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Friday 30 Jul 2004

Whilst in Ireland the other week we couldn't help but notice the abundance of Burton's ToffyPops a biscuit which is becoming ever more scarce in its native UK. The first packet I obtained for review purposes lasted about thirty five seconds once I had given the 'Its OK I've taken the picture' signal. This left me with a solitary Toffypop, a bisected one at that, with which to carry out the review. I could have bluffed my way through it, but such is the rigour of the NCOTAASD review process I had no option but to go out and buy a second pack.

Its easy to see why the first batch took such a battering, as there are a mere ten Toffypops (name trademarked by the way) to a pack. At 50mm across 10 mm deep the Toffypop seems quite dainty. of course any small biscuit that is also carrying around 32% toffee and 13% Milk chocolate, is going to have a great deal of trouble fending for itself. The biscuit base is somewhat like a sponge flan case in cross section, although the biscuit itself probably has more in-common with its stable mate the Jammie Dodger. However, the base seemed to be slightly more crunchy than its jammy sibling. I measured the toffee well at approximately 3mm deep which certainly allows for enough toffee for it to make its presence known. It would probably be more accurate to classify the toffee as soft caramel and it readily forms dangly stringy bits as you bite lumps out of your biscuit.

The pack shows with some degree of artistic license bisected toffypops with toffee oozing from them. The biscuits afford just enough toffee to the eater for us to overlook this rather glamourised artificial reality. The ingredients list condensed milk which no doubt is used to make the toffee, much in the way its is used in bannoffee pie, or as we have learnt various Latin American biscuits (see your reviews section). The other interesting fact to be gleaned from the pack is where Toffypops have been hiding apart from Irish supermarkets. Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Spain all seem to be receiving shipments of these tasty little biscuits, whilst in the UK their habitat seems to be mostly confined to the Spar, although I haven't looked in a Coop for them. Much the same sort of thing happened to the range of Neanderthal man at the end of the last ice age 13,000 years ago. Of course they didn't all end up in the local Spar as it hadn't been invented, nor could they get cheap flights to Ireland.

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Coconut Cream

Saturday 17 Jul 2004

Well here we are sitting on the sofa in our very nice holiday house somewhere on the west coast of Ireland. The weather this week has been fantastic. In fact it was so temperate on Tuesday that we heard on the radio that a lady in Limerick had opened her kitchen window. However, its not all been waltzing around this week clad only in two layers of clothing, no there has been serious biscuit reviewing to be done. As I mentioned in the news section there is one glaring omission in my Irish biscuit knowledge and that is Jacob's Coconut Cream.

The coconut cream forms a biscuit trinity along with the Mikado and Kimberly, both of which we have previously reviewed. Now for some time now I have been made aware by Wifey and others of Irish blood of the TV advertising for these three biscuits, which has the jingle "Kimberley, Mikado and Coconut Cream, somebody you love would love some too". That may well be lyrically incorrect, and I've just checked with Wifey who is semi lashed up on Chardonnay and trying to finish a book before we leave tomorrow and has just given me three different versions. Anyhow, I was obviously far more excited than is strictly necessary when last night I witnessed on RTÉ2 a 21st century version of that hallowed advert. Not only was that thrill enough, but the advert also imparted two vital bits of information. The first was that all these biscuits are meant to be soft. The advert featured this as a key message with 'work hard', 'play hard' accompanied by suitable imagery of welding and rugby (again I may be wrong, I only saw it the once) and then 'eat soft' with pictures of people scoffing the biscuits. Now of course I've always known that the biscuit in Kimberley's was soft, I also knew it was soft in the Mikado, but I never really fully took it on board. However when faced with the last piece of the puzzle, it all clicked into place. The coconut cream's base was apart from shape and decoration was indistinguishable from that of the Mikado. Somewhere, however its carrying a small amount of lemon oil like the Kimberly and so could be providing a link between the other two biscuits. Two coconut creams left out over night from the photo shoot indeed hardened which by most people's crude jaffa cake metrics would make them cakes. This of course reminds us all that for every rule there are always exceptions, and that we should not be in search of miracle directives when trying to draw arbitrary boundaries around biscuits and cakes. It also means that I shouldn't have left the biscuits out overnight.

I suppose the very first thing that I wanted to know about the coconut cream was 'where is the cream?'. Well after dispatching six or seven I'm none the wiser, there isn't any. They taste as creamy as anything else made from biscuit and marshmallow, which is not that creamy at all. So it must be some form of poetic license and probably a more evocative name than 'coconut thing'. Pity it evokes images of cream, which as I have said is completely absent.

As to what they taste like I found myself simply missing the jam from the Mikado so I followed them up with one one and found I experienced heightened jam awareness, which I took to be a good thing. I slightly enjoyed the choice of pink or white mallow on the biscuits almost as much as I liked the 2 packs of the classic threesome for two euros offer in the local supermarket.

And now for the second bit of important information apparently there are now two extra biscuits in the range. What they are I couldn't say as I was already hopelessly over stimulated by biscuit unfamiliar biscuit advertising. Despite keeping my eyes peeled in several shops I have failed to spot these two newcomers which have now effectively moved me two steps back for my one forward.

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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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