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Girl Scout Cookies

Tuesday 11 Apr 2006

I joined the the scouts aged 15, thus missing out cubs and scouts and going straight into the Venture scouts. At this age you basically get to go on camping weekends with your friends, girlfriends or boyfriends, where you can start fires and smash stuff up with big axes and hammers whilst cooking rudimentary curries in big metal pots. Lots of billycans of tea and digestive biscuits were also a feature of scouting as far as I could tell as well as trips to various public houses for crisps and lemonade probably. Wifey was a Venture scout too, persuing her own similar agenda on the other side of the Irish sea. So we really have to hand it to the Americans this time, as they have come up with a way to combine biscuits with scouting, and in typical land of opportunity way use it as a means of making cash.

First off a huge thanks to Monkey at for sending over the Girl Scout cookies. Anybody who has checked out Monkey's site will see that food is probably Monkey's specialist subject. So when the Thin Mints turned up I was very happy indeed as I had been informed by other Americans that this is one of the finest biscuits in the Girl Scouts repertoire. Monkey also popped in a pack of Samosas which are apparently celebrating their 30th anniversary.

So whilst to Americans the idea of Girl Scouts forming some sort of nationwide biscuit distribution chain might seem like a slice of pure down home good ol' something or other, to the rest of the world its a bit weird. Obviously we need to look into this a bit.

There is a lot of history involved in Girl Scout Cookies, a registered trademark just in case you were thinking of making your own. Obviously that's how they started out in the early years of the twentieth century, a home baked cookie sold to raise funds for local community Girl Scout groups across the USA. In the 1930's the Girl Scout movement had licensed commercial bakeries to produce the biscuits and by the 1940s nearly 30 bakeries across the country were making the cookies. The cookies were still sold door to door with the profits going to the Scouts. The 1970s saw a rationalistion of the range with the number of bakeries dropping to 4 and standard packs being used across all manufacturers. Today there are just two bakeries licensed to produce these historic biscuits, ABC/Interbake and Little Brownie, ours came from Little Brownie.

The Thin Mint has been a mainstay of the range since 1951, and since then has been on the mandatory list of cookies that must be baked by any of the licensed bakeries. So what is it like? Quite small at about 30mm diameter and 6mm deep, a sandwich of two thin layers of cocoa biscuit with a fine layer of mint chocolate cream between. The whole biscuit is wrapped in a thin layer of dark chocolate like substance. My first impression of the Thin Mint was that it was generally OK, no better no worse. I managed to see off three or four, which the pack tells me constitutes a 'serving'. They don't have that really overt American taste probably due to the non-appearence of corn-syrup in the recipe, but it did suffer mostly from the 'chocolate' being a mixture of hydrogenated fat, sugar, cocoa and caramel colouring. If it had to appear with some of the other great mint and chocolate biscuits from around the world such as Mint Viscount or Mint Slice it might well embarrass itself. No doubt if it is what you are used to then you would be in a state of shock if real chocolate were to ever find its way in there, as has happened with our own Wagonwheel. The Girl Scouts do now have two non trans fat biscuits, it would be great if they could sort out their Thin Mints, maybe by reverting to a 1950's recipe perhaps.

The Samosa was the more junior of the two and being covered in toasted coconut I was already regarding it suspiciously. A complicated and fiddly little number, it consists of a ring of quite spongy biscuit, the bottom of which has been dipped in that chocolate stuff again, then the rest has been covered with toffee caramel much of which has come to rest in a gutter that circles the biscuits top face. Toasted coconut has then been chucked over it to stick to the caramel and finally a few more stripes of the chocolate stuff dribbled on top. I was some what galled to find I liked them. In fact I had to force myself to stop eating them.

It's fairly obvious to me now why Girl Scout Cookies are still going strong after all these years. Most children that knock on the door of NCOTAASD HQ are in heavy disguise and after sweets in return for not carrying out an unspecified act of vandalism. Failling that they return a month later after money for singing two lines of 'We wish you a merry Christmas'. If they were to turn up all business like selling rare and intriguing biscuits then I'm fairly sure they would fleece me for most of our loose cash.


Bahlsen PICK UP

Monday 6 Mar 2006

People often ask me such questions as "what is your favourite biscuit?" and "what is the most popular biscuit?" and "why do we like biscuits?" and "do other people like biscuits as much as we do?" and you get the idea. What they haven't asked up till now, at least I don't recall anybody asking is "What biscuit has an army of loyal subjects whose fervour knows no bounds?". To which the simple answer is "The Choco Leibniz, although those Plain Chocolate Hobnob people are a bit forthright". I wonder, however, how many of the Choco Leibniz folks have even heard of its street wise off spring, the Pick Up.

Simply put the Pick Up is Bahlsen's go at turning the Choco Leibniz into a snack bar format, via that classic formula of the sandwich. Bahlsen have fashioned a jumbo 81mm x 39mm Leibniz biscuit and embossed it with the PICK UP! logo and retained the distinctive edge sculpturing. The unadorned Leibniz biscuit is one of those that teeters between blandness and brilliance, it could easily go both ways. By sticking to recipes that use butter rather than vegetable fat it keeps its self from toppling into blandness. In fact left alone with some Leibniz and a cup of tea one soon starts to appreciate this pure inner beauty.

What is apparent upon opening up the little flow wrap sachet that the PICK UP sits in is that there is a serious piece of chocolate lurking in here. The rich chocolately smell springs out at you as soon as you tear in. What you are left holding in your hands may take you aback a little in its pure simple brilliance. Yes it really is a big slab of really very good chocolate with biscuit handles on it. The chocolate comes out flush to the very edge too.

Further investigation reveals that Bahlsen have stuck to their magic number of 48% chocolate as witnessed in the Choco Liebniz. The fact that they are doing this in the presence of two biscuits indicates what a substantial inner core there is. Now it was somebody at Bahlsen who told me of some intricacies of VAT law concerning chocolate and its placement, and its my understanding that such an arrangement of biscuit and chocolate would be VAT free as inner chocolate is not considered 'Luxurious'. Thus a PICK UP should be a VAT free staple food stuff, and not some decadent choco indulgence... Right.

As you bite into this very solidly assembled biscuit your teeth which have made it through the crispy outer are suddenly arrested by the choc monolith forcing you to change into a lower gear and with a firm bite snap off a piece. This is a non standard biscuit eating experience and whilst the crisp buttery biscuit and chocolate in your mouth are starting to resemble that of a standard Choco Leibniz, your mind is trying to assess if there are any possible weak points where you could attack next. So thick is the chocolate that you actually have expend a bit of effort chewing it.

A final point worth noting is that the biscuits have a sort of dividing line across their middle between pick and up. I applied some pressure and sure enough it split obligingly in two. I think they look more impressive left as a whole though.

So where do you get your hands on this little chap? Well Tesco Express seem to carry them as do some other independent stores, and if you spot them they are well worth investigating.


Milk Chocolate and Orange Hobnob

Friday 24 Feb 2006

In our recent biscuit poll the Chocolate Hobnobs both plain and milk came tops as the favourite biscuits that people are most loyal to. Or to put it another way not only do people like them but they all buy them too. With all that's been happening to the Hobnob's stablemate and elder statesman the Digestive it was only a matter of time before the Hobnob received some similar attention. Once again the Orange was choosen for the mission of coming up with a new sort of biscuit, and once again we got our hands on pack of them before they hit the shelves.

So what can we say about the HobNob that we haven't said before no doubt you are wondering as are we? Well it is worth pointing out what an amazing success story this oaty biscuit is. From a standing start in the 1980s it quickly rose to become one of the most successful biscuits ever, and it did it fairly much through simply being rather tasty. In fact so famous has the Hobnob become that even the Americans have heard of it, mostly through it being mentioned by Douglas Adams once.

So now we come to the important matter of what these chocolate orange Hobnobs actually taste like. Now when we encountered the first flavoured Digestives such as Lemon and Ginger, and subsequently the Milk Chocolate and Orange our hopes were for new vistas of biscuit taste to be revealed. We quickly learned that the flavours were much more evolutionary that revolutionary. Thus it would appear to be with this new biscuit, and gain to put it another way, they tasted just as we suspected they would, with a pleasant orangey tang emanating from the biscuit. This is no bad thing and harks back to the earliest days of the Hobnob which seemed instantly familiar. Perhaps this explains why they so successful at finding their way into the nation's biscuit tins.

So with the formalities over Wifey and I soon polished off a few with our mid morning cuppa, with the occasional approving noise to heard over the munching. This left me to search the packet to see if it actually held any surprises, given that the biscuits had been so predictable no matter how nice that had been. The best I could come up with is that the obligatory strap line "One nibble and your nobbled" had disappeared. Always one for reading deep meaning into such things perhaps McVities feel that that we are all now 'nobbled', and the vast majority of us have long since passed the one nibble stage. As such these new Milk Chocolate and Orange Hobnobs will be another big seller for McVities when they hit the shelves in March.