Last week whilst watching TV I stumbled across Nigel Slater’s wonderful homage to the Great British Biscuit. As a biscuit fancier I found the hour long programme fascinating. A veritable world cup selection of biscuits was laid out before the viewer – bourbons; iced gems; custard creams; penguins; nice; hobnobs and clubs to name but a few all jockeyed for position. Not only did we get to see all our old favourites Nigel and his biscuit anorak buddy Stuart Payne aka Nicey got to taste, compare and contrast and ultimately judge the creme de la creme of the biscuit world.
I particularly enjoyed the potted history of biscuits….did you know that the word biscuit has Latin and French roots? Or that ship’s biscuits could only be broken with a cannon ball because they were so hard and often contained weevils from the flour? Or that there are 10 holes in a bourbon biscuit. Huntley and Palmer , Peak Freans. McVities and Carrs of Carlisle all got a mention. Huntley and Palmer started to mass produce biscuits around 1830. Mr Huntley (a fine biscuit producer from Reading) met Mr Palmer (an engineer) and began making biscuits on an industrial scale. The most wondrous thing about the biscuits of that era were the biscuit tins – quite often works of art in their own right. At one time the tins were sent in large packing cases to all parts of the globe , a small boy would be put inside the container to position the boxes…but as Nigel wryly points out all is not right in the world of the biscuit tin because they are no longer made of tin…a plastic box just does not cut the mustard.
To dunk or not to dunk? De Bretts states that you can only dunk in an informal setting…probably because most biscuits disintegrate when they hit warm tea or coffee. Nigel conducts a fab experiment with our 10 most popular dunking biscuits to see which biscuits avoid a dunking disaster best. It turns out that the Rich Tea biscuit is the ultimate dunker with over 10 minutes on the clock. A genuine safety biscuit. Apparently your taste in biscuits reflect what kind of paper you read… pink wafer; amaretti; oat cake; garibaldi…can you name the newspaper that goes with the biscuit?
My favourite and most bonkers part of the programme was meeting the Tunnocks Caramel Wafer Appreciation Society – there is an entire room at St Andrews University that is covered in caramel wafer wrappers…the group also decided to send a wafer off to the great and the good across the land. Ted Hughes returned his wrapper with an ode to Tunnocks – it’s a great idea. Nasa demanded money to exchange hands if the group wanted to place a biscuit in space….I think they missed the point of the experiment. Only in Britain….
Now for the ultimate question is a Jaffa Cake a biscuit or a cake? Apparently it has been classified a cake for VAT purposes.
I must confess I normally don’t eat a lot of biscuits, but Nigel has inspired me to have a go. For my own spin on the great British biscuit I’ve used exotic flavours such as tamarind; garam masala and ginger in one of my offerings; honey salted peanuts and peanut butter in another; and the ultimate triple choc cookies that really pack a punch. I like a thick texture and a soft dough for preference…. Anyway they will be rocking up at the next market to whet your appetites…
Here’s a link to the programme…
And the newspapers were as follows; The Sun; The Guardian; New Scotsman; The Daily Mail….