• The Tenuous Purpose

    This Blog is built - not, as some might expect, on a flimsy whim but on a strong and single minded principle.

    That principle concerns Biscuits and their position in the world.

    We are really very keen on biscuits.
    As are many of you out there.
    We think.

    We wish to create an archive of Arrowroot, a backlog of Bourbons and a catalogue of Chocolate Fingers. Anybody can contribute an entry - or dispute somebody else's - provided they are not dull.
    Even Americans who perhaps don't really have the heritage of biscuitry that we are fortunate to have here.

    Or maybe they do and we are unaware of the full glory of the cookie.

    We realise that this whole subject is admirably and concisely dealt with by that excellent and unbeatable website A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down. Our feeble efforts will be as the kicking of a gadfly in the face of their wisdom and experience but we hope that we may have a small contribution to make.

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    Mark Diacono of Otter Farm
    He does sterling work growing many inappropriate plants in Devon. He dedicates a great deal of time and effort nurturing a plethora of plants that are (mostly) totally unsuited to our climate. His is a life of such extreme eccentric dedication that to start a Blog about Biscuits seems perfectly normal. He treads gently in the footsteps of people like the great William Buckland,a professor of Geology who claimed that he could tell location by tasting the local topsoil.

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A Bit On The Side

No dear reader, I’m not proposing to take us all into the seedier parts of the blogosphere, but to consider those token biscuits which sometimes appear when partaking a brew at various catering establishments or hairdressers.

I have had the opportunity for close inspection of these offerings on no less than three occasions in the past week

Firstly to my hairdressers. There’s an entire drinks menu to peruse whilst awaiting Marissa and for some reason I forego the wine – it is 9am after all and I do want to ensure I’m in a fit state to inspect the finished result in the proffered mirror at the end – and select my usual ‘white without’ coffee.

This brings us to the first biscuit of the week. A slim, caramelly-cinnamon sort of flavoured biscuit of the Lotus variety I’m always at a loss when these are proffered: the first floor of a 1960s built establishment over Superdrug doesn’t readily conjure up the cosy brown café culture of Belgium. Perhaps if they managed to procure some of the original, splendidly named Speculoos biscuits we sampled in Bruges earlier this year – especially if it was one of these – I might feel differently?

Then there’s my local farm shop. We live less than a mile away and went to try their café for the first time this week. It’s been open for at least a year, but you know how it is, those attractions close to home are usually those least visited, if at all.

And so to our repast. Not only did our gorgeously sticky piece of organic ginger cake arrive, the accompanying saucers sported a shortbread biscuit of the kind usually found in a Wetherspoons pub. You know the sort of thing – tiny, round and anaemic – guaranteed to induce an instant craving for an entire packet of chunky shortbread fingers after consumption. Luckily these are conveniently to be found in the home baked goods area of the shop on the way out.

Finally, on to a GNO rendezvous with my friends in Bristol at our favourite Italian restaurant. The evening is marked by much wine, laughter and pasta, plus large cappuccinos to round off the meal. We find they’re not accompanied by your ordinary common or garden biscuits, oh no. Instead their cheeky continental biscotti cousin – like these – makes an appearance. Sugared, thin, stuffed with hazelnuts and impossible to consume without dunking. Try them dry at your peril: they’re guaranteed to break at least a couple of teeth if you do.

As an avid and enthusiastic biscuit consumer, I’m not sure whether to be insulted when these tokens are proffered at the side of my coffee, or to just simply treat them as an ‘appetiser’ to my ‘main course’ later on. What do you think? Have you enjoyed any of these mini-biscuits on your travels or travails, or did you head for the nearest biscuit isle at your local supermarket to find something more substantial instead?

Michelle Chapman

12 Responses

  1. Marvelous. What we are offered quietly, unassumingly I think says alot about the offerer – probably much more than when (say) offering someone working at your house/while you work at someone else’s house. A plateful of chocolate half-coaters is meant as a clear statement of your appreciation of their workmanship/ability to keep the house clean while they do it or, in exceptional circumstances, an encouragement to up their game a little. The little crunchy tablet snuck onto the saucer next to the coffee usually feels generous but is of such poor quality that it generally disappoints.

    At school, I was not averse to playing the ‘would you be as hog-ugly as peter beardsley yet have his skill, ability to delight and his piles of dosh, or be you: crap at football, middling (at best) when it comes to appearance, and skint?’ game… So, you’re at the hairdressers/barbers, would you choose: instant, own-brand, chicory-based coffee and a cheap, oversweet, vaguely gingery biscuit and a good haircut, OR gaggia espresso, with a biscuit-trolley (now there’s an idea) of biscotti, shortbreads, boasters, hobnobs, Club biscuits, Malted Milks, plain choc digestives, leibniz, a stray wagon wheel and a rather sketchy, not-quite-awful-but-your’re-not-sure-they’ve-finished haircut? Not sure myself

  2. Mmmmmmmmmmmm, I just love those hairdresser biscuits! Crispy, caramelly, just perfect after you have endured your head massage & are trying to drink your coffee without bits of trimmed fringe floating on the top. They also used to serve them in the cafe at Kew which always put me in a bit of a quandary: should I eat the crispy biscuit before or after my cherry flapjack!

    I only recently ‘found’ Lotus biscuits. Fab!

  3. A very enjoyable and entertaining bit of reading and thinking about the Biscuits of Europe. There is so much to learn about them, like when to be offended when someone offers you a treat. Must get that under my belt before heading to the British Isles.

  4. Mark – as someone who previously frequented a hairdressing establishment sporting decent biscuit fare, whose husband then awoke her at 3am in the morning screaming that her fringe was awful, I think you can guess where my choice now lies.

    Ms B – I think the crispy biscuit’s an appetiser before the main course 🙂 Cherry flapjack – yum.

  5. Mark – if I spot the introduction of a lavish biscuit trolley as you’ve described at The River Cafe in Bath, I’ll know where the idea came from…

  6. Frances – when you get over here, we’ll be baking frantically to give you the welcome you deserve!

  7. I’m with Ms B on the hairdressers biscuits! They know I like them and always give me two.

    The Italian cantucci biscuits should always be dunked in a good vin santo which vastly improves even the driest, hardest ones of them.

  8. Biscuits on the side – uummmmm, in general I slip them into my bag and give them to the dog. That’s what I think of them. Though the M&S ones are quite nice; little round dense oaty affairs.
    Give me a free square of super dark chocolate (this rarely happens but it did in Caen a few weeks ago) and then I’m happier, though Maggie isn’t.

  9. P.S. What sort of hairdressers do you go to? Mine wouldn’t give out biscuits of any quality, wick or brilliant. In fact you get freezing cold tap water or a luke warm coffee-ish drink at mine.

  10. Oops – I see I missed the vital Cottage out of River Cafe. That’s because I’m still stunned from finding out that the cinema I thought was still there actually shut 10 years ago and the venue’s now a comedy club with River Cottage goodies built in!

    Arabella – I knew you could be relied on to give us the proper use for those biscotti!

    Carrie – I’m with you on the chocolate, especially if it’s dark (sorry Sally, it’s dark chocolate digestives and hob nobs for me). My hairdresser’s? Just the ordinary sort – the kind where they ask you if the water temperature’s fine after they’ve sloshed gallons on your head, but the head massage is heavenly. And my hairdresser lives in one of Chippenham’s new eco houses, which came with a water butt and a sedum roof over it. Trendy or what.

  11. This is too funny – I’ve just had this message from WordPress:

    You are posting comments too quickly. Slow down.

  12. I’ve never even opened one of the posh biscuit packets they give you at the hairdressers, they don’t seem real. Besides, I think biscuits are a bit like wine – one should never consume them in front of someone who isn’t doing the same.

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