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Biscato Spicy and Plain Digesta

Monday 3 Nov 2003

A couple of weeks back the Wife came home from a short trip to Egypt. She was of course on a mission to bring back some proper Egyptian biscuits. Now there are those who believe that the Egyptians invented biscuits thousands of years ago, and the Wife said they found some in a tomb or something which is good. Always nice to have some biscuits with you when going on a long journey, even if it is in your ceremonial solar barge when you're out for an after-life trip with the sun god Ra.

Well it would be hard to think of anything more iconic of Egypt than the great pyramids at Giza. So its terrifically exciting that this weeks biscuits of the week come from just round the corner made by Biscato at Hawamidia, Giza. It turns out according to the Wife's investigations that the Egyptians love cake and biscuits, as well as a cuppa. Well they did pretty much invent the whole civilisation thing we take so much for granted for the last 5,000 years. So its not surprising they took up with tea and sitdowns. Apparently sugar crusted doughnuts are a good way to start your day, breakfast wise when in Cairo. There are shops selling sweet heavy sticky gooey cakes all over, in-fact there was one in the reception of a of the hotel she visited.

As wonders of the world go the pyramids are right up there, perhaps because its a wonder how they were built, and they are also the only surviving wonder of the ancient world. Kufu's Great Pyramid at Giza was the tallest man made structure on earth until the Eiffel tower was built. It consists of some 2,500,000 blocks of limestone each weighing about 2.5 tons, and took 25,000 workers some 16 years to build. Well given that it has taken the best part of three months for the builders to finish off biscuit enthusiast Mandy's conservatory floor, we can only marvel at those figures.

I'm going to wildly postulate that there is some sort of cultural memory that goes back through the Egyptian people to the time of the Pharoahs that gives them their penchant for cakes and biscuits, and that its related to the construction of these ancient monuments. We all know that modern day builders can achieve little without regular tea breaks and a biscuit or seven, and these guys are working with modern tools and a transit van. For the builders of the pyramids there weren't any variable torque hammer drills or those embarrassing soppy mini diggers things that they use to make little trenches. No, the ancients had some copper chisels, rope and some big sticks with which to quarry out blocks of stone weighing as much as a couple of transit vans, then drag them to the top of the tallest thing humans would build for the next 4,500 years. Personally I would be after some very serious tea and sit downs, if that was my career. I re-pointed a small amount of brick work last weekend and it took two pots of tea and a packet of Australian jam rings to get it under control.

Anyhow, what were the biscuits like? Well they both came wrapped in cellophane with the Spicy ones having clear bits where you could see the biscuits inside. Both types according to the ingredients had 100% natural butter, which was wonderful and odd. I'm going to keep a look out for un-natural butter now. The Spicy ones as you can see had a lovely swirl on them, and five holes, and were crisp and cinnamon flavoured. In fact the cinnamon must be from bark rather than stem, and was quite roughly ground and little bits of it could be nibbled from the biscuit. All in all a very nice little biscuit.

The Plain Digesta, wasn't anything like a digestive, in fact it wasn't really like anything that I could easily mention, but it was also quite familiar. Again the use of butter in the recipe gave a very pleasant taste and the biscuits were crisp and baked to a golden colour with a paler colour inside. Quite thin, and no bigger than say a ginger nut they were quite petite. I really liked these and found no difficultly in dispatching half a dozen before I had half emptied my mug.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of these biscuits and there are certainly a some nations nearer to home that would go up in my estimation if they had stuff like this on their supermarket shelves.

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Arnott's Raspberry Shortcake vs Weston's Jam Fancies

Friday 24 Oct 2003

Well a little while back a made a slight whimpering noise about the lack of jam based biscuits, as I was personally going through a big jam episode in my life. The Wife had just made six pots of Raspberry Jam and I had made four pots of wild plum, blackberry and apple jam. Ace biscuit hunter Simon Smith heard my pleas and sent up some Aussie jam sandwich style offerings for sacrificial deployment in the NiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown front-line biscuit tin.

We pitted Weston's Jam fancies, whose strap line is 'a fruity indulgence!' against Arnott's Raspberry Shortcake, strap line 'Sweet and interesting'. Now those of you who read the review of the Weston's Wagon Wheel may already be one step ahead and asking is there a connection to the Jammy Dodger? Well there are strong family traits visible here and a fascinating throw back to earlier incarnations of the Jammy Dodger. As discussed in the Wagon Wheel review we know that the Weston brothers deployed their recipes in the UK, Australia and Canada. Today's Jammy Dodgers seem much paler and the shortcake biscuit softer than in the past, however a Westons Jam Fancie is like a mini biscuity time machine, taking us back to darker crisper biscuits. There are of course differences the most striking of which is the five different designs of swirls and holes, none of which are heart shaped. The jam is Raspberry flavoured plum jam as we would expect, but the addition of vegetable gum failed in making it quite as viscous as the Burtons Jammy dodger jam. Were they a fruity indulgence? no not really, but they were a very authentic Jammy Dodger clone.

Arnotts Raspberry Shortcakes provided no end of surprises. The biscuit was a strange reddish colour, and the lower biscuit had six small holes in it through which the filling had become extruded. The filling was not really jam but more like a sweetened fruit pulp, appearing pink and opaque. The most alarming aspect was the seemingly needless inclusion of coconut in the biscuit, which caught me off guard. The flavours were put in the back seat by the coconut. Having said that by the end of the pack I had become accustomed to it and was vaguely sorry to finish the last one off. Was it 'Sweet and interesting', well 'Sweet and unsettling' is how I would have put it.

Which one would I go for again? Well probably the strange Arnott's one just because its odd, but the Jam Fancies won over the rest of the team.


Foxs Creations

Tuesday 14 Oct 2003

Well a couple of weeks back I was asked to do a bit on the telly about chocolate biscuits giving an overview of the whole genre in seven minutes, and for effect I investigated the percentage chocolate content of many biscuits. For those of you who like a lot of chocolate on your biscuit there are a few heavy weights around today that in sheer chocolate content would have made even the Club biscuits of yore blush. McV have their chunky choc bars at 67%, but way out in front are our old friends Foxs with their super indulgent Creations range, one of which had a mind boggling 79% chocolate content.

Now before we go any further lets clear the air a bit. I've never made any secret of the fact that I don't much like vast amounts of chocolate on a biscuit. Right at the low end of the scale, the 24% to 30% chocolate domain of the various half coated biscuits lies harmony and balance. Cross over the 50% boundary and the chocolate can quickly drown out any contribution that the biscuit content has to make to flavour. So if a manufacturer is going to enter the murky waters of the very chocolately they really need a good plan to differentiate their product from the next lump of chocolate on the shelf.

With the Creations range Foxs have set about to make some unique and high quality biscuits that are as visually striking as they are choco juggernauts. We picked just a few of the species available from a Foxs Creations selection tin to illustrate this. The octagonal marbled chocolate whirl has been in the range from the start, and is a stunning piece of biscuit design that combines white and plain chocolate on a cocoa flavoured biscuit in a very original and contemporary way. The strawberry dream sundae is like an escapee from a box of Milk Tray. Under its thick crust of milk chocolate is a core of sweet pink strawberry cream pinning down a hopelessly out maneuvered piece of shortcake. The Nut Swirler pitches a hazelnut biscuit against a generous slab of dark chocolate, which again dominates the partnership. Finally we choose the Jaffa Viennese as taste wise this easily had the most personality of the whole collection. The soft gooey orange filling was nicely complemented by its milk chocolate lid whilst the viennese biscuit could actually be appreciated for its own qualities being only half covered.

Much of the rest of the tin used coloured foil, in red, purple, silver and aquamarine to enhance some otherwise visually identical biscuits. It would be nice if slapping coloured foil over things to enhance their allure worked for other everyday objects such old cars, out of date PCs or tropical fish. Wrapping your tatty old angel fish up in smart purple foil would certainly draw your eye to them and put the neon tetras noses out of joint.

So if you are a frustrated chocoholic who likes to pretend that they enjoy biscuits then Foxs certainly have something for you. If not then keep an eye on the range as Foxs continue to produce some innovative and premium products some of which are sure to tempt you. As for which one had 79% chocolate, it was the shortcake ring.

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