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Chocolate Chip Cookies Arnotts vs Maryland

Wednesday 24 Nov 2004

Time for another of our Northen Hemisphere vs Southern Hemisphere run in's. This time the biscuits competing for glory are from Australia the Arnott's Premier Chocolate chip cookie, boasting 40% choc chips. From the UK we have the trusty Maryland Choc Chip Cookie, which is actually made by Burtons (it used to be Horizon Biscuits but they merged with Burtons a couple of years back). Now we have quite a lot get through here so grab a cuppa and we'll get down to some serious biscuit on biscuit action.

First let us put this whole cookie thing to bed. These are simply just biscuits, there isn't some magic ingredient or process at work here that sets them aside as cookies. Given that cookie is derived from the Dutch word for 'small cake' they must be as incensed as we are that the Americans seem to decided to bandy it around as a name for biscuits. However, when we think of cookies we do tend to expect a fairly rough looking beast with that cheerful craggy homemade profile. That's exactly what we are getting with our two review biscuits.

Arnotts are very proud of what they have achieved with their biscuit, effectively pushing choc chip technology as far as they could by redesigning their mixing and cutting equipment. At over 40% choc chips Arnotts tell us that if they put in any more the biscuits would simply fall apart. Impressive, a bit like one of those Sci-fi movies when matey over does what ever it is and accidentally disintigrates himself. Mind you there is a company in Canada called Presidents choice which also claims to have performed a similar feat, to make their 'Decadent' choc chip cookie.

Coming back to the UK we plumped for the standard issue Maryland cookie which has been doing sterling service for many years now as the best known Choc chip cookie in the UK. Often seen as part of a triple pack with double choc chip, and choc and hazelnut, the dependable little biscuit isn't looking to break any records. None the less we thought it would be an informative bench mark.

'Get on with it Nicey!' You like to rant about now and indeed I will. For a start, the Ozzy biccie is way bigger than the Brit. The Brit biscuit also seems a bit shorter (softer), which may be due to its dough not having to take the strain of so many choc chips. As you would expect the Ozzy biscuit certainly has a more chocolately taste, but I wouldn't say that I found myself standing on the edge of a new and unexplored world of chocolateness, its broad vistas beckoning to me. Well definately not because almost immediately that increasingly famliar to me Arnotts perenial reared its head. The shard of dessicated coconut. My ever advancing years have made me increasingly tollerant of coconut, but occaisonally its stands out like wood chippings in a fairy cake. Whatever the reasons for its inclusion it seems to be only present in small quantities but just enough to be annoying. The biscuit was otherwise munchy and very tasty.

Moving over to the Maryland cookie we must first ask ourselves why did a whole land end up being called Mary, and why all the biscuits? Well after an hour and a half in Google I'm none the wiser, although the first European settlement in Maryland was called St Marys, so maybe they had set their heart on the Mary thing on the boat trip over. Anyhow, the biscuits are made in the Wirral so that's all fairly irrelevant. I suppose they just wanted a nice American sounding name. Compared to the Arnotts biscuit its obviously not as chocolately and not as big. However the two are not as far apart in taste and presentation as they are geographically.

Thanks to Michael Vickers and Paul Davies for getting the Arnotts biscuits to us.

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Waitrose Organic Oaten

Tuesday 16 Nov 2004

Look I really wasn't planning on another organic biscuit review, but finding myself in the biscuit aisle of a Waitrose, their own label Oaten biscuits, which just happen to be organic, said 'buy me, buy me!'. So I did. As a forlorn Abbey crunch fan wandering the biscuit aisles of Britain, I'm always going to try an oat biscuit wether its credentials are impeccable or not. The pack designers at Waitrose sealed the deal by putting a life size picture of the biscuit which cleverly doubles as the 'O' in Oaten.

Whilst we are talking of the pack which is a lovely little cheery number with its various Os and Vs and Soil Association symbols on it, there is one vital fact to be gleaned. Written on the back is the info on the materials used to make the pack. The little plastic tray thingy inside which holds 4 stacks of 4 biscuits is called a skillet. No longer will we have to refer to it as the 'do-dah', or 'thing-a-me', but can very expertly call it a skillet. You watch, I bet that turns up as a question on who wants to be a millionaire, probably quite a high one as well like the £64,000 question.

Any how on to the biscuits themselves. Well the whole NCOTAASD team demolished them in the space of about five minutes, so I have only my first impressions to refer to, as I really didn't get a chance to become deeply acquainted with them. I immediately thought of a biscuit I reviewed last year the German Köln cake. On checking the ingredients found a lot in common between the two. Apart from the obvious oats, there is some honey as well as organic demerara sugar. Although I eventually got my eye in on the German biscuits there was initially a slightly odd sort of pet shop style aroma about them. That put me in mind of the upper balcony in Cardiff market where you can buy Guinea Pigs and Hamsters. I waited to see if the same thing would happen with the Waitrose biscuit. It didn't and then I realised I had finished it.

Left with just the odd oat-flake clinging to my teeth I tried again. The biscuits were restrained in their sweetness leaving plenty of space for the other flavours. As I tried to pin down what was going on I realised I had finished yet another. By now the numbers were dwindling fast it was touch and go if I would get another go. I tried again and successfully noticed the organic butter, before yet another biscuit was but a memory. The last one was split three ways between the younger members of staff and myself, and given that there wasn't much left to deliberate on I decided to simply note that we had scoffed the lot in one sitting.

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Jules Destrooper Almond Thins

Monday 8 Nov 2004

Sometimes its tricky to work out who is behind a Tesco's Finest own label product, other times its so blindingly obvious you have to wonder deeply why they even bother. So this week we are looking at a biscuit from Belgium, based on a family recipe going back to 1886. The self same biscuit can be purchased as Tesco's Finest Continental Almond Thins. Mind you the Jules Destrooper ones have the various name translated into Dutch, French and German, which are Amandelbrood, Pain aux Amandes and Mandelblätter. Normally trying to read German words just gives me a headache, but I think I like this one a lot.

The pack bears a crest telling us that they are purveyors to the Belgian Royal Family. Which at the least reminds me that when dreadful chap from the Daily Mirror was snooping around the Queen's breakfast table last year the very least he could have done was verify that all the stuff the Queen was eating was by appointment to her Majesty. Or indeed that her pantry was stacked full of all those royal appointment products. That would have been mildly related to journalism. At the risk of stereotyping the Belgians (but come on why should they be exempt from the broad and under-informed NCOTAASD brush, already applied to the Americans, French, Australians, Chinese and Scandinavians?), presumably the suppliers of beer, chips and chocolates are also well favoured by the Belgian Royal household. Given that we are inundated with news reports of Belgian citizens dying in their millions from this diet, we should be thinking about finding out what their secret is. They must be doing something to counteract this cardiac overload diet. Then again maybe they are dropping like flies and we just haven't taken any notice. What ever the truth, it seems that as a nation the Belgians have compensated for most of their country looking like the duller sections of the M11 motorway, by developing an essentially naughty cuisine. Good for them.

The ingredients are delightfully simple, wheat flour, brown sugar, butter, almonds and salt. Based on the evidence it seems likely that the biscuits are formed by taking thin slices off of a cold block of dough, prior to baking. This would explain the precision in the placement of the sliced almonds, and thier uniform thickness. Given the simplicity of the recipe one would expect an uncluttered taste, and that's what we get. Butter toffee sweetness, plays against roasted almonds, and the brittle biscuits can snap into unexpected triangular shards. A fairly porous underside means that dunking may be attempted, should you fancy it. The flavour is not a million miles away from nutty britle, (sheets of hard glassy toffee with embedded roasted peanuts that the sweet shop man used to smash into bits with a special toffee hammer.)

Obviously anything that comes in a plastic inner tray with an outer foil pouch and a fancy box is not going to be competing head on with custard creams. They are certainly worth a quick go and I'm sure you could wedge a couple in some nice ice cream to make a useful drop of pudding. I wonder if the Belgians have thought of that? Probably.

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