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Happy Faces

Friday 9 Jan 2004

Apart from our own run ins with the media, biscuits have being doing well in the both the press and on TV in the last 12 months. Coronation Street and Eastenders have both tried to make tea drinking scenes more realistic, with the inclusion of plausible biscuit asides such as Audrey Robert's recent 'There's some nice Gingernuts I've been saving', or Pauline Fowlers more direct 'I've got some chocolate biscuits'. PC Plum in Balamory on CBeebies, regularly demolishes a plate of Miss Hoolies' Custard Creams, and they even had an episode where he tried to track down his favourite biscuit. It was also a great treat to see BBC Three's 'Two Pints of Lager and a packet of Crisps' feature biscuits strongly in their Christmas special. There were two musical numbers featuring biscuits and a packet of Mini-Jammy Dodgers provided a pivotal element in the plot. At one point a giant Happy Face biscuit about 2ft in diameter crashes off a car bonnet. Fantastic. Inspired, I resolved to make the Happy Face the first biscuit review of 2004.

Immediately, I ran into a slight logistical hitch, in that the pack I purchased but a week or two earlier with the intention of reviewing at some point had been compromised. Nanny Nicey insisted that the younger members of staff had forced her to open them, whilst the younger members of staff denied all knowledge of this version of events. Either way there was only half a pack left. So I was forced to quickly dispatch them, in the name of science/tea/jam, and it was off to Tesco's to buy two more.

I must admit to being somewhat ignorant of the Happy Face, which is very lapse of me. As you may know, I've been banging on about jam for the last few months and the lack of it. It quickly became evidentto me that the Happy Face is a shining example a Jam and Cream sandwich biscuit. A very good sign is that the pack has little pictures of raspberries all over it, and yes, it is real raspberry jam, no apples and plums in disguise. You can certainly taste the difference. The jam sits like a little nugget surrounded by a ring of cream filling. The effect of the filling being viewed through the eye and mouth holes of the face creates teeth and eyelids. The picture on the front of the pack is a little off in this regard as the faces have top teeth rather than bottom teeth. The biscuits themselves, 45mm in diameter, are simple smooth shortcake type of affairs, which hold their face graphics well enough. Altogther we have observed 5 types of faces which is very good going for a pack of ten biscuits.

A little while ago whilst waiting to do a spot of TV I found my self sitting next to a wine 'expert' from the US who was of the opinion that it was a lot of hoo haa that wine should be drunk at the correct temperature and allowed to breath etc. Now I have to say that being surrounded by studio of food and drink lovers, this chaps theories were met with some very stoney poker faces. When it comes to biscuits, ask any Aussie and they will tell you that TimTams are best eaten fresh from the fridge. Coming back to the Happy Face, it would seem to suit a fairly warm environment as its jam is liable to become a bit glassy at low temperatures, even snapping in two as it's bitten. It can also be liable to break away from the biscuits completely, leaving you with just a lump of jam to chew, which is no bad thing. However, when the jam is pliable, the whole biscuit works in concert, and is very good indeed.

So all in all the Happy Faces have been very well recieved in the NiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown HQ, not only with the younger members of staff who have started to eat them using spoons, as this seems to be the messiest possible approach, but also by me. Maybe I need a thermometer to go with my lovely new biscuit ruler, for measuring ambient jam temperatures.

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Nabisco Nutter Butter

Wednesday 31 Dec 2003

Recently Biscuit Enthusiast Mandy took a trip to New York, and being a forward thinking type of person she acquired two packs of the most extreme examples of American biscuits (cookies yes, yes..) she could find. So I thought we could round out 2003 with a look at these peanut shaped articles.

Now obviously anyone with a nut allergy would best avoid being in the same room as these things. Just in case you thought you might get away with it the pack assures us that these biscuits are 'Made with real peanut butter'. How one would go about producing fake, or virtual peanut butter and what you would use to make it is beyond me. No doubt such a thing could be made at great cost using some amazing form of food engineering out of soy beans, but 'real' peanut butter is probably a fraction of the cost, and doesn't require a 30 million dollar development program over 5 years. So 'real' peanut butter it is then.

Just in case we still weren't convinced about the credentials of the peanuts, its also pointed out that Planters peanuts have been used. Planters was founded in 1906 by an Italian immigrant and fronted since 1916 by Mr Peanut sporting a cane and wearing a monocle and top hat with 'Mr Peanut' written on it. Merging with Nabisco in 1981 its inevitable that we should have some kind of joint offering from the two product lines.

If you were thinking that this is just some esoteric little oddity from the States then think again. Over 1 billion of them are consumed each year, that's well over 15 thousand metric tonnes, as befits the 9th best selling biscuit in the US.

The biscuits are fairly long at 74mm and are arranged in a sandwich configuration. A 1mm deep layer of sweetend peanut butter made from peanuts, corn syrup solids and hydrogenated rapeseed, cottonseed and soybean oil, adheres the two 5mm deep biscuits. The biscuits themselves have some rolled oats in them and were actually quite crispy with the distinctive peanut husk design being faithfully rendered on each one of them.

I actually like peanut butter so I was keen to try these. None the less I was pleasantly surprised that the peanut flavour wasn't too strong. The biscuits themselves were generally passable, and if it hadn't have been for the Peanut butter would have probably made their way quite happily in the world. So taken as an ensemble, we have a not overly sweet crispy sandwich biscuit with a slightly gritty and mellow peanut flavour. Whether Mandy chooses to eat the pack she brought back for her self after reading this, remains to be seen.

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Iced Gems

Wednesday 17 Dec 2003

It's 1850 and in the town of Reading, Berkshire, emerging biscuit giant Huntley and Palmer is experimenting with some new biscuit technology. However, the new biscuits emerge from the oven having actually shrunken. Thomas Huntley likes the resulting mini biscuits which are christened Gems and they sell well. Sixty years later in 1910 they add icing and children's birthday parties would incomplete without these mini biscuits from here on in.

In the 1970s Huntley and Palmer, Peek Frean and Jacobs joined to form Associated Biscuits. American biscuit giant Nabisco took over Associated Biscuits in 1982, and the company was renamed as the Jacobs Bakery Ltd in 1989 and acquired by Danone. Now made in Liverpool there are very few biscuits that can trace their origins back 150 years, and which everybody can remember from their childhood even if you have just had your telegram from the Queen.

Now I have to say that it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached the review pack which consisted of six mini bags of Iced Gems. I've always pictured them as a sort of sweetened gravel. When visiting our local builders merchants I find myself subconsciously looking for hundred weight bags of them amongst pea shingle and quarter inch chippings.

Other manufacturers have adopted the mini bag format but Iced Gems have been available like this for donkey's years. There seems to have been a some changes to the Iced Gem since I last had them, er, probably about thirty years ago. The changes however seem to be mainly confined to the icing which is no bad thing. Now some you may have to help me with this but I'm sure there used to be a pale green Iced Gem. Today's iced gems have five colours, white, yellow, orange, red and purple. Chocolate versions are also now available but we thought we'ed stick with the classics. I also don't recall the icing actually tasting of anything that tasted of anything apart from sugar. I also seem to remember there being some fairly lethal sharp points on the icing which could inflict minor havoc on the roof of one's mouth.

So I don't know if I'm happy or sad to see that the points have largely gone and that the icing actually has discernible flavours, slightly fruity ones at that. In fact I really was put in mind of various berries, red currents and blackberries. A ten point piping nozzle places the icing some where on the base and vertical orientation of the biscuit is pot luck. Just in case I was getting carried away, the biscuit base is still as dry and uninspiring as ever. Back in the late 1850's things must have been pretty rough if just straight non-Iced Gems were a big hit. If we hopped in our time machine and went back to the mid eighteen hundreds armed with a pack of Chocolate Hobnobs or even just a simple fruit shortcake no doubt we could actually produce sensory overload and stupefaction in the populace.

The base has on the top side a small square design in the center of which is a solitary hole or 'docker' and measures 21mm by 6mm with the icing taking the whole thing to 20mm high. The underside has a series of parallel marks from the baking surface, presumably some form of wire mesh. Fairly unique among biscuits the edge has a pattern too, vertical scoring some what like a pound coin.

So yes I mildly enjoyed these little old biscuits, but I did find myself strangely missing the puncture wounds in the top of my mouth. Needless to say the younger members of staff devoured them with relish.

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