|Wednesday 15 Feb 2006|
|At this time of year NCOTAASD team like to make to make two incursions on to French soil. The first a sweeping manoeuvre down from the Swiss boarder and into Haute Savoie or as the younger members of staff call it, 'the snowy France'. This is followed a week or two later by a much shorter attack, a mere few hours long, on the supermarkets of the channel ports which I tend to call 'the shopping France'. Both have their merits. The high altitude manoeuvres allow for detailed reconnoissance of French biscuit aisles, whilst the lighting quick shopping strikes allow for great numbers of biscuits to fall into our hands. This year we captured a pack of Bastogne.
Now at this point you might be about to wearily think 'not another of Nicey's protracted military metaphors again' and indeed you might be right, but Bastogne also happens to be a small town in the Ardennes region of Belgium which featured prominently in WWII. Before the history lesson what about the biscuits?
The deep brown colour may easily fool you on first glance into thinking that these were some kind of cocoa flavoured biscuit. But what we are dealing with here is French biscuit powerhouse LU's very own Spekaloo. For those of you not previously paying attention to what that means, its a classic style of biscuit flavoured by its caramelised candy sugar content an cinnamon, typical of the Benelux countries. That deep brown colour comes from the cane sugar caramelising on baking. When we reviewed the Lotus Caramelised biscuit we were in very similar territory. They are, however, quite a bit larger than typical Belgian Speckaloos. The big Bastognes are also a good bit fluffier and not nearly as compact. So despite their large size they are seen off comfortably in a couple of bites.
That open texture also manages to contribute to the appearance of the upper surface of the biscuit which has a dragged through a hedge backwards demeanour about it. I'm willing to admit that getting all your biscuits to come out looking slightly scuffed on top is probably quite technical. Alas, LU have detracted from such a marvellous technical achievement on the packing by cloning the same biscuit image to show two biscuits side by side. You might fool the French with such cut and paste trickery, but not a Brit on his second cup of tea 25 minutes into a 45 minute tea break, oh no.
And so to WWII. Bastogne was the town that was successfully held by the Americans during the Battle of the Bulge. When the surrounding German forces requested the Allies to surrender Airborne 101st's acting commander, General Anthony McAuliffe sent back the now immortal reply "Nuts!". Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why Bastogne is one of LUs successful exports to the USA.
Your feedback 1 message
|Friday 27 Jan 2006|
|When the Voyager space craft flew by Saturn in the early 1980s the space scientists gazed upon the images sent back of its icy little moons with names like Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione and Rhea. It was the first time any of these little worlds had been anything more than tiny specks of light to human eyes. The scientists eagerly studied the cracks and fissures in the surfaces of these frozen little worlds trying to piece together their history and composition. I get a similar buzz looking at new Gingernuts.
So thanks to Alison Anderson who has sent us one of the four sub species of Arnotts Gingernut, brought over from Australia when she visited the UK over Christmas. A quick recap for those not familiar with the Arnotts Ginger Nut story. Australian biscuit legend Arnotts used to bake ginger nuts in four regional bakeries across the country, each had its own unique characteristics. When Arnotts tried a unified pan-Austrailan Ginger which according to Alison was based on the super hard New South Wales ginger nut sales dropped away. So Arnotts relented and now bake four different types of ginger nut, in the same bakery for the different states, but all in the same packaging. Oh how we would love to test this out, but at least we are now 25% nearer to a complete understanding. Being from NSW Alison has supplied a pack of her local biscuits.
At only 52mm diameter and 8mm thick this is already a compact little biscuit. Returning to those cracks and fissures I'm put in mind of another southern hemisphere Gingernut the Griffins from New Zealand. Again we see an even distribution of cracks which indicates this ginger nut raised itself in a quite a uniform and even way. The otherwise hard shiny exterior and the shallowness of the fissures tells us to prepare for a hard biscuit.
Well I didn't prepare myself fully because these little chaps are almost off the scale, if there was a scale for them to be on. My canine teeth left small pin head sized dents in the surface, with traces of whitish impacted Ginger dust in them. The illusion of tackling a small sheet of granite with a chisel was completed when I did on the third attempt manage to split on in two. The cleaved surfaces were free from crumbs and almost glassy in finish.
I had a simple choice back off and try and preserve my dental health or wade into them. I bravely took the second option, as I hadn't yet really started to think about how they tasted. They tasted fine, only mildly gingery and a pleasant uncomplicated sweetness devoid of fancy recourse to molasses or some other dark syrup. By the third or fourth I had made up my mind that I definitely liked these a lot.
When last week I exchanged emails with Paul from Victoria about the subject of Arnotts Tartlets, I told him I had never had them so no matter how wonderful he thought they were I couldn't declare them the finest tartlets on the planet. I think I went to explain that Tartlets may presently be confined as a biscuit phenomena to Australia itself, but to cheer up as I had some Arnotts Gingernuts. He said that Gingernuts were a biscuit for his Grandmother. Well good luck to her, she must have a brilliant set of nashers for an old dear, but as Arnotts themselves say "In Victoria and Tasmania, they are bigger, softer and sweeter". We have yet to confirm that.
Your feedback 1 message
|Thursday 12 Jan 2006|
|Over the years we have had our fair share of fruit shrewsbury hunts on NCOTAASD. These normally start when somebody gets hold of one those little individual packs that you find on trains and at hotels and the like. The trail usually leads back to one place, the Bronte range of biscuits made by Paterson Arran for what is generally known as the hospitality trade. This is all well and good, but for those who quite like the biscuits the prospect of having to stay in a hotel room for the night or take a long train journey just to get access to a few tasty biscuits seems a bit excessive. So it was with much glee that I spied in Asda's post Christmas 'lets get shot of them' aisle a large stack of Bronte biscuit selections, containing not just the fabled fruit shrewsbury but also six other biscuits more used to to travelling in pairs and perching next to buffet car tills.
Having so many hard to get hold of biscuits in one box was I have to say mildly thrilling. As well as the fruit shrewsburys there were choc chip, double choc chip and golden oatmeal biscuits, as well as some oaty ginger, shortcake and Viennese fingers. All the biscuits at once seemed familiar, after all I was well used to running into them at two day marketing seminars in the West Midlands, or on main line trains. However on breaking the seal on the box it felt a little as if I had been invited to a select private party where all the biscuits had dispensed with their formal twin pack cellophane flow wrap, and were instead lounging around casually in nothing more than a tray insert. "Ah yes the oaty ginger finger, we met in Birmingham about five years ago at the NEC! Hello again the golden oat crunch, weren't you and a bunch of your mates on that train to Guilford last year. Hey look over there its the oaty ginger finger - still looking as rustic as ever do you remember the Swallow Hotel on Cromwell Road?". A la recherche du temps perdu - indeed.
The Bronte range is made by Scottish bakers Paterson Arran in Edinburgh, who have been ticking along for over 100 years now. Obviously they are named after the literary Bronte sisters, and rather than show my ignorance of such matters I would purely like to say that I'm a big Kate Bush fan and I've visited Howarth once and had a pleasant pub lunch there. What was really noticeable about all of the biscuits is that they all showed their combat training experience. Having to get through life with nothing but a thin sheet of cellophane between you and all comers, even if your buddy is covering your back, means you have to be hard. If not a biscuit can easily find itself broken in two or missing a bit off the end, and this often means getting passed over in favour of other able bodied biscuits.
So Paterson Arran have obviously honed their recipes and baking to ensure that their biscuits can deal with life's little knocks. Personally I couldn't be happier about that as the biscuits are all gloriously crunchy and flavoursome, and almost sing with biscuity resonant frequencies when dragged from their comfy tray insert. Even the fruit shrewsbury a biscuit that on appearances alone one might suspect to be a bit crumbly and limp, is anything but. A bright crunchy and open texture are to found under its smooth exterior, with the odd well baked currant to found here and there.
So all in a wonderful little treasure trove, which no doubt will disappear just quickly as it sprang up in the aisles of Asda, to be disbanded and once again sent out to accompany thousands of unlikely and dubious cuppas dispensed from train buffets and hotel bars nation-wide.