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Tregroes Toffee Waffles

Thursday 26 Feb 2004

Wales, land of song, Rugby, Tom Jones, Daffodils, rain, and places without any vowels in their names etc etc. Well actually I grew up there so I do have some idea what its really like, despite not actually being Welsh. Most of the people in Wales live in the bit between the Severn bridges and Swansea, above lies the sparsely populated and rural mid Wales. To the west the sparsely populated and rural West Wales, sometimes called the wild west by anybody east of Pontadawe. North Wales at the top is effectively another country all to itself with its own versions of both Welsh and English. All of it is of course lovely, with one or two exceptions. Lying somewhere around where west becomes mid, is the little village of Llandysul (CLAN-di-SIL say 'clan' with your tongue in the roof of your mouth and back a bit, trying not to spit). Here we find the Tregroes Waffles company, making what is essentially a Belgian/Dutch biscuit the toffee waffle or Stroopwafflen as they are known in Benelux.

At 86mm in diameter the toffee waffle is impressive beast, almost as big as an Australian Wagon Wheel or 1.41 Bourbons to use a more precise unit of biscuit measurement. Two waffles sandwich a layer of lightly cinnamon spiced buttery toffee, which is chewy at room temperature. The waffles are also available entirely coated in either milk or plain Belgian chocolate. The straight waffles are sold in packs of eight or two, and the chocolate ones again in eights or singly.

Now if you are familiar with this genre then you'll know that one of the fun things to do with your waffle is warm it up by placing it over your hot drink. The warmed up toffee becomes runny and there is much fun and eating pleasure to be had breaking them open and making long threads of toffee. You can also pop them in a microwave for 15 seconds which possibly works better as the steam from your hot cuppa can make them a tad soggy. Heating them also suitably alters the balance between the toffee and spice flavours. You can also pop them in the freezer and break them up over ice cream.

Now obviously this heating thing shouldn't be applied to the chcoc coated ones, not unless you want to create a real mess. The Wife and her cohorts, however, being novice waffle eaters took my melting tips too literally and melted the chocolate ones I gave them for testing. It didn't go well, which is a shame as the chocolate ones when eaten sensibly are really rather excellent. As you bite into it you first break through the crisp chocolate shell, then the mildly crunchy waffle and then into the chewy toffee. Anybody in need of a self indulgent 216kcal sugar rush is going to be very happy with one of these.

So where can you get hold of them? Well they are widely available in their native Wales. Outside of Wales they are fairly rare but those living in London can pop along to Selfridges, Harvey Nichcolls or Fortnum and Masons, take your pick. The rest of us can order them directly off the Tregroes Waffle web site, which is splendidly bilingual.

Welsh toffee technology

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Arnott's Mint Slice

Sunday 15 Feb 2004

Last November the Wife visited Egypt on a covert biscuit hunt, and returned with two interesting packs which we subsequently reviewed. Also on the mission with her was amateur biscuit hunter Hazel, who was being trained up in the techniques and tactics of biscuit hunting. Given the latitude of Egypt and its attendant high temperatures chocolate biscuits were avoided. However, when amateur biscuit hunter Hazel reported in for an assignment whilst on route from New Zealand to Oz, we decided to set her a stiff challenge, bring back a pack of the fabled Arnotts 'Mint Slice', a dark chocolate covered treat whose repute is only eclipsed perhaps by that of its stable-mate the Tim Tam.

Having tried quite a few of Arnott's biscuits I've come to expect very high standards and I've also heard the Mint Slice spoken about in reverential tones. I tried to push these thoughts to the back of my mind as I bit into the Mint Slice, and maybe failed, as initially I wasn't wowed. Very much an Arnott's production with a crisp and porous cocoa flavoured biscuit base. The Mint cream is flavoured with South American mint oil and has all the elegance of an after dinner mint. The cream filling is complemented by a coat of dark chocolate which has just enough of a bitter edge to pull off the act.

Returning to the biscuits for their second tasting a few days later I was better placed to give them a fair assessment having now been formally introduced. This time I noticed how the whole biscuit behaved, with the significantly deep layer of mint cream providing lots of smooth yielding texture, plus a bit of slippage. I also have to note how regular the shape and finish of the majority of the biscuits was, enhancing the after dinner image cultivated by the mint slice. Actually I found myself missing the recent happy-go-lucky placing of the the components of the Mint Viscount, with the Mint Slice being almost clinical by comparison.

So on reflection I was impressed by the Mint Slice. It might be another of Arnott's 'adult' orientated biscuits, but that didn't cut much ice with the younger members of staff, who mounted a couple sorties on the review tin.

Now for all you aspiring amateur biscuit hunters out there, below is an example of what happens when you bring back chocolate biscuits in tropical temperatures in your luggage. Also below is a reference pack obtained in the Australian shop in London's Covent Garden. See if you can tell which is which.

The pack

Inner tray

Oh dear

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Foxs Party Rings

Tuesday 3 Feb 2004

There is an advert on telly right now where a lady has strange food related hallucinations. The cushions next to her on the settee turn into big slices of sponge cake and the rug turns into a large puddle of chocolate which she starts to sink into in the manner of someone drowning in quicksand. As a warning against bad interior design the patterns on her wall paper turn into a flock of party rings which fly across the room just missing her head. Now you would have thought that she would be well advised to find out who has been spiking her hot chocolate with mescaline. But no, it appears that she needs to eat a small portion of specific type of chicken korma curry ready meal to banish these disturbing visions. All the same, I would probably stay clear of cheese at bedtime as well, just to be on the safe side.

Yes this week we are looking at Party Rings a biscuit that somehow escaped review in October 2002, but as those of you who have played our biscuit identification quiz will know has passed through our tins. Party Rings are made by Foxs biscuits and if you doubt my word on that you'd do well to note that Foxs has trademarked not only the name 'Party Rings' but also their shape. Full marks go to Foxs for not putting one of those annoying ™ symbols on the pack where ever they write 'Party Rings' but instead hiding that information away under the seam in the pack.

The pack consisted of five wells each holding four biscuits sharing the same colour scheme. The colours are pale pink and white, orange and white, purple and yellow, pink and yellow and yellow with pink stripes. The stripes seem to be in sort of shallow 'Z' arrangement, which has then been raked by three or four wires. The icing has been applied to the back of the biscuit allowing the attractive hexagonal pattern of stripes to form the base of the finished biscuit. The hard sheen on the icing is probably due to the use of carob bean gum, and this is used in the confectionary world for the same job. Carob, or locust bean is also sometimes used as a chocolate substitute, and chewing on a whole one will give you the best idea why.

Naturally the pale biscuit base is a simple and unassuming affair with the sweet icing providing all the excitement. Now fairly obviously this is a biscuit aimed at the younger members of staff, who took to them like ducks to water. Despite the fact that during the tasting we were not engaged in any sort of 'Party' activity our enjoyment of the biscuits was unaffected. There are no artificial colours used, and any biscuits that survive the inital onslaught should be placed in a tin to keep them crunchy.

There that wasn't too scary was it.

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