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Yorkshire Tea

Monday 11 Dec 2006

Yorkshire Tea biscuits are not new in fact by my reckoning they have been around for a bit over three years now. At their launch they were and still are the only biscuit that Taylors of Harrogate, who are perhaps best known for their teas and tea rooms, produce. From this we can instantly gauge a number of important things. That Taylors do not take the business of producing new biscuits lightly, and that the biscuits have gone way past the eight month or so flash in the pan period and must have gained themselves some loyal customers. Definitely worth a look then.

Unlike a great many purveyors of tea and the various goodies that accompany it Bettys and Taylors have an excellent set of websites devoted to the various strings in their bows. From their iconic Betty's Tea rooms in Harrogate which date back to 1919, to their Tea and Coffee business, their online store (worth a good look before Christmas too) and even their own cookery school. It's their Yorkshire Tea brand that we'll be zeroing in on for this review.

Many's the time that we've mentioned Yorkshire tea's free trial size pack of forty teabags that anyone can claim (in the UK that is) just by going to their website. Indeed many's the time that we have trialed Yorkshire Tea and are quite partial to it as a result. Tom, our book editor swears by it, but then he is from Yorkshire, and the two facts can not be entirely separated. Wifey and I had the distinct pleasure at a literary lunch last summer for the Oldie Magazine, where I had been invited to speak, of having our arrival preceded by a large consignment of said 40 bag trial boxes for the attendees to sample. A very nice surprise laid on by the good people of Taylors. If I were to be an X Man then my special mutant powers would involve being able to summon forth tea bags in great quantities at lunch time prior to my turning up, and I expect I would be called 'Tea-Boy'. Needless to say a great many tea trials took place back at Tom's office.

So edging closer to the matter at hand, we find that a small quantity of Yorkshire tea has turned up in the biscuits. Its down there after the flour, butter a very respectable 30%, sugar and cornflour. Upon tucking in I couldn't tell you if I noticed the 1% tea infusion or not. What was amply apparent after the crisp buttery crunch of the biscuit had subsided were the next set of ingredients, cinnamon, nutmeg, and natural vanilla and almond flavouring. All of which were subtly frolicking in the buttery flavour. Of these the one that I immediately picked up upon before even realising it was in the ingredients was the nutmeg. Shortbread with a generous hint of nutmeggy custard tart.

At the mention of custard tarts we will no doubt attract Google's attention as the US has a fair amount of its citizens searching the interweb for someplace to buy them despite not really knowing what they are. Apparently they are mentioned in the BBC sitcom 'As time goes by' with Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer. Americans who have watched the series when it has aired in the states then go off in search of somewhere that sells them. I have written several explainly emails to Americans trying to bang the square peg of custard creams into the round hole of custard tarts about how they are small sweet pastry cases filled with baked egg custard. Unless you have somewhere local that makes them, unlikely I'll grant you, then you should make your own. In fact Nanny Nicey used to knock them up on a regular basis when I was little and I think this was where the biscuits were gently leading me back to. Once again we find ourselves in Proust territory.

So from all of this you may have inferred correctly that I liked them, but there is a much more important issue staring us in the face. They are shaped like a capital letter T. Once I had amused myself biting off the sticking out bits I then moved on to the next most obvious activity, calculating the diameter of a conventional round biscuit that matched this one in surface area. At 70mm x 62mm with a cut out area of 50mmx42mm I made the surface area 2,240mm2. This equates to a round biscuit of about 54mm diameter, roughly the size of a Gingernut. Due to the bevelled edges the top is smaller than the bottom by about 5mm and the depth is 10mm. Be my guest if you want to make some volumetric comparisons with other biscuits. However I've concluded that they are definitely on the dainty side, especially given that there are only 12 in the pack.

If you need a final bit of cajoling then there is one final website in the Betty's and Taylors stable that we haven't mentioned, Trees for Life. For the last 16 years Taylors have been donating back a proportion of their profits, at least 100,000 a year to plant trees in the areas and communities around the world that provide the tea and coffee that their business is based upon. The biscuits came with a cut out token and if you send in four of them they'll donate an extra fifty pence, which is of course very nice of them.

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La Paille D'Or

Monday 20 Nov 2006

The French and Lemons generally are on good terms, a good Tart Citron is truly a wonderful thing. Ok they call them citrons, but I think that is quite an evocative name. A foody equivalent of onomatopoeia, not just a word that sounds like what it is but tastes like it too, an ideophone. Shame they had to cop out with Citron Verte (Green Lemons - Limes). The last example of French Lemon advancement to cross our path was the rather nasty LU Citron Mousse Pims that we messed about with for our Jaffa judgement. Finding ourselves in France for the pre-festive season raid and being emotionally buoyed by the amount of red wine, beer and stinky cheese in our trolly we decided to let the French, Lu and Lemons have another crack at it.

So here we have LU's La Paille D'Or aux Citrons (Lemon golden straws). I must have been in a good mood because not only are these already batting on a sticky wicket but they are conspicuously a packet of wafers. In general all wafers are having to rely heavily on their mates to gain acceptance be they chocolate, and caramel in the case of the very accecptable Tunnocks, or a thin scraping of pasty white grit in the unacceptable case of the Pink Wafer.

Looking at the box I counted 21 images of lemons in various states of distress from sitting in their own leaves in a little basket to lying hacked into bits again on their leaves. That's a great deal of lemon ambience for one small piece of cardboard. Once inside we found four sachets of of biscuits tightly wrapped in space age foil plastic film, with the odd picture of a lemon on them here and there, just in case the effect of cardboard box was by now waning. This came as little surprise as I had paused long enough to spot a large yellow number four on the outside. The sachets temporally held me up for two reasons.

The first was the sense that I was holding some kind of domestic insulation material, extremely light, rigid and reflective. Resisting the urge to go up in the loft and nail a few packets to the floor I ripped my way in. Now came the second problem. The special shiny film just tore off in small bits. After five attempts I finally did enough damage to get in, and even then there was a fair amount of adhesion between biscuit and pack.

So finally a stack of four wafers. I was still a bit tempted to bash a nail through them, however, I tucked in and instinctively wrenched the top wafer into its three sub sections. Hmm, wrenching, I was expecting to snap them. The lemony stuff within was evidently fairly tacky. Each wafer section comprised five wafer straws with a little ribbon cross embossed upon their middle. The first mouth full appeared to contain several of the twenty one lemons from the outside of the pack. The wafer really was taking two steps back here whilst the lemon filling confidently did its thing in the spot light. Looking at the ingredients it seems that the filling is some form of lemon-curd and apple jam hybrid turbo charged with 2.5% concentrated lemon juice, which equates to 15% diluted. Fans of pancakes drenched in lemon juice and sprinkled with sugar, or lemon sherbets will find much to keep them busy here. If you like lemon sorbet and wafers then you should be pleased as I think LU have managed to make it into a biscuit, and ridiculously low fat one that, only 1g per 100g of biscuit.

A quick bit of research tells me that LU have been making these for a tad over 100 years, and I can see why. The golden wafer limits itself to what it is best at being an amusing container for something tasty. The lemon stuff is indeed world class lemon stuff, which upon reflection lives up to its packet's hyperbole. Mind you I'm not so hopeful for the Citron Mouse Pims making it to its hundredth birthday.

One final parting shot for the pack, down in the bottom right on the back in small letters, its tells us of a 'small moment of pleasure' for Juliette aged 28 who after shopping all day returned home had a pack of these, a vanilla milk shake and a glass of fizzy water. Nicey, 42, after staggering round the hypermarket in Boulogne could quite easily see off these with a mug of P&O ferry tea.


Fox's Delicious Cookies

Wednesday 1 Nov 2006

Well about the most popular program on British Television right now is the X Factor on a Saturday evening. The singing contest attracts massive audiences and for me invokes memories of how Saturday night telly used to be when I was a kid back in the 70s. On would go the Generation Game with whole family sitting around eating a tea of ham and cheese sandwiches, a shared pack of crisps, celery sticks, tea and biscuits in front of the telly as treat. Advertisers are keen to get such prime time slots, and last week between the adverts for burgers, pizzas, brown stuff to make it look like you've just been on holiday and phones there was an advert for Fox's biscuits.

Now I don't remember the last time I saw an advert for Fox's and the one last week was very much a brand building type of thing, rather than a specific advert for a certain biscuit. So what's going on here? Well there is much reading between the lines to be done but I think this weeks biscuits are an interesting reflection of what is happening right now in the biscuit world. Also it accords a good bit of freedom to innovate if we simply trust the name Fox's to deliver.

The two growth sectors in biscuits right now are healthy and indulgent, at first glance diametrically opposed. Despite the obvious problems with obesity an increasing number of consumers are becoming more aware of diet and making much more considered choices. Not only are people choosing organic, fair-trade they are also concerned with what is in their food. What both growth segments share is to show the enquiring eye lists of key ingredients, wholesome or decadent, take your pick.

Perhaps this explains why this trio of biscuits don't really have names, which is a bit of a revelation, akin to Apples iMac not having a floppy drive when it was launched. To determine what is contained within one has to look at the picture and read the little sentence on the pack front which contains the words Delicious Cookies picked out in brushed gold script. One has the word Sultanas the next Milk Chocolate Chunks and the last Extremely chocolatey. Indeed all three biscuits live up to their pictures and descriptions, and as we have come to expect from Fox's all three are very nice indeed, and why shouldn't they be after all we indulging ourselves.

The Sultana cookies have that all important randomness associated with some thing that looks more handmade than mass produced. The Sultanas are second in the list of ingredients followed by sugar and butter and the resulting biscuit reflects this uncomplicated approach. A rich buttery open textured biscuit with generous fruit. Although I initially steamed into them I quickly tired finding them a tad too greasy. Such biscuits are obviously at the very best when just cooled from the oven, and in order to keep the impression of such mouth pleasing meltingness straight from the packet the fat in the biscuit has to be carefully controlled. In the old days the black arts of hydrogenated fats could be relied upon, but nowadays some vegetable oil and a bit of butter are all that Fox's have at their disposal. In short very nice but resistible.

The chocolate biscuits were both the same thing really with the extremely chocolately ones picking up an additional coat of chocolate on their base. Big chocolate chunks form the main ingredient whilst the biscuit which is a pleasing brown colour would appear to be so due to some molasses rather than cocoa. Some oatmeal and desiccated coconut have been included which keeps the texture interesting. These are quite thick biscuits, (unfortunately I don't have dimensions as Wifey and the YMOS saw them all off before I could get near them with the tape measure). Definitely one to investigate if you like big chunky cookies with a good crunch to them. Also given their size those of you who like to keep strict tabs on the number of biscuits you tuck away should have no problems counting them.

So there we have it three appealing biscuits that have plenty of their key goodies designed to catch the indulgent shoppers eye. I think they have almost pulled it off but given that Fox's are a veritable powerhouse of innovation I'd expect to see plenty of siblings joining them and vying for our attention.

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