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McVitie's Lyles Creams

Monday 31 Mar 2003

We were beside ourselves with excitement to have a scoop review on these brand new biscuits from McVities, with our review packs coming directly from McVities clad in bubble wrap, Hoorah! Not only that but the mighty McVities have teamed up with the definitive name in treacle, Lyles, to create McVitie's Lyle's Golden Syrup Creams and Black Treacle Creams. We are told the packs should be hitting the shelves of shops across the UK soon.

You know I'm not even sure if anybody else even bothers to make golden syrup or black treacle, thats how definitive Lyle's are. Lyles have been making Golden Syrup since 1881 and the biscuit packs sport Lyle's logo which is a dead lion with bees swarming around it. Apparently they have chosen to make a nest inside its carcass. Excellent. Underneath is written 'Out of the strong came forth sweetness'. We have Samson of long hair and temple knocking down fame to thank for that line. As an adult my Mum was very disappointed to find out, that dead lions are not in fact an integral part of the production of Golden Syrup. As tins of peaches had peaches on them and tins of Golden Syrup had dead lions on them it all seemed quite logical. She never even concerned herself with imagining what exactly would have been taking place at the factory to produce syrup on an industrial scale.

So what exactly is the result of all this know how? Well McVities are rather hoping that with these new biscuits they can challenge the impressive Fox's Crunch Creams which have made the cream filled sandwich biscuit market their own. I'm glad to say that McVities have stayed true to their roots as these biscuits feature rolled oats and hark back to the sublime Abbey Crunch whose decline from prominence is bemoaned by this site. Both varieties certainly taste of their Lyle's ingredients although not overly so. The cream middle is more of a specialised icing, and if I interpret the ingredients correctly consists mainly of lactose, or milk sugar. With a diameter of a mere 45mm these little biscuits put up a good fight for something thats gone in couple of mouthfuls, due I would say to their sheer calorific value. But then you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

I was intrigued to see that these brand new biscuits, never glimpsed before by the biscuit buying public had a best before date of 6th Sep 03. This got me thinking how do McVities or any other manufacturer, know that date for a new product? After inventing an awsome new biscuit do they then make a load of packs then keep opening one every day until they start to go a bit wonky? That could take months. What if you made something that didn't really go off or was all ready essentially off, like Marmite, you could be waiting for years before you knew what to print on the pack as a best before date. Maybe that's why the shops aren't filled with Tinned-Salted-Freeze-dried-Frozen-Pickeled-Gamma-iradiated stuff, as none of it has gone off yet and they have been able to release the products. Anyhow there is little chance of any of our packs making it to next week let alone September.

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Sarah Nelson's Gingerbread

Tuesday 18 Mar 2003

My friend Mark who hails from Cumbria has a very sweet tooth indeed which he has always attributed to his Mum's excellent cooking and large repertoire of puddings and cakes. Since getting hold of our review pack of Sarah Nelson's Gingerbread from Grasmere in the heart of lakeland I've started to feel there could be other forces at work.

Matt Roxburgh mailed us to tell us about Sarah Nelson's Gingerbread, and as they have a webstore we thought it might be interesting to review it. Apparently baked in Grasmere since 1854 when Sarah Nelson started knocking out this strange slab of gingery sweetness on a tree stump outside of her tiny church cottage. The blurb on the accompanying card is as syrupy as the recipe which we are told is locked away in the vault of the local NatWest bank. It goes on to say 'Baked fresh every day, Grasmere Gingerbread's intoxicating, spicy aroma - a true "sense sublime" as Wordsworth might have described it'. Well he might of, had he not died four years earlier.

Now the Lake district with its beautiful scenery is one of the UK's prime tourist regions. This week's tea time treat which describes itself as a cross between a biscuit and a cake is very much is a product of this industry. Rather than spend our dosh in the tea rooms of Cumbria, we opted instead to order our Gingerbread over the internet from their website. It arrived two days later in a large cardboard box, and protected by an inner casing of polystyrene inside which was our 12 pieces of Gingerbread wrapped in a sheet of greaseproof paper and bearing a picture of the cottage with legend 'None genuine without Trade Mark'. Well they might have a point with that bit as half of Grasmere apparently knocks out Gingerbread.

So Nicey is it any good? Well now we approach my opening point this is not bread, its not cake its not really a biscuit, it's confectionary. Much as Kendal Mint cake, that other Cumbrian delicacy, is not a cake at all but a giant peppermint, Sarah Nelson's gingerbread is a hard leathery ginger toffee of a biscuit. As if to throw us off the scent the whole lot seems although its been dropped into a tray of its own ground down crumbs, not a terribly pleasant outer texture I have to say. The packaging is at great pains to point out that the gingerbread may be refreshed and softened by popping it in an oven, presumably this is how the punters in Grasmere experience their Gingerbread. We didn't get round to it.

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Petit Écolier

Saturday 8 Mar 2003

What happens when you take an unremarkable biscuit, slap a big old lump of chocolate on it and call it rather dubiously a 'small schoolboy'? Well, you get the flagship biscuit for leading French biscuit manufacturer LU. As Gallic as a three hour lunch break or a terrifyingly constructed road junction, the Petit Écolier is not a biscuit that I would expect to see in our shops anytime soon.

On first encountering the Petit Écolier it appears bizarre, having embossed onto its slab of chocolate an odd looking child carrying a basket. On further investigation it turns out that the lad in question is called Jacques, son of poster artist Firmin Bouisset and painted by him in 1897. The baker and biscuit maker LU was founded by the husband and wife team of Pauline Utile and Jean-Romain Lefèvre, in the Tourane region of France, their surnames giving rise to the company name. They adopted the image of the little school boy, originally pictured eating straight forward Petit Beurre, over the even madder image of a flying trumpeting laurel distributing angel type woman. Back in the 19th century the little chap must have thought Petit Beurres were cutting edge biscuit heaven. Nowadays they are ranked somewhat below balsa wood, charcoal briquettes and airline food in the league table of appetising things to eat.

Back to the Petit Écolier. Well there is something decidedly disjointed about it. The chocolate and biscuit are very obviously created separately then quickly fused together to create the finished item. Whilst the edge of the slab is firmly attached, underneath it gaps abound. Whilst I can appreciate the technical imperatives for this, the result is a bit like eating a packet of rich teas whilst stealing bites off a block of dairy milk chocolate. The taste is pleasant enough, as the dreary old Petit Beurre is easily drowned out by the slab of good quality chocolate. However the overall effect is unsettling as it seems that the Petit Beurre has acquired the chocolate out of desperation, and indeed the slab may choose to up and leave at any moment if it gets a better offer, which seems likely.

As one might expect with such an elaborate biscuit, it ships in a little cardboard box with a tray insert, a dozen to a pack. Different versions exist, milk, plain chocolate, caramel flavoured, or hazelnut. All of these have their own elusive charm, but given the almost transitory nature of the biscuit and chocolate coupling, I can easily imagine other toppings replacing the chocolate, sardine or radish for example.