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Strawberry Newton

Monday 10 Nov 2003

Last time I reviewed a Nabisco biscuit, sorry cookie, I gave it a pretty hard time. Well if the number one selling biscuit on the planet can't take a bit of criticism then we must be stuck in some kind of biscuit autocracy. Well we're evidently not, and just to show that free speech is alive and flourishing I get the very occasional hate mail disagreeing with my summing up of the Oreo. However, there is a biscuit by Nabisco which I admire for its sheer take no prisoners approach. If you ever messed about with fruity biscuits then you might have thought that you could handle a bit of citric acid or maybe even malic acid in your biscuit. If you want try the hard stuff get hold of a packet of Strawberry Newtons.

Now we have mentioned the Strawberry Newtons' sibling the Fig Newton before, and were impressed by its powers of bending the flavour of the noble fig into its strange cough syrup and vanilla contortions. Obviously with the Strawberry Newton Nabisco have taken that charming little soft fruit and subjected it to the full might of their industrial process. Just in case you were left a little disorientated by the taste and were wondering what on earth you were ingesting then the pack helps out with the helpful strap line 'Made with real fruit'. Well I do remember that there was a rather nasty pie filling in the 70s, that era of Surprise freeze dried peas and Angel Delight, that had pieces of something that wasn't real fruit. You could get one with pieces of un-real cherry, or un-real apple, which retained their shape when the pie was baked. This was considered an admirable goal for food back then. The triumph of shape over taste. Hoorah, how mad was that? So hats of to Nabisco for evoking those heady days of food technology gone mad through the medium of real fruit.

I actually do like these, I know it sounds like I don't. The Newton has its own texture which seems to be the inverse of most biscuits, sort of a fluffy foamy outside with a chewy slightly fibrous core. Actually that isn't really like anything I can think of inside out or not. The aroma from the pack is so strong that just sitting here next to the outer wrapper I keep getting over powering wafts of the something not of this continent. Could that be the Californian strawberries or is it the high fructose corn syrup?

Thanks once again to biscuit hunter Jonathan Dean for risking life and limb in California by walking around the streets and into stores to get hold of the Newtons. Out there if you don't arrive in a car then you are in the social bracket below crack addicts and recently defrosted cave men, causing nervous shop keepers to keep one hand below the counter.

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Biscato Spicy and Plain Digesta

Monday 3 Nov 2003

A couple of weeks back the Wife came home from a short trip to Egypt. She was of course on a mission to bring back some proper Egyptian biscuits. Now there are those who believe that the Egyptians invented biscuits thousands of years ago, and the Wife said they found some in a tomb or something which is good. Always nice to have some biscuits with you when going on a long journey, even if it is in your ceremonial solar barge when you're out for an after-life trip with the sun god Ra.

Well it would be hard to think of anything more iconic of Egypt than the great pyramids at Giza. So its terrifically exciting that this weeks biscuits of the week come from just round the corner made by Biscato at Hawamidia, Giza. It turns out according to the Wife's investigations that the Egyptians love cake and biscuits, as well as a cuppa. Well they did pretty much invent the whole civilisation thing we take so much for granted for the last 5,000 years. So its not surprising they took up with tea and sitdowns. Apparently sugar crusted doughnuts are a good way to start your day, breakfast wise when in Cairo. There are shops selling sweet heavy sticky gooey cakes all over, in-fact there was one in the reception of a of the hotel she visited.

As wonders of the world go the pyramids are right up there, perhaps because its a wonder how they were built, and they are also the only surviving wonder of the ancient world. Kufu's Great Pyramid at Giza was the tallest man made structure on earth until the Eiffel tower was built. It consists of some 2,500,000 blocks of limestone each weighing about 2.5 tons, and took 25,000 workers some 16 years to build. Well given that it has taken the best part of three months for the builders to finish off biscuit enthusiast Mandy's conservatory floor, we can only marvel at those figures.

I'm going to wildly postulate that there is some sort of cultural memory that goes back through the Egyptian people to the time of the Pharoahs that gives them their penchant for cakes and biscuits, and that its related to the construction of these ancient monuments. We all know that modern day builders can achieve little without regular tea breaks and a biscuit or seven, and these guys are working with modern tools and a transit van. For the builders of the pyramids there weren't any variable torque hammer drills or those embarrassing soppy mini diggers things that they use to make little trenches. No, the ancients had some copper chisels, rope and some big sticks with which to quarry out blocks of stone weighing as much as a couple of transit vans, then drag them to the top of the tallest thing humans would build for the next 4,500 years. Personally I would be after some very serious tea and sit downs, if that was my career. I re-pointed a small amount of brick work last weekend and it took two pots of tea and a packet of Australian jam rings to get it under control.

Anyhow, what were the biscuits like? Well they both came wrapped in cellophane with the Spicy ones having clear bits where you could see the biscuits inside. Both types according to the ingredients had 100% natural butter, which was wonderful and odd. I'm going to keep a look out for un-natural butter now. The Spicy ones as you can see had a lovely swirl on them, and five holes, and were crisp and cinnamon flavoured. In fact the cinnamon must be from bark rather than stem, and was quite roughly ground and little bits of it could be nibbled from the biscuit. All in all a very nice little biscuit.

The Plain Digesta, wasn't anything like a digestive, in fact it wasn't really like anything that I could easily mention, but it was also quite familiar. Again the use of butter in the recipe gave a very pleasant taste and the biscuits were crisp and baked to a golden colour with a paler colour inside. Quite thin, and no bigger than say a ginger nut they were quite petite. I really liked these and found no difficultly in dispatching half a dozen before I had half emptied my mug.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of these biscuits and there are certainly a some nations nearer to home that would go up in my estimation if they had stuff like this on their supermarket shelves.

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Arnott's Raspberry Shortcake vs Weston's Jam Fancies

Friday 24 Oct 2003

Well a little while back a made a slight whimpering noise about the lack of jam based biscuits, as I was personally going through a big jam episode in my life. The Wife had just made six pots of Raspberry Jam and I had made four pots of wild plum, blackberry and apple jam. Ace biscuit hunter Simon Smith heard my pleas and sent up some Aussie jam sandwich style offerings for sacrificial deployment in the NiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown front-line biscuit tin.

We pitted Weston's Jam fancies, whose strap line is 'a fruity indulgence!' against Arnott's Raspberry Shortcake, strap line 'Sweet and interesting'. Now those of you who read the review of the Weston's Wagon Wheel may already be one step ahead and asking is there a connection to the Jammy Dodger? Well there are strong family traits visible here and a fascinating throw back to earlier incarnations of the Jammy Dodger. As discussed in the Wagon Wheel review we know that the Weston brothers deployed their recipes in the UK, Australia and Canada. Today's Jammy Dodgers seem much paler and the shortcake biscuit softer than in the past, however a Westons Jam Fancie is like a mini biscuity time machine, taking us back to darker crisper biscuits. There are of course differences the most striking of which is the five different designs of swirls and holes, none of which are heart shaped. The jam is Raspberry flavoured plum jam as we would expect, but the addition of vegetable gum failed in making it quite as viscous as the Burtons Jammy dodger jam. Were they a fruity indulgence? no not really, but they were a very authentic Jammy Dodger clone.

Arnotts Raspberry Shortcakes provided no end of surprises. The biscuit was a strange reddish colour, and the lower biscuit had six small holes in it through which the filling had become extruded. The filling was not really jam but more like a sweetened fruit pulp, appearing pink and opaque. The most alarming aspect was the seemingly needless inclusion of coconut in the biscuit, which caught me off guard. The flavours were put in the back seat by the coconut. Having said that by the end of the pack I had become accustomed to it and was vaguely sorry to finish the last one off. Was it 'Sweet and interesting', well 'Sweet and unsettling' is how I would have put it.

Which one would I go for again? Well probably the strange Arnott's one just because its odd, but the Jam Fancies won over the rest of the team.