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Marks and Spencer Dark Chocolate Ginger

Tuesday 9 Mar 2004

Laura Allen got in touch a little while ago to suggest that we review M&S Dark Chocolate Ginger biscuits, and finding myself wandering around in an M&S a few weeks back I decided to follow up on the tip off.

When it comes to food M&S don't muck around, and a trip round their 'food halls' is always a mouthwatering experience. As a child I always remember how M&S always seemed to be at the cutting edge of potato snack world. Which ever new shape, texture or flavour creation had just been dreamed up, M&S would have it, in bags the size of pillows. As a destitute student I remember once blowing the best part of a weeks grant with my girlfriend and buying all the bits for a luxury picnic, such little bar-b-que chicken legs and tubs of potato salad and some cream buns. We climbed to the top of a hill that over looked the City and made ourselves comfortable in the shade of some broom bushes. As we opened the chicken we were pounced upon by ginger striped hill cats, who assailed us with a mixture of purring, longing looks and moderate aggression. Obviously they had never tried to part a student from a M&S picnic before, but eventually made off with some chicken skin.

M&S have had a long and happy association with Foxs biscuits over the years with Foxs producing the bulk of their range. I don't happen to know if these are a Foxs production, but I would in this case be a little amazed if they weren't. The 52% dark chocolate is mostly to be found on top of the biscuit as can be seen in our cross section. The biscuit is fairly pale and porous, with a delicate ginger flavour that is much more like that of preserved ginger than the robust flavours of conventional gingernuts. The reason for this is the use of ginger oil rather than powdered ginger. Ginger is yet another one of those things I didn't know you could get oil out of, but apparently you can. Its full of mad stuff like beta-sesquiphellandrene and zingiberene, so you are probably best not putting it on your bicycle chain or frying your chips in it. I expect we'll shortly find out how its the very thing that your hair looses when you blow dry it, and they'll start adding it to shampoo.

Overall the plain chocolate and ginger combine to create quite a piquant little biscuit. However, there is always a slight note of tension when you open a box of biscuits and can instantly count them. In this case there were 12 which is only just into double figures, so with most other items in the M&S food hall these are really a luxury item.


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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