loaf which extends to their interior and this quite high bake also adds plenty of flavour.

So as I sit here dabbing the corners of my eyes with my lace hanky, my last pack of fruit bakes before me I wonder is it better to have dunked and munched then never to have dunked and munched at all? Yes, yes, cries the small lump of it still adhered to my back teeth.

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Cadbury's Choc Brownies and Choc Rings

Wednesday 21 Jun 2006

What's been going on? What have you been up to for over a month Nicey? Well I've been in a bit of an odd place biscuit wise, a sort of journey of self discovery that every committed biscuit critic has to make in order to rediscover what it is they are really trying to find. Yes, it does sound like a load of new age mumbo jumbo, doesn't it, but at least I didn't mention healing with crystals or aligning the sofa with the points of the compass. So lets start at the beginning then, that is, about three weeks ago (warning the following biscuit review goes on a bit)...

Whilst on a trip to Wales notionally hunting for waterfalls I had my eyes open for possible new biscuits. Passing by Baglan bay, Aberavon beach and the famous Sandfields estate I couldn't resist detouring the entire NCOTAASD team for a trip to Lidls. South Wales seems to be particularly well placed for them. Resisting the urge to buy a bargin set of hozes and attachments for a jet washer, which is something we don't have I headed for the biscuits. One quick raid later and I had two exotic looking packs of Euro biscuits branded Sondey, one of which I'm sure somebody had recommended to me. Surely between the two I would make some form of valuable discovery. Alas no. The splelt flour biscuits with linseed were indeed exotic but the odd flavour and seedy texture made me think I was eating something that wasn't strictly intended for humans but maybe parrots/cockatoos/budgerigars. Despite putting brave face on it I was knocked back to my second choice of thin oaty biscuits half coated in dark chocolate, surely some form of Euro choc HobNob. Nope. Whilst not as far fetched as the bizarre linseed and budgie flavour ones, and I suppose perfectly pleasant they failed to grab my imagination.

So on return to NCOTAASD HQ I was in desperate straits, with two largely uneaten packs of odd biscuits. Pausing in Tesco's next to the 'these are all very expensive so only buy them if you are trying to make some form of statement' biscuits I spied a tube of Austrian black-currant and yogurt wafers. These could make an amusing BOTW thought I, erasing memories linseeds trapped between my teeth I bunged them into the basket. Oh dear. Not only was the black-currant content a lowly 2% but the gritty sludge bearing it was plying its trade thanks to the inclusion of hydrogenated fat. Not too classy. The wafers, which generally would do well to keep a low profile raised a distracting rice paper sort of texture punctuated by the impression that they had the merest dusting of scouring powder (I'm guessing Vim). Overall a bit like nibbling on a sherbet flying saucer with a squirt of mutant black-currant custard cream filling.

My heart wasn't in it. Had it come to this after five years of BOTW sat in the dining room trying to get to grips with a tube of Austrian Black-currant wafers?

Then a ray of light. About a year ago we took a look at some Cadbury Oat and Fruit biscuits which went down a treat. Well Burton's the people behind them have been steadily growing the range and when Chris Davis got in touch to find out what was going with BOTW and suggested we try the Cadbury Choc Brownie biscuits it was the wake call I needed.

So here we are with a pack of Choc Brownies and for good measure a pack of Choc Rings. So first thing to celebrate is that both biscuits are substantial full sized specimens, no frilly thin coffee floosies here. Just as one gets a little mist in the eyes when spotting the big stainless steel vat of baked beans in the cross channel ferry restaurant after a fortnight on the continent, my woes with Euro biscuits faded as I beheld these fine examples of British Biscuit engineering.

The choc brownie is like a distant cousin of the Bourbon, its lost one of its biscuits the cream filling changed its shape and had a coat of chocolate, but the similarity is there. If it weren't for the shear scale of these biscuits (8mm deep by 64mm diameter) demanding your attention you might think you had taken a glancing bite from a Penguin and missed the cream filling. The ingredients made pleasant reading too no sign of dodgy fats and salt at trace levels per biscuit, which was quite unexpected in such a cocoa based recipe.

The Choc rings are even thicker at 9mm maybe to make up for their hole also delivered the goods. Their much paler cocoa biscuit had fine chocolate chips and a light texturing of oatmeal. Again the Cadbury's milk chocolate (27%) sat easily a top the biscuit forming a truly convincing whole and eliciting a rare 'these are nice' from Wifey.

When you are driven back to the kettle to make a second mug of tea to wash down the biscuits, you know you are back where you are supposed to be.