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Cafe Bronte Range

Thursday 28 Sep 2006

Its a tricky business for a purveyor of biscuits to put together the perfect couple of biscuits to go along with that welcome cuppa when you are out about. Especially difficult if they have to compete for attention against an array of tempting home made cakes, in some nice little tea room. Yes it's tall order for a couple of biscuits, they have to make you believe that you made the right call that you are indulging yourself just that little and above all that they were worth it. More often than not you'll have never met them before so you'll be judging them entirely upon first impressions. Step up to the breach Paterson Arran supplier of some the tastiest biscuits to the catering and hospitality trade.

At the start of year we took a look at a little windfall of Paterson Arran's Bronte biscuits that had turned up for a one off appearance at Asda. Much fun was had seeing off a box load of these premier league tasty biccies normally found in pairs next to kettles in expensive hotel rooms. Now Cafe Bronte has been launched as a range of stylish and tempting till side biscuits. The range includes dunking bars, shortbreads and soft cookies with such goodies as milk chocolate chips, raisins, cranberries and spices such as ginger and cinnamon (full list at the end). The range takes all the things Paterson Arran already do so well, such as shortbread (well they are Scottish), oaty biscuits (yep still Scottish) and crisp treacle laced ginger snaps and makes them temptingly larger than before. The soft cookies are really just large biscuits that manage to not be crisp and crunchy and yet don't trigger the excessively limp alarms like so many things bearing this moniker. The dunking bars are just big (30g) biscuits that have been optimised for immersion by making them long and narrow.

Now I have to say that this for me is one of the best things about the whole range, lets take it as read that the whole range is really very nice indeed so quality is not an issue. The most common problem with little packs of biscuits is just that.. they are little. This sets up all sorts of unnecessary tensions in the customer, who invariably wishes the pack had at least another biscuit in it, and wonders if they should go back for another and if everybody else will stare and point at them if they do. Not conducive to a nice sit down.

The biscuits in the Cafe Bronte range are all substantial offerings and should comfortably accompany even the largest mug or small pot of tea. Much more relaxing. Released from your fear of premature biscuit finishing you can now turn your attention to the other customers and stare and point at them at your leisure.

The biscuits are presented in clear cellophane packs dropped into little shiny black card wallets each with two little legs. A large sticky label keeps the whole lot in place and tells you all you need to know. I presume these are there to literally raise them up above the competition thereby catching your eye in that first all important encounter. Having had a big pile of them to work through we soon found that you need to peel off the label first to release the biscuits sufficiently to gain access. Once you are in you won't be disappointed, and you won't regret passing on the cakes.

Cranberry, All Butter and Choc Chunk shortbread. Oat & Raisin, Double Choc Chip, Ginger Snap, Cinnamon Snap, Fruit Shrewsbury and Choc Chip & Orange dunking bars. White Choc Chunk, Apricot & Coconut, Milk Choc Chunk & Orange, Cranberry, Dark Choc Chunk & Stem Ginger soft cookies.

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McVities Fruitsters

Friday 15 Sep 2006

Hard on the heels of McVities indulgent Belgian Choc Moments range comes a range of biscuits designed to tick as many of the healthy boxes that can sensibly be put against a packet of biscuits. So we wanted to find out if one can indulge one's fruity side and still feel good about it. McVities have even gone as far as saying the new biscuits are 'crammed full of goodness', and a little goodness never did anybody any harm did it?

The first hurdle to cross is which ones to go for? Sweet Cranberry & Almond, Succulent Sultana & Hazelnut, Juicy Blueberry & Oat or Sun-drenched Apricot & Honey. Can you see a pattern here? Dubious adjective followed by reasonable name. No doubt the blueberries at some point in their history were juicy but with the best will in the world after they have been dried then crammed or even gently placed in a biscuit and baked in a hot oven juicy is not that pertinent. Anyhow we picked up a packet of each just to make sure we weren't missing a trick.

Now I can't stress how important it is to bear in mind that McVities have set out to create biscuits that appeal to people who are choosing healthier options, a huge growth area in the industry. My point about the tick boxes is born out by the four points along the bottom face of the pack each proceeded by a tick - Contains 40% wholegrains - A good source of fibre - No artificial colours or flavours - No hydrogenated vegetable oil. Back at the beginning of August McVities parent company United Biscuits announced that they had now removed hydrogenated fat from all of their products which includes their cakes and snacks as well as biscuits, so well done UB. They might have also added to their tick list something about the sodium levels which are also impressively low, and another thing McVities have steadily been reducing across their range.

Of course all this change doesn't go unnoticed and some people have struggled with the changing textures and tastes. So it's all a lot easier to do when you have a blank canvas and are creating a new biscuit from scratch rather than tinkering with an old faithful. Its quite another thing to create a engaging personality for such a new product when it has been tailored to some sort of corporate brief on expanding market segments and opportunities, hence the aforementioned adjectives.

So how does all of this goodness taste? Well I'm sure if one was to eat these regularly then one would get used to them, but to the unsuspecting palette its going to be quite a shock. The fruit certainly makes itself known with big chewy pieces of it generously provided in all four varieties. The flavours are all present and correct too. But perhaps the most noticeable healthy feature is the sugar content which has stepped to one side to allow more of those whole grains to be crammed in. Thus the biscuits are not that sweet and the texture is soft and crumbly rather than hard and crunchy. All in all it's like a soft mealy semi-sweet shortbread with bits and pieces of fruit in.

You would do well to mentally prepare yourself prior to tucking for the first time. When we compared the nitty gritty figures against McVities Digestives then it turned out that they were broadly similar in terms of calories, fat content with the Fruitsters having less sodium and more fibre. Watch out for wholegrains and fat, as in a lot of whole-meal breads the recipes use quite a bit of it. So I don't think you can swap your celery sticks for a pack of these quite yet, although you should find them more filling than a digestive.


Lu Petit Dejeuner

Friday 1 Sep 2006

Right just back in blighty again after a mammoth three week long French tea tour of departments 41,56,22 and 61 (Loir et Cher, Morbihan, Côtes d'Armor and Orne ). Now I'll make no bones about the fact that when in France the NCOTAASD team slip comfortably into cake mode. Given the dazzling array of them in the average boulanger as one buys the morning bread it's difficult to start the day without a few croissant aux almond or an oranais or two (extravagant croissant beasts augmented with chewy baked almond paste or custard and apricot halves and generally needing a custom built box just to make it out the door in one piece). However, there is still biscuit business to attend to and setting the enormous flans, boxes of individually prepared cakes, slices, tarts and gateaux to one side I did manage to pick up one new, previously unexplored box of biscuits.

The breakfast biscuit is something of a lost art in the UK with Huntley and Palmers famous Breakfast biscuits having long since disappeared before I could become aquatinted with them. The general idea of a biscuity item that can be consumed for breakfast has been taken up by various chewy bars designed for those who want to eat their breakfast whilst on their way to work or having made it to their desk. Indeed the original H&P breakfast biscuit went down a storm in France over a hundred years ago so it seems they are quite open to the idea of biscuits for breakfast.

I have nothing but admiration for the French and their staunch support of their mother tongue (as well as their cake shops obviously). However, I've always thought they weren't really trying hard enough when the came up with Petit Dejeuner (little lunch) as their name for breakfast. I learnt precious little French in my one year's worth of French lessons at comprehensive school. Some of the blame for this I attribute to finding out that the French in addition to not having made a convincing attempt at naming their breakfast couldn't come up with a satisfactory name for the number eighty. They had to cobble something up using some twenties and a four and reaching one hundred comes as blessed relief after the painfully awkward ninety nine and its mates (quatre-vingt-dix neuf (four twenties a ten and a nine)). It's not a good advertisement for a language if some of its words have clearly been made up in a bit of rush with seemingly little thought. My disenchantment was complete when I found out that potatoes were earth apples, and they would readily drop the earth bit to maximise confusion. In fit of peek and not really envisioning that I would ever visit France I switched to Latin for the next two years and then quickly wished I'd stuck with French.

None the less I've been told that the French language is one of the few in the world which is actually contracting rather than growing. The Academy Francaise who police the French language are fond of banning interloping words that have been in common use for some time such as 'le weekend'. We on the other hand have our yearly news item on all the new slang which has made it to the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

I remained ever so slightly irked at the French over their 'small lunch' until probably my early twenties, when holidays in France kindled a desire to communicate with the natives in order to buy their beer, cakes, cheese, wine, sausages etc. Now in my forties I happily chat to the French who continue to pretend that don't understand me despite my three years of self imposed lunch time conversational French lessons.

So with all of this personal history set to one side and still with out a full and exhaustive grasp of French breakfasts, I clasped a box of LU Petit Dejeuner biscuits in my hand and headed for the till in the local Intermarche. The biscuits were set aside for our return to the UK as the NCOTAASD rules of engagement with the French clearly state that we are mostly eating their cakes, apart from the odd packet galettes which many of you will have gather by now I approve of.

Back at HQ I quickly dispensed with any thought of adopting the most blindingly obvious approach to these biscuits and had some just before lunch. I had some again about mid-afternoon and finally the next day managed to have a few about 9:45 am on my way out the door which I suppose was quite close to breakfast. The most startling thing about the biscuits wasn't the fact that they would form a woefully inadequate breakfast. No it was the fact that though they were very obviously a muesli type of affair they tasted strongly of orange peel. Sure there was an out of focus orange pictured behind the biscuits on the pack but I thought that was just set dressing. Eventually a thorough search of the box revealed in the small print on the bottom that these were indeed biscuits with orange, and the ingredients listed all sorts of orange stuff too.

Once again the French are seeking to un-foot me just as I mistakenly think I'm getting to grips with it all. A stealth orange biscuit disguised as early morning muesli. They are nice enough, but they certainly aren't going to see off a few slices of toast, let alone a bacon sandwich and a mug of tea, and the croissant section of the bakery can still expect my full attention.

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