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Graham cracker

Wednesday 8 Dec 2004

Years ago Nanny Nicey embarked on purchasing a weekly cooking magazine called Supercook, which was essentially an A-Z of recipes sold in installments. Sometimes a simple ingredient such as apples would span two weeks, with 'Apple fritters', 'Apple strudel' etc. I think 18 months later she had made it as far as F before she gave up. However, being essentially a global publication it wasn't always confined to things we immediately recognised and especially so when it came to ingredients. The internet hadn't been invented so how exactly were we supposed to find out what on earth a Graham Cracker was, and their connection to Graham. Well its 2004 now, the internet most definitely has been invented, Nanny Nicey still has her partly finished collection of Supercooks some 25 years later, so let's get to the bottom of this Graham Cracker issue.

For years now the Graham cracker issue has always raised its head in relation to one subject; Cheesecake. Cheesecakes demand a base of crushed biscuits bound together with some form of butter or margarine. In the UK the Digestive reigns supreme as the biscuit of choice for battering into little bits with a rolling pin. Sometimes the Gingernut offers itself up, but its hard work battering them flat so usually the Digestive takes over next time round. Should your recipe be of transatlantic origin, however, and you'll be advised to use the Graham Cracker. Now straight off your going to be thinking 'am I supposed to of heard of that?', and 'aren't crackers something that keeps cheese company, and maybe the odd grape?'. To be fair there is the occasional American who wonders what a Digestive is.

So this week we are going to take the world's leading Graham Cracker and put it head to head with the world's leading Digestive. Nabisco takes on McVities. Well only metaphorically you understand as Nabisco actually has a very large shareholding in United Biscuits who operate McVities. Still this is all about the biscuits not who owns who.

Down to business. The Graham Cracker according to the picture on the pack is square, and is having what appears to some form of jam being spread upon it. Right away we troubled by this challenger to the Digestive, not only is the wrong shape but it appears to be in some way dependent on jam in order to go about its business. Ok the Digestive is no stranger to the odd topping but it doesn't like to shout about it. It turns out that the Nabisco Graham Cracker is part of a whole range that inevitably includes cinnamon, apple and chocolate versions. With this in mind it was a bit of a surprise to find that the crackers inside the cardboard box were rectangular not square. They do break obligingly into two down a baked in perforation. A second line running at 90 degrees allows the square to broken in half once more. It has to said that at first glance and given their seemingly low density I was thinking 'Crispbread' not 'biscuit'. So with cup of tea at the ready, and entirely jamless I set about my first Graham cracker ever. Light and crispy, and with out so much of a whiff of hamster bedding, the taste put me in mind of, well.. , oh alright... , a Digestive. Don't misunderstand me, it's certainly not just like one, far from it. Yet if a Digestive were ever to get a Ryvita into trouble, possibly at a wild party behind the cheese board, then the resulting progeny may well end growing up to look a lot like Graham Crackers. In fact the flavour was remarkably complex, with a slight spicy finish possibly due to the bran in the Graham flour and molasses in the recipe.

The edges of the Graham cracker also present another problem. They are open on all sides implying that each cracker has been cut cleanly from a larger sheet. Although I only checked 29 of them I couldn't find a baked over end. So either there is some amazing process that produces a continuous plane of Graham Cracker (this is unlikely, as it would cover the earth or space or something (and the oven would need to hover I think (and fly around like Luke Skywalker's sand speeder ( and there would have to another upside down and underneath to bake the bottom (actually they would be more like grills than ovens) ) ) ) or maybe they simply cut the edges off and discard them, which is both wasteful and unsatisfying. If you know anything about this please get in touch as I'm going to have trouble sleeping at nights now I have thought of it.

So a Digestive it is not, though both Wifey and I were shocked at how much we liked them, and actually how relatively wholesome they were given they are from the same stable as the Oreo. As for who Graham was? The Graham cracker, precedes the Digestive by some 100 years and were invented by Sylvester Graham a Presbyterian minister in 1829. He was an early advocate of health food and invented his own coarsely ground wheat flour for its high fiber content. The flour nicknamed "graham flour" after Minister Graham, is main ingredient in Graham Crackers.

Right thats cleared it up for me at least.

A huge thanks to Monkey for sending over the Graham crackers all the way from Dallas.

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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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