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Naturally Fox's

Tuesday 16 Jan 2007

New Year - New Biscuits! Yes January the month when it seems the mighty wheels of commerce want to cash in our guilty feelings about all the stuff they persuaded us to buy and consume in December. The TV barrages us with adverts for things to help us diet, eat healthier, quit smoking and make our skin look younger. These in turn jostle for attention with an equal barrage of adverts for enormous vulgar sofas which we are told we won't even have to begin to pay for until they are covered in stains, pet hairs, starting to fall apart and are harbouring a slurry of errant dry roast peanuts and Pringles. Revered biscuit bakers Fox's have chosen this turbulent month to launch a range of back to basics biscuits which should appeal to those who value the simpler things in life. Have they started the year with a change for the better?

This is Fox's play for roughly the same growing market sector that McVities Fruitsters, which we reviewed last year, are aimed at, the so called Healthy eating sector. The immediate problem here is that a biscuit is never going to be an ideal candidate as a health food, a fact that virtually all of us are aware of and comfortable with. One approach is wave to around your attractive whole grains and dried fruit as McVities have done and divert attention away from the ever present and biscuit prerequisites of fat and sugar. The sort of thing Trinny and Suzanna do with necklines and stripes. Fox's have taken another approach, refreshing and direct, which I think will be engaging for the concerned consumer.

Rather than skirt round the fat and sugar Fox's have made it their starting point and thrust them to the fore. Raw cane Demerara sugar and butter to be precise. Fox's even go as far as telling us on the pack how the biscuits are made with a little mini-recipe. Conception begins with the creaming of the butter and sugar. Some flour, a bit of baking soda, a drop of water and the various other simple things such as oats, raisins, stem ginger are added. Rolled and cut into simple squares and baked until golden. We might not have been present at the birth, but we were probably just out side in the corridor having a cup of tea and wondering why it's really necessary to turn off our mobile phones? Actually the social stigma of possibly causing some terrible but unseen medical emergency in a maternity hospital seems enough to send most of us to the car park rather than investigate further.

Since the great casting out of hydrogenated fats from biscuits recipes and textures have struggled as manufacturers turned in general to vegetable oils. I know we have been over this ground many times recently but in a post hydrogenated fat landscape how do you make a biscuit that actually tastes like an old school one? Some have silently adopted a bit of palm oil which is naturally high in saturated fat and helps to make a more familiar textured biscuit. Unfortunately it nurtures an industry that directly destroys primary rain forest to replace it with mono cultures of palm trees. Obviously a bit of a bad thing for biodiversity, this in turn leads to the wholesale wiping out of such species as the Orang-utan. I don't want my arteries to harden but I don't want to jeopardise a follow up to Every which way but loose. There are also those in the developing world no doubt who would point out that Europeans visited a similar fate on their forests long ago in order to create fields and pastures. There are also those who could tell us about the problems with dairy farming, but it seems closer to a status quo that the vast majority accept. The long and short of it, I'll gladly take butter, and it makes a far nicer biscuit.

So before I risk a total descent into some Ben Elton style tirade against the forces of global capitalism and a revealing look at our own agricultural hypocrisy - lets take a look at the biscuits (sighs of relief all round I expect).

Nothing could be easier, they are all of them delicious, all five varieties Wholemeal Yorkshire shortbread, Honey and Oat, Raisin and Pecan nut, Dark Chocolate and Stem Ginger and finally Dark Chocolate and Macadamia Nut. In fact the only possible exception I could take is that there are only nine in the pack, which is three less than that important psychological milestone of a dozen. We dropped a mixture of all of them into the trusty NCOTAASD biscuit tin, and it feels like a winning hand which ever combination you pull out.

I think Fox's have shown the way with this new range. We all know we shouldn't live on biscuits and if any of you have resolved this New year to cut back a bit on your biscuit intake then shouldn't you have a really decent one when you do?

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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.