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Ringtons Ginger Snap

Thursday 8 Jul 2004

There are many rules to follow when reviewing biscuits, such as trying to remain objective and fair, or not throwing the packet away before you finish the review. This weeks is a very important rule indeed, 'make sure you review the biscuits that your mother in law gave you, before visiting her'. I'm sure you can all see the wisdom in that one. Ramp up the pressure a little more by adding that these biscuits were given to her by a friend who insisted that she got her oddly biscuit obsessed son-in-law to review them or whatever it is he does, and you can see why I'm fairly bereft of free will this week. Good job these Ringtons Ginger Snaps look to be fairly tasty.

So I for one had never heard of Ringtons, who are based up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, despite making a lightning visit up there last summer, and divulging to a Taxi driver that I had an interest in biscuits. It seems that Ringtons is a bit of an institution having been in business for very close on a hundred years, and through out that time being under the management of the Smith family. Today the fourth generation of Smiths are running it, and you may well be wondering why they aren't 'Smith's Ginger Snaps'. Well they used to have a partner at the beginning called Tetherington, so they pinched the end of his name, took the S from Smith and the name of Ringtons was born. Ringtons are very much a one stop shop for the tea and sit down aficionado, starting life as a tea merchants and selling tea, caddies, their own range of biscuits and even coffee. Just as they did in 1907, Ringtons specialise in door to door delivery, which today relies on a fleet of vans and network of 32 sales offices. They also have a website through which their goodies can be purchased.

Good. What about the Ginger Snaps? Well they are giving the 'only the finest ingredients', line pride of place on the pack, so its with some interest that they are using hydrogenated vegetable oil, which one would hope is the finest fully hydrogenated stuff. Anyhow, I have to say they do taste very good. A quick comparison with three other sorts of ginger nuts (McV, M&S and Griffins) revealed they do have their own distinct ground ginger flavour.The Ringtons magic bullet would seem to be a pinch of nutmeg in the recipe, which is nice, as nutmeg doesn't get as much action as it would like. The biscuit is very light and porous, and much more like the Bothams biscuits we reviewed last year than any of the control group. Often with such a well risen biscuit there is a soda taste, but this was pleasantly absent. They are also fairly large affairs with a diameter identical to a digestive. Given their texture it's quite plausible that 3 or 4 will need to be despatched per cup of tea.

Now I'll need to pack up what is left of them and bring them with me as the mother in law hasn't actually tried them, and again it wouldn't be wise for me to simply rely on my own findings on this particular biscuit.

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Café Noir

Wednesday 30 Jun 2004

It should be fairly obvious that we are tea drinkers. Not that we don't have the occasional cup of coffee, because we do. In fact as a student I drank rather a lot of the stuff, however, that aside I've always had my reservations about coffee flavoured foodstuffs. For example the coffee creams in Milk Tray or was it Black Magic, always got left till last. Occasionally some deviant would chime up that coffee creams were their favourite, and a mental note was made that the afore mentioned confection could be disposed of safely with said individual, much like spent motor oil can be taken to your recycling center. My theory was that they ran out of good ideas for chocolates and just bodged something up using whatever was in the larder. It could have equally been a Bisto cream, or perhaps a Branston Pickle cream in the selection box. The other thing about a coffee cream is that it seems to be a product of the 1970s much like Surprise freeze dried peas, or the Bay City Rollers. Or those Nylon carpets that had sort of swirly relief patterns on them and that our cat used to get hopelessly snagged up in, often requiring cutting free with a pair of nail scissors. Actually I used to quite like one of those (yes the peas). Anyhow coffee flavoured things do seem a bit dated, which is no-doubt why I have given the Café noir a bit of a wide birth till now.

So how has the Café Noir endured? Well from where I'm standing four reasons. Its made by biscuit giant McVities in one of their Dutch factories, which is handy. Tesco's seem to have taken it upon themselves to champion this biscuit, when others have passed it over. It plausibly cultivates that continental street café image through its name and packaging which always cuts sway with those who are impressed by posh coffee. Perhaps the most important factor is that its the only surviving example of a Coffee iced biscuit generally available.

At 56mm by 40mm by 8mm its a compact little biscuit. The coffee flavoured icing has an elegant simplicity to it with smooth rounded lines and a just discernible speckly pattern underneath its silky sheen. The biscuit base is light and crisp and a good bit thicker than one would expect in a biscuit of this type. It holds its graphics well, with the Café Noir logo looking like its been lifted directly from a Toulouse Lautrec poster. The icing is also fairly thick at about 3mm, and is also light and crispy. The coffee flavour whilst distinct isn't overpowering, and all credit to it didn't reek of ghastly instant coffee mediocrity. I suspect given its continental production and the speckling, something far more refined is involved in obtaining the coffee flavour.

So it appears that the Café Noir through thoughtful restraint and elegant styling has managed to carry off the feat of being coffee flavoured, whilst preserving its dignity.

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Lidl's Choco Softies

Thursday 10 Jun 2004

In the second of our Lidl's inspired reviews we couldn't come away with out my picking up a pack of Lidl's own brand version of a German classic the Super Dickmann. A little while back we had a guest review submitted of the mini Dickmann, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to review this item from the farthest reaches of the know biscuit universe. As guest reviewer Jacqui Sayer noted it has a wafer base so we'll consider it a biscuit so that we can marvel at its comedy name, and all round jolliness.

Although I don't know for sure I would imagine that Lidl's Choco Softies are a faithful copy of the Super Dickmann, if not the same thing. This is great as you can get yourself along there if you have one nearby and try the treat that must be occupying the same ecological niche in Germany as the Tunnocks tea cake does over here. Composed of soft marshmallow, similar but not identical to the noble Scottish treat the Choco Softie stands an impressive 55mm high with a 46mm diameter. A thin shell of plain chocolate encloses it and attaches the base which gives the appearance of some form of munition. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there was some form of pump action mallow gun which used Super Dickmanns as its shell. Then again from another angle they look a lot like the ghosts from Pac-Man. The box features a dozen Choco Softies, arranged in two rows with a sort of internal inverted plastic egg tray resting on top. This keeps them all in order whilst they sit there on their wafer bases.

Now I know a lot of you are going to think I've lost the plot here and wandered right off the edge of the Venn Diagram but I don't really care. This is about as 'Carry on' film, as tea time treats get and it would be remiss of us to pass it over just because its obviously hard to classify, or German. About ten years ago I saw an advert for Super Dickmanns on German TV, which in keeping with the rest of German TV left me confused and a little embarrassed. Nether the less it aroused my curiosity, so I'm pleased to finally get some closure. I should also point out that if you like this sort of thing you may well find yourself getting a little carried away. I'm also pleased that I managed to get through that with out recourse to excessive use of double entendre, there's no need really.

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