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Traidcraft Cookies

Friday 18 Mar 2005

Spring has finally sprung here at NCOTAASD HQ. The birds who have taken up permanent residence within about four wing beats of the bird feeder have all gone for a nice fly, to see what else is happening locally. The crocus and daffodils are all in full bloom, and Wifey is out scrutinising the ladybirds making sure that they are all doing what they should be doing and that there are no nasty interlopers. So perfect conditions for biscuit reviewing in the garden.

As promised we are taking a look at some fair trade biscuits this week, and because they are all lovely and ethical we'll overlook that they are calling themselves cookies. The biscuits are produced in the UK for Traidcraft and may be bought through many outlets including their own webstore, and their site has a comprehensive page on how you can buy their products.

So lets start with the smallest biscuit first the Organic Brazil Nut Cookies. They are made with 20% fairtrade organic sugar and 10% organic Brazil nuts. The nuts are collected by some nice Bolivian people who tend to have about 30 or 40 Brazil nut trees per family in their local bit of the Amazon rain forest which they harvest. Apparently Brazil nuts are full of some very useful stuff indeed, and eating them seems to be a very good plan. No doubt the beneficial effects of their alpha-linolenic acid, which converts to omega-3 fatty acids in the body is completely undone by embedding them in a tasty biscuit. Still at least those nice people in Bolivia are benefitting from us ploughing through a pack of these. Essentially a sweet oaty biscuit they were right up my street. Texture wise I found them a little too open and soft, but that is all as it should be for something that is performing the function of a very well risen cookie.

The stem ginger cookies managed to add another 50g to their pack taking them up to 200g, and accordingly are that bit bigger than their nutty chums. The biscuits once again feature 20% fairtrade sugar and 10% fairtrade crystalised ginger. The Ginger is present in some fairly large lumps, which actually give you some thing to chew on. The Ginger is sourced from small growers in Kerala Southern India, via a modern plant that offers them a fair and guaranteed price. The biscuits are fairly similar in texture to their nutty friends, but the lack of oats in this recipe means that if anything the ginger lumps are even more easily broken free of the biscuity coating in the mouth.

The final biscuit is a double chocolate chip cookie, meaning the the chocolate is present twice, once in the chips and again in the biscuit dough in the form of cocoa powder. The 20% fairtrade chocolate used comes from the Dominican Republic, whose cocoa crop was damaged in the 1998 Hurricane George. The local growers are starting to get back on their feet, and Traidcraft pays them a premium price for their produce. The chocoholics will be pleased to hear that these were the biggest of the three biscuits we looked at, and I also found them to be the crunchiest. The overall flavour was probably more influenced by the 5% cocoa in the biscuit than the 15% in the chips, but this should be of little concern to those who will be buying this biscuit on moral grounds or indeed pure "shovel it in, it's got chocolate in it" grounds.


Pan European Choc Sandwiches

Monday 7 Mar 2005

Well after our stomach turning new year south east asian multireview we decided to round up several of the recently sent in review biscuits from Europe. As they were all variations around a the theme of chocolate cream sandwiches a multi-review seemed the way forward. So for ours and your consideration we have from Italy the Ringo, from Czechoslovakia the Disco, from Slovakia the Kakaové Venecky, from Turkey the Tempo and from Greece the, erm, the.. well I don't really know what its called. The expression 'Its all Greek to me' is very apt, except there is the odd bit of English. Perhaps you can work it out from the packet. We'll refer to it as the 'Greek one', if that's OK.

So to the Ringos sent to us by Daniella Whittall. With a mere six large coin sized biscuits in the pack it's clear you are intended to eat them in one sitting. Full marks go to Pavesi, now part of the large Barilla group, for fusing together two different biscuits a plain, and a cocoa to produce a composite sandwich. It is such an obvious thing to do but I don't recall seeing such a thing before. Alas the biscuit doesn't quite come up to the standards of it's design, being a bit small and unremarkable. Mind you Daniella says that she has become somewhat addicted to them, so maybe I haven't properly bonded with them.

James (Yorkshire Tea Man) Watson, has achieved levels of attention to detail in biscuit hunting and retrieval worthy of say Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. James sent through three packs of biscuits in a particularly well padded foam lined box complete with flow pack. Really the only level above this is to have a custom made moulded foam insert produced, in the manner of the collector in Toy Story 2. Not only that but James included the till receipt, the carrier bag used and a photograph of himself standing outside of the supermarket in Prague. He wisely omitted the longitude and latitude of the supermarket less the information fall into the hands of a hostile group of anti-sandwich biscuit types with a cruise missile going spare.

To start with the Diskos, what exactly does 13.90 Korun (that's Czech money, about 32 pence) buy you? The biscuits are made by Opavia who are now part of the Danone Group as was our own Jacob's until recently. Opavia are the biggest producer of biscuits in eastern europe and were formally state owned. The company has seen extensive modernisation since the early 1990s and has also appropriated that other Danone brand of LU to become LU-Opavia. So it's not much of surprise to find out the Disko is really petite LU Prince. Two extremely light crispy biscuits sandwich a dark cocoa creme filling, repeating a formula found across continental Europe. Unfortunately there was nothing new here, so we moved on to the back up pack of Slovakian cocoa ring biscuits, called Kakaové Venceky. Unfortunately these proved to be a bit chalky and harsh with flecks of coconut. More chalk downland core sample than tasty snack.

So hoping for third time lucky we reached for the third pack ülker Tempo, a Turkish version of the Oreo by all external appearances. The pack evokes nature's warning colours of black, yellow and red. However once inside the biscuits turned out to be a lot less hazardous than Oreos and a lot paler despite the picture on the pack. In fact they were almost pleasant. A paler cocoa biscuit actually allows the vanilla creme filling to make its contribution to the overall taste (no they don't taste of overalls). So this is a possible survival biscuit if you find yourself in engaged in some form of tea activity in the Balkans.

Finally we move to Greece and Papadopoulos, whose weeny little 85 gram packs of 'Upside down backwards capital L, backwards 3, strange upside down h, i, upside down sort of Q, T (hoorah T), almost an a' look very attractive. Arriving at NCOTAASD HQ via a London based network of hand couriers, the Greek ones were aquired by Jennifer Courtney. Not only does the biscuit have a strong resemblance to the Tempo, with a central raised letter and but it also tastes similar. WIth much the the same sweet warm brown biscuit, you have to wonder who is copying who, although the 'Greek ones' do claim to be 'neo'. The chocolate creme in the Greek ones however seems to produce a slightly more coherent and confident offering. I could probably subsist in biscuit terms on these for a few days.

So after a whistle stop tour of Europe what are the conclusions drawn? Well there are a great deal of biscuits that if push came to shove you could just about get by on for a few days. However all too often they are either crudely over sweetened or just a bit too bland, to really get on well with a cuppa. It might be wise to pop in an emergency pack of your own into your case before you leave these shores.

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Fox's Mint Echo

Wednesday 16 Feb 2005

If this week's 'Biscuit' wasn't made by Fox's whom we hold in some regard then I'm afraid it would have probably found itself so far into the the chocolate bar circle of the Venn Diagram as to be off our radar. However, having as it does a vestigial backbone of biscuit baked by Batley's finest biscuit bakers we thought we would swallow our pride along with a couple of packs of these and see what they were all about.

First off apologies for the rather less than perfect cross section of the biscuit. It's not quite at the required 90 degrees, plus the trusty NCOTAASD Kitchen Devil has managed to smear the chocolate a bit. However, what it does admirably demonstrate is that Fox's have painted a very honest representation in the form of their own pack front Echo bar dissection image. The ratio of pale green stuff to brown stuff appears spot on, and it's also possible to make out in the bottom right of the plucky little biscuit spine a granule of the green candy pieces that have been embedded into the biscuit. And whilst we are talking of the pack it has to be said that old Fox's M&S bells are ringing louder than ever. This pack looks like it was designed for M&S, the fonts, the colours, layout everything shouts M&S food hall, but yet is strangely a bit 80s retro. I'm half expecting to find an airbrush picture of a cocktail glass and somebody in leg-warmers with hair extensions. So before Kenny Loggins gets started, it's on with the review.

Fox's have always been keen on these little sugar pieces, perhaps most extremely so in their Sprinkle Crinkle Crunches of 2002, a biscuit so sweet that it made a boiled sweets seem like wholefood. The other exciting thing about the green granules indeed all of the green stuff in this biscuit is that apart from a pleasant minty flavour, they are rendered green due to chlorophyll. OK, maybe I shouldn't be impressed by that as plants have been pulling off the same trick for the last 3 billion years.

Upon opening up this or indeed any other of Fox's Echos one is immediately stuck by the quality of the moulding and smooth shiny chocolate surface. This feels like it's been carefully crafted and not just slapped together. The placing of all the elements is flawless and one feels quite destructive as you set about biting into it. The younger members of staff had no such compunctions and quickly decided that removing the green stuff from the biscuit was the first and most obvious plan of attack.

So enough of the aesthetics, what did it taste like? Well the bubbly mint flavoured chocolate is plainly some sort of cousin of the classic Mint Aero chocolate bar. Indeed Fox's must have thought long and hard to come up with a four letter name ending in 'O' that makes you think of large expanses of air. On another day no doubt I would get very pre-occupied with exactly how the bubbles get into the chocolate. However, today I'm still thinking about the Chlorophyll, so we'll take the bubbles as a given. Suffice to say the chocolate fans are going to love these, as they do taste a notch above the run of the mill. I suspect that the shiny surface and dark colour are a testament to a high proportion of cocoa butter in the milk chocolate. The biscuit, bless it's heart, hardly even made an appearance in the overall taste/texture picture, which when you consider is 76% comprised of chocolate is hardly surprising. Sure these are nice enough, but the next Fox's product I get my hands on would do well to find its way back to the biscuit part of the Venn diagram.

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