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Tuesday 18 Dec 2007

It's the year end and we thought it would be nice to round out 2007 with some biscuits that we can all go out buy in the UK, as opposed to something exotic from foreign shores. Having said that these are those French biscuits we mentioned a while back in our news section LU's re-branded range of classics for the UK market, Encore, which includes their flagship Petit Ecolier. And seeing that team NCOTAASD has spent quite a bit of time in France this year we thought we would bring you a few highlights of our exploits in the land of the Petit Beurre in the manner of a special festive season BOTW.

Encore is one of my favourite French words since I discovered fairly early on in my adult dealings with France that uttering it causes French people to go away and return with another one of what ever it was you just finished. This came as a revelation as I was only expecting to use it at the end of a theatrical performance, which I desired to see again. Not very likely given the division of our time between tent, supermarket and bar. So it's nice that LU have chosen this as their brand name. In France they do have a biscuit called 'Hello!' which I always have trouble with. Its evident desire to start a conversation seems a bit pushy, and so you'll understand why I have studiously avoided till now. Perhaps if they changed its name to the noise you make when clearing your throat I'd be tempted, although I'm not sure how to write that down.

So let's take a look at those two Petit Ecoliers, a Dark chocolate and a Milk chocolate. Last time we reviewed the Petit Ecolier I have to say it got a bit of a roasting. You might want to skip back to that earlier review to find out who the strange looking individual is embossed into the chocolate. This time LU have made quite a lot of changes to the biscuit which I have to say all seem for the better. Chocolate and biscuit seem wedded this time round rather than the much more casual relationship they pursued in the past. The biscuit is now an all butter affair with 14.5% of it by weight and in lighter and more open textured resulting it what appears to be a taller biscuit. With a nod to LU's own French stylings the Milk Chocolate pack has pale blue accents, which is LU visual language for milk chocolate, just as green means cheese and onion and blue salt and vinegar. Unless you happen to be Walkers crisps who seem to want to fly in face of good sense and logic and have it the other way round. If the House of Lords can debate whether sliced bread is becoming too thick as they did a couple of weeks back how come this one has slipped under their radar.

So if you like your choccy biscuits and their chocolate to be on the upmarket side you will definitely appreciate these. With their magic number of 48% chocolate by weight (the same as in Bahlsen's Choco Liebniz and PickUp) and with 70% cocoa solids in the case of the dark chocolate, you might manage to spoil yourself with only a couple of them.

Talking of upmarket we had our regular autumn strike mission to France in November staying for a couple of nights in the seaside playground of second or third home owning Parisians, Le Touquet. Most of Le Touquet's streets are set in pine forest. These are lined with wide grassy verges and white railing fences behind which long gravel drives lead to sprawling thatched white washed mansions. We were amused by the signs at the end of the roads informing us that picnics were forbidden. Of course this was like a red rag to a bull, given that we had our thermos flask in our ruck sacks, some pate baguettes, half a Camembert and a quantity of French biscuits. Luckily for the French and us the weather intervened before we could find out at which point casual roadside nibbling escalates into a picnic.

We also found the local French water did quite a spectacular job of resisting being made into tea, producing some of the most revolting and scum laden cuppas I can remember. I also attribute this to the fact that we had to boil the water in a stainless steel saucepan, which refused to absorb its share of the calcium salts unlike the trusty NCOTAASD Tefal kettle, which may well find itself taking a short break abroad in future.

Tearing ourselves away from such fascinating topics we shall briefly cast an eye over the next offerings in the Encore range, re-branded LU Pims, which are of course French Jaffa cakes. I think wisely the flavours offered have been reigned in from the full range which naturally includes Orange to just Raspberry and Cherry. Pims have a distinctive chocolate top which looks like it has been stamped with an old fashioned wax letter seal. The bonus to this a thicker chocolate shell to support all that shenanigans, which causes a Pims to crackle noticably in the mouth. Of particular note on the raspberry Pims was the inclusion of raspberry pulp and puree which conferred a slight and authentic pippy finish. Quite alarming, however, is the pack description as Belgian Chocolate Sponge Biscuits. Are they trying to undermine McVities landmark ruling?

And so to our best French cake of the year, a tricky title to steal given the sheer number of our sorties into the massed Patisseries of France. However the clear winner was home made for us by our favourite French lady ever Mdm Moulinier, who has a lovely farm in deepest Perigord. We visited there back in August on a our own marathon tour de France, after spending a week in the Alps.

It's difficult to express using clumsy words how calming spending a few nights camped in a wildflower meadow under the shade of walnut trees can be. Having last visited Mdm Moulinier before the YMOS joined the ranks, we were delighted to find her well and in her usual generous way we were instructed that we would be receiving a Tarte aux Noix. Rather like a big walnut based Macaroon it is fashioned from fresh farm eggs and walnuts from the grove in which we were camping. This one was topped off with some dark chocolate and walnut halves. Each one is its own unique creation, no two ever having the exactly the same texture, which can range from slightly chewy to this year's quite crunchy. I suspect that at 86 Mdm Moulinier is using the electric whisk now to beat the eggs.

All this loveliness brings out the painter in me and I spend a good proportion of my time at Mdm Mouliniers paint brush in hand trying hard not to muddle up my jam jar of water with my enamel mug of tea. Both of which can find itself used for either purpose depending on my concentration.

The final biscuit in the Encore range at present is a diminutive crisp dark chocolate coated biscuit affair with pieces of cocoa bean baked in. At this point I will concede that a small black coffee is going to more at home with these. Also for no doubt the same reasons I'm unable to claim any knowledge of its European counterpart.

As a parting shot LU has also added its Barquettes as a complementary range called Petit LU aimed at the YMOS. Re-named fruit scoops to aid our understanding these are small boat shaped sponges filled with fruit jam. It's amazing that such a simple and tasty little item has taken this long to make it to our supermarket.

We'll certainly be keeping an eye on this range with interest as it shows real intent and insight on LUs part in offering UK biscuit fans something a bit different.

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Tuesday 13 Nov 2007

Thanks to our friends Gaz and the Lad (he's 31 but that's his designation since 1995) we have managed to come by some interesting and unfortunately named biscuits. It's been a while since we've had a biscuit with a proper full on comedy name and we've never had a biscuit from Balkans so some Serbian Noblice are to good to pass over. In fact the last comedy biscuit being the 'Super DickMann' was only mentioned by assoociation, when we tackled Lidl's version the Choco Softie. It's no coincidence that Gaz had his hands briefly on a pack of these too.

Gaz tells me that he picked these up on a recent trip to Croatia, and had made a gift of them to the Lad who foolishly had neglected to finish them all. Thus they were left wide open to seisure by marauding biscuit enthusiasts invited into your home to help you see off the enormous quantities of fromage acquired on your last trip to France. A few days later the offending biscuit enthusiast brought round some different and equally exciting biscuits to make amends. Given that these are Serbian biscuits sold in Croatia it instantly brings to mind the most pressing question hanging over the entire region in the 21st century. Why do countries who visited so much dreadful violence upon each other in recent history vote so readily for each other in the Eurovision song contest each year? I'm sure there are probably some very long and serious answers to that, however I shall just remain curious and ignorant.

So Noblice no doubt translate to something perfectly lovely in Serbian, my best attempts using the might of some website that purports to translate Serbian to English place it as an 'aristocratic stuffed bun'. Not too helpful there especially given the tricky bun word something that is not universally taken to mean the same thing. Yes Noblice as a quick glance will tell are some type of chocolate cream sandwich biscuit.

The Noblice is not altogether unfamiliar, in fact just across the Adriatic sea in Italy the Ringo which we examined in our Pan European Choc Sandwich has more than a passing resemblance, having its upper biscuit plain and its lower one cocoa flavoured. And Serbian manufacturers Banini even have a Italian sounding name. What I particularly enjoyed in the manner of an ex-smoker having a crafty cigarette due some exceptional circumstance like involvement in a road traffic accident, or hen/stag do, was the fact that they were loaded with good old artery clogging hydrogenated fat (or margarine as it used to known). Given that there were only a dozen small biscuits left and that the rest of team NCOTAASD would need to give them the once over, I plunged into a small handful. Whilst not being a terrifically stimulating cocoa biscuit, in fact they had more of a almond taste, the texture made me quite nostalgic. That heavier more cloying feel in the mouth that we once all took for granted was here. In fact a quick glance at their website confirms that their entire range is loaded with hydogentated fat, including their blatant Oreo clone the Toto (Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti - as we've mentioned before).

The brown stuff up the middle also bearing quantities of the aforementioned had the assured look of a multi-purpose filler much like something you might acquire from a DIY superstore should you be foolhardy enough to enter such a place. Just as this stuff is capable of patching up holes smoothing over cracks and covering over dangerous amateur electrical wiring, the brown stuff in the biscuit provides the glue whilst the little button of it poking out the central hole has a slightly unreal sheen.

Wifey knows not to let me go into DIY superstores now as the ensuing stress simply doesn't warrant what ever it is that in theory could be purchased there. The simple fact that if you wish to buy anything really heavy such as paving slabs or fence posts they place this in the furthest corner of the store probably nearer to ones house than to the distant tills. Next you have to find a trolly or wheeled thing suitable to carry the half a ton of stuff you have eventually picked out. This is after spending three quarters of an hour compromising on all your plans as you try and to accommodate what their woeful and overpriced selection. Next you have to push the whole lot through the lighting department which amazingly seems always to be between building supplies and the tills. If you don't manage to smash all the reproduction tiffany lamps you'll no doubt flatten some old dear not immediately visible from your vantage point at the back of trolly load of six foot fence panels. If you do make it to the tills, you are presented with a sea of people many who have been there for hours as a distant problem at a data processing centre has rendered all the tills largely in-operable except by one highly trained individual who must visit all twenty of them individually to give master classes to their teenage operators on how to enter in a refund / exchange on packet of curtain rail hooks.

So there we are a dodgy biscuit from virtually every standpoint, but we strangely rather liked them.

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Polish Jaffa Cakes Multireview

Saturday 22 Sep 2007

Yes, I know they are not biscuits and I'm in direct contravention of all that I have spouted upon this vexed matter of "are they aren't they". My defence runs thus. You see Wifey abandoned the YMOS and myself for her annual girls trip away, this year to Krakow Poland. Of course she was expected to bring back the local biscuits, and of course she interpreted this as "Bring back Jaffa Cakes". So we will all just have to smile sweetly and say those will make lovely BOTW, thank you. So don't be trotting this out as some sort of begrudging acceptance of Jaffa cakes as being biscuits because they are not. Besides the last BOTW has been up all summer and we desperately need a change, so these will have to do. And as for my annual boys trip away the last one was in the year 2000.

Locally we have experienced a large influx of Polish folks over the last year to 18 months, so much so that we now have Polish sections in some of our local supermarkets. This is of course fantastically interesting to one who likes to study unreadable grocery items, and having a multifaceted and diverse range of interests can also appreciate huge jars of gherkins in addition to biscuits. Thus on our last trip to ASDA I supplemented Wifey's two packs of Party Jaffas made by Delic-Pol with two Delicje ones made by E.Wedel part of the Danone group, there by creating a broad and informative multireview.

Upon her return Wifey really couldn't speak highly enough of the Polish, saying how lovely and helpful they had been through out their stay and how much they had enjoyed eating out whilst on holiday. One restaurant had served them an exceptional Cherry Vodka as a freebe, which she had enthused about having almondy notes amongst it's sharp cherry flavours. This now seems to Wifey's reference point for all things Cherry and even the small bottle of Cherry Vodka she liberarted from the airport shop on leaving does not quite come up to par. Therefore when selecting a another flavour to go with the de-rigour Orange I plumped for Cherry. Wifey had brought back with her wild strawberry and orange of course.

So what makes one Jaffa cake better than another. Personally I would say four things, the sponge, the jam (its not jelly even if the Oxford English Dictionary says it is), the chocolate, then all three in combination. Given that then the Delijce ones wiped the floor with the Party ones, being more generously endowed with all the 3 vital components and being accordingly and simply a bit bigger. However quantity wasn't all, the sponge really was quite a bit nicer. It lay at the Victoria Sponge cake end of the scale whilst the Party was tending towards the other end, Trifle Sponge finger. Both being ends of the dial on the imaginary sponge making machine that would have such a dial. The jam dispensing machine next to it would also have its dial set to thick and fruity for the Delijce and "perfectly fine but not as good as those other ones" for the Partys. Finally the chocolate dial would probably have something written on it about chocolate cohesive force. On the Delijce it was a simple matter to disassemble the Jaffa in any choosen fashion to perform for example jam-ectomies. It broke away in obligingly large pieces, which could be enjoyed in isolation. The Party's put up more of a fight which ended up in bits of them crumbling off in various stages of distress. Also it has to be noted that the Delijce had its swirly name engraved into its underside, complete with little heart shape over the lowercase J, which was very posh. Possibly worth bearing this information in mind come next Feb 14th. Also the cake were slightly flattened on the the edge which reveals the sponge was soft enough to compact slightly.

Taken as a whole the Party's were very pleasant, but I'm very pleased that our local shops stock the other Delijce ones, especially given that their whopping 52% jam content did indeed have a faint waft of that almondy edge on the cherry cakes. We will certainly be making further investigations down the Polish aisle. Wifey for her part also brought me back a bottle of fine Polish Vodka flavoured with Bison grass (yes the grass that Bison eat). Its very nice but does have a pronounced taste of grass.

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