Gluten-free gorgeousness Friday, Feb 27 2015 

Just wanted to pop in to say how bloomin’ marvellous these are.

A mere £1.99 for six, they taste so good…you really wouldn’t know they were gluten and wheat-free. NOM somehow seems inadequate.

In short, get yourself down to Holland and Barrett for a box now!! I even paid for mine myself, so just to make clear that neither they nor Lovemore (the company that makes them) are paying me to say this. Just thought it could be a nice hack for those trying to reduce the amount of gluten they consume 🙂  Available online here.

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LU, love you Saturday, Aug 17 2013 

I promised you a dedicated LU spinoff post not that long ago.

For those of you not in the know, LU is a French biscuit brand. They make all kinds of biscuity loveliness, and as much as I adore the offerings of British biscuit aisles in such fine establishments as Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, the French have their own range of biscuity delights that take me back, in their various guises, to times in my life as various as childhood camping holidays and tea times with the fella who’s now my husband.

So in no particular order, here are my top five LU lovelies:

BASTOGNE

Cost: €2,16 for 260g

LUvliness: Great crunch and a beautiful cinnamon flavour, which combine to make the perfect afternoon snack or cheesecake base.

Where can I buy some? Frenchclick.co.uk sells them for £2.60 a pack.

CHAMONIX

Cost: €2,12 for 250g

LUvliness: The combination of textures here is wonderful. Spongy cookie/cake exterior meets jammy apricot interior and smooth, crackly sugar topping. NOM.

Where can I buy some? Frenchclick’s price? £2.35.

HELLO

Cost: €1,85 for 200g

LUvliness: As well as being my French-camping-holiday equivalent of the Proustian madeleine, the combination of crunchy biscuit, melty chocolate chips and hard nougatine is a winning combination.

Where can I buy some? They’re trickier to get hold of these days, but many (French) supermarkets make their own version. If you’re ordering online, readers in Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium can buy from CGood.fr, who sell at the retail price (although they then hit you with a €14 shipping charge, so you’d better be buying a lot of biscuits). MonFavori.com is flogging them to UK buyers at £3.45 a pack, but shipping is dear there too. Another option could be Nouvelle-Epicerie.fr – they seem to ship to several countries, including the US.

PAILLE D’OR

Cost: €1,74 for 170g

LUvliness: The ‘golden straw’ of the biscuit name is perfectly encapsulated by the pale yellow ‘straws’ of wafer, welded together into wafer sheets and sandwiched with raspberry or strawberry jam. So light, yet so moreish.

Where can I buy some? On offer currently for £1.90 online.

VERITABLE BEURRE

Cost: €1,18 for 200g

LUvliness: A true French classic, this. Can’t be sure that LU invented it (many many brands make their own version), but this vision of the ‘true butter’ biscuit is very good: a generously-sized square that tastes beautifully buttery and salty without being too sweet. Merveilleux!

Where can I buy some? £1.49 from Ocado.

Do you have a favourite LU biscuit that I’ve missed out? Agree/disagree with my choices? Comment below 🙂

Les cakes du Jaffa Friday, Jul 12 2013 

(I know I seem to spend an awful lot of time blogging about cake and other such non-foods. I am aware that this blog is not called ferretcakeandcookies.wordpress.com. I will try to blog about some proper food soon. Promise!)

Expats often spend time hunting out the silliest little things to remind them of home, even when we are dead busy integrating into life in our new country. Hey – I speak the language every day, shop in my new country’s supermarkets, pay taxes, and even rebuff advances from my new country’s men. I’m sure you’ll cut me a little slack for wanting some Jaffa Cakes every once in a while.

Happily, when it comes to said Jaffa Cakes, I don’t need to spend time ferreting out the dead expensive real thing, because the French already have their own:

These, children, are French Jaffa Cakes. They may be made by LU and not McVities. They may have the suspicious-looking “L’original” on the box. HOWEVER, I can assure you that they are basically one and the same. They certainly taste the same. There are also many supermarket spinoffs which are even cheaper, such as these (which I don’t buy too often…at all…*cough*):

Saving me a whole €0.46. YEAH.

The only problem I have with French Jaffa Cakes is that they come in too many flavours. To me the Jaffa Cake is a classic that is not to be messed with. It has already been shamelessly copied by the French after being invented nearly 100 years ago in the UK. I don’t mind the shameless copying. However, I do mind the messing. There is no real reason for “Jaffa Cakes” to come in such ungodly variants as cherry and white chocolate (this one is, for some reason, insanely popular in France), raspberry, strawberry, pear, and lemon. Even if they may taste nice (although I can promise you’ll never see the cherry and white chocolate love child ever passing my lips), they are just not Jaffa Cakes. The perfect marriage of bitter orange and dark chocolate is simply not to be trifled with. (Or caked with. WHATEVER.)

Nevertheless, in spite of this deviation, I can feel a dedicated LU spinoff post coming on at some point. Their biscuits are just damned lovely. In the meantime, I shall just sit here and carry on dreaming of Jaffa Cakes (French or otherwise)…and marvelling at those who have dared to try and make their own.

Barilla biscotti Sunday, Mar 17 2013 

Continuing on the Italian theme, we have noticed that several of our favourite brands are in fact Italian. We use De Cecco pasta; we take Lavazza coffee as a hallmark of good quality whenever we are out, and also buy their beans for use in our own home; our fridge is never without a bottle of sparkling San Pellegrino; and our biscuit tin also gets in on the act, thanks to Mulino Bianco biscuits, which are owned by another Italian pasta giant, Barilla.

A limited selection of these is available in France, where we live. However, we were still lusting after some of the varieties listed on the back of the packet that we had never seen in our local supermarket, or those that my husband recalled eating as a child, but had not seen on sale for many years. Our urge was satisfied, though, upon a visit to Italian Continental Stores Ltd., which recently featured on the Hairy Bikers’ Everyday Gourmet series (and was irritatingly described for no reason as being in High Wycombe, when it is in fact in Maidenhead). It is an enormous warehouse housing Italian specialities of all kinds – from fresh meat, fish and cheese to all types of pasta, limoncello and biscuits. No surprises, then, when an entire wall was taken up purely by Mulino Bianco biscuits. We stood gazing in wonder for a moment, and then started taking bags from the shelves for our later delectation.

Why do we like them so much? It probably comes down to the authenticity in the flavour combinations used, the high-quality ingredients, and the sheer range of flavours available. Here are a few reviews of those we’ve tried:

Cuor di mela

With the name literally meaning ‘heart of honey’, these biscuits combine honey and apples for natural sweetness, meaning that the middle of the biscuit is not runny, but an almost ‘jammy’ texture thanks to this mixture. The Mulino Bianco website recommends consuming them with black tea (English Breakfast works well for us), and adding a fruit yoghurt to a few of these biscuits for a perfect tea-time snack. These work quite well for dunking (and this can warm up the filling a bit) but are also a little crumbly, meaning you can expect a little bit of sludge at the bottom of your cup.

Ritornelli

These biscuits alternate in stripes of almond biscuit and cocoa-flavoured biscuit, resulting in a rich and slightly floury taste. These biscuits are enormous (think the length of your palm), meaning that theoretically you should only need to eat half as many (cough). Sturdy and thick, with a ridged pattern on top, these stand up quite well to the dunking process and absorb tea well without breaking. Try consuming with a cappuccino, or perhaps a hot chocolate – and I’m sure Starbucks or some other purveyor probably sells almond syrup as well to complement your hot drink of choice should you be this way inclined. ‘Ritornello’ means ‘refrain’ in Italian, with the verb ‘ritorno’ meaning ‘I return’, so perhaps these biscuits are intended to serve some sort of nostalgic purpose (but I find that biscuits in general tend to do this anyway).

Baiocchi

Loosely translated, ‘baiocchi’ means ‘money’ in Italian, and it makes sense: these biscuits essentially look like coins, with two circular biscuits making a sandwich with chocolate and hazelnut cream. Basically a higher-class form of BN biscuits, these are flavoured in a more refined way, but are sadly not so good for dunking thanks to the creamy centre. Drink with fruit juice for a refreshing finish.

Tenerezze al limone

Meaning ‘lemon tenderness’ in Italian, the name of these biscuits certainly proves accurate thanks to its soft, sharp lemon centre. This is more like a lemon jelly than a creamy lemon curd. The biscuit, however, remains sturdy enough for dunking purposes – but, similarly to the cuor di mela biscuits, suffers slightly from crumbliness, meaning there will be post-dunking sludge to contend with. I’d recommend drinking this with Earl Grey tea, as the citric note provided by the bergamot within the tea should complement the biscuits nicely. Fruit juice would also be a suitable complement (the Mulino Bianco website recommends peach juice).

Canestrini

These biscuits resemble childish cut-outs of flowers or even suns, so I’m not sure that the name ‘canestrini’ (which means ‘baskets’) makes much sense. Resembling crunchy shortbread, they’re sprinkled with icing sugar, and would go well with a tannic green tea.

Ciocchini

Italy is renowned for its chocolate, and I’m told that while there you can drink a particular type of hot chocolate called Ciocchino (pronounced ‘choceeno’), which has now also lent its name to these biscuits. The Ciocchini are essentially chocolate chip cookies that also contain orange peel. Drink with a mocha or hot chocolate in the winter for that chocolate orange feeling, or with orange juice in the summer.

But now for the really important part…where can YOU buy Mulino Bianco biscuits?

Seeing as I’ve now got your taste-buds going, it seems only fair to tell you. Online retailers of Italian produce abound – try Nifeislife.com, Melbury & Appleton, Aromatico.co.uk or even Amazon. But not everybody enjoys shopping online, especially for food, and prefer to visit physical stores. Unfortunately, none of the major UK supermarkets seem to stock these. However, if you just Google “Italian shop” or “Italian supermarket” and then the name of your area, you may be able to find a purveyor of these biscuits locally to you. Just a little random searching produced results for Italian shops in Northampton, Cambridge, Cheltenham, Edinburgh, and St Albans. Buon appetito!

Books about tea and biscuits and cake Sunday, Mar 27 2011 

…and of course I could go on with that fantastically vague description.

We all agree, surely, that the wonderful but at times overwhelming world of Tea and Things To Eat With It can get a little tricky to navigate. Reading informative but entertaining books on the subject is certainly one way forward.

The following book reviews were originally posted to my book blog but I thought that you lot would like to see them too 🙂 Enjoy!

A NICE CUP OF TEA AND A SIT DOWN
–The blurb–
“Put a cup of tea in your hand, and what else can you do but sit down? This wonderful new book is a celebration of that most British of life’s cornerstones: taking a break, putting your feet up and having a breather. There is, however, a third element that any perfect sit down requires and it is this: biscuits. As Nicey so rightly points out, a cup of tea without a biscuit is a missed opportunity. Finding the right biscuit for the right occasion is as much an art as it is a science, and it is a task that Nicey has selflessly worked on for most of his tea drinking life. From dunking to the Digestive, the Iced Gem to the Garibaldi, everything you’ll ever need to know about biscuits is in this book, and quite a lot more besides. Is the Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit? And have Wagon Wheels really got smaller since your childhood, or have you just got bigger? […]Nicey and Wifey’s Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down does exactly what it says on the biscuit tin. So go on. Take a weight off, put the kettle on, and enjoy.”
–The review–
Ever since e-publishing and the web in general took off in any serious way, there have been worried whispers among teachers, librarians and other book-lovers regarding the future of the beloved book. However, with popular web editions increasingly coming off the web and into people’s hands in the form of physical copies (you only have to look to Belle du Jour and Petite Anglaise for examples of this), for now at least it appears that we can all breathe a sigh of relief.
Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down, by Stuart Payne, is one such book. Initially conceived as a website to catalogue information on currently available biscuits and to mourn the passing of biscuits from days gone by, and for people to get into deep conversations on this subject, it has now come off the web and appeared before us in real book form. Sales of this have probably enabled the author (and his co-contributor, referenced in the book only as Wifey) to sit back, relax, and enjoy their new-found wonga, as the website itself has not been active now since 2008. While it remains available now for consultation, this may not be the case forever, and so it does seem to be distinctly advantageous to have a real book at our fingertips as an encyclopaedia for all biscuity matters.
While that description may seem slightly overblown, the deceptively slim-looking book truly has encyclopaedic qualities. It contains everything you could ever want to know about biscuits old and new from around the world (and, to be honest, in some cases, more than you ever wanted to know – in some places it becomes wildly detailed), as well as giving information about tea, the history of tea, the best way to drink it, and what to drink it with. Cake is also given a passing mention somewhere towards the back. All of this is laid out very methodically and articulately, making it a handy reference tool.

But, further to this – even if it is slightly politically incorrect to judge a book by its cover – it is certainly not boring, as perhaps one would expect from (you guessed it) the fun-loving cover design. Stuart Payne’s piercing wit shines through at every turn, making the reader’s quest to find out more about biscuits as entertaining as it could possibly be. Accessible and intelligent without being patronising, and with a good dose of humour along the way, this is a one-of-a-kind, detailed book which will find a place on any bookshelf in the land – even in houses that don’t normally have bookshelves.

THE RITZ LONDON BOOK OF AFTERNOON TEA
–The blurb–
“An irresistible collection of traditional teatime recipes and charming stories from the world famous Ritz Hotel.”
–The review–
You may have noticed by now that I am becoming a tad obsessed with tea, given my reading of this and Stuart Payne’s missive within a very short space of time. I also noticed this occurring when somebody at work was asking me about tea, for me to say “Oh, I don’t know very much about it really” only to rattle off quite a few quite specific pieces of information, including about my own favourite type of tea (Lapsang Souchong) and how to prepare the tea.
So books like this are really for entertainment just as much as for knowledge, although by the end of this one the reader is rightly confounded by the apparent lack of link to the Ritz (in spite of its title). Apart from the book possibly being sold there, and the hotel being mentioned from time to time in the book’s earlier sections, the book really is just about tea and cakes and the history thereof in general rather than it being anything to do with the place in particular. Still, it’s not as if it matters terribly in the end, as it still makes for a satisfying and informative read as well as being lightly entertaining. The humour, tone, typeface and illustrations are all so genteel that I did in fact wonder if this was a modern reprint of a book from a bygone age; however, it was written in the mid-2000s. Whether it is intended to be satirical or serious is therefore something that comes into play but does not really matter all that much when all is said and done – much like the book’s premise itself.
Slim and concise, it is packed with information, humour, cake recipes, history and anecdote, as well as quotations from various luminaries on the subject of tea and tea-drinking. It is all highly British with its sense of “this is how you pour the tea” and “oh, but that will never do”, and all without seeming too preachy. We marvel and drool with awe at the recipes and descriptions that are included and immediately make up our minds to spruce up our own afternoon teas; in reading the history of this British institution, too, we feel proud to be imbibing a little history in our cups and feel inclined to go beyond the humble tea bag. It is, in short, aspirational and delicate while continuing to be cuttingly witty in unexpected places. In addition, its well-written, precise and slightly coy style helps in transporting us to days gone by.
A faultless and unpatronising book which not only educates, informs and entertains but also introduces us to the work of Helen Simpson – which, it seems to me, would be well worth seeking out.
Other works by Helen Simpson
Four Bare Legs In A Bed (1991)
Dear George, and other stories (1996)
Hey Yeah Right Get A Life (2001)
Getting A Life (2002)
Constitutional (2005)
In The Driver’s Seat (2007)
In-Flight Entertainment (2010)