In my spotty youth, only one biscuit mattered and that was the McVities chocolate digestive, washed down with copious amounts of milk. The combination delivered on every level as the initial sweet crumble gave way to a chocolate milkshake when the liquid was introduced. I was a packet-a-day chap in those carefree times when consciences were never pricked by Government health warnings.
I cannot say for sure that they were the cause of my spots. But it is a matter of record (in my unpublished diaries) that my skin cleared up not long after I ate my last MCD and bedded my first girlfriend. She was French and she taught me to appreciate les escargots, les cuisses de grenouille and les huitres – while convincing me that biscuits, although fine for children, were eschewed by sophisticated adults. She also stopped me wearing socks with shorts. One way and another, I learned a great deal from her; but there was irony in her denouncement of biscuits for the word came from her homeland where it means twice (bis) cooked (cuit).
But a year later, she denounced me too and thereby freed me to experiment with biscuits and other girls. Soon enough, I learned that I could never be a dunker, although I have great admiration for those who do. This genteel form of Russian roulette seems far too risky to me. And the potential losses are total: not only can the much-anticipated biscuit crash and burn before one has even tasted it but the same catastrophe ruins a lovingly made cup of tea, giving it the appearance of sewage floating on the Nile.
This annoying and expensive calamity happened often to me and always without warning. The dunked biscuit would hold its form perfectly until it cleared the steaming liquid – only to collapse spectacularly at the very moment that my lips opened to receive it. Compounding the disaster, the falling shrapnel would spray my limbs, clothes and newspaper with scalding tea.
Knowledgeable dunkers have told me that I should stick to one type of biscuit so as to become familiar with its molecular structure; and to ensure that my tea is always at the same temperature. It matters not which biscuit one chooses, nor the temperature of the tea as long as it is constant. Thereafter, with a moderate amount of practice and some notes, I should be able to determine how many seconds a biscuit can survive under tea. Then, as long as I count with metronomic accuracy each time, I will invariably be rewarded with a safe and delicious mouthful of hot, wet crumble.
If this were the whole story, I might have succeeded one day. But the final part of the formula renders the whole exercise pointless. Do not on any account (they say) submerge more than one quarter of the biscuit before raising it gently to your waiting mouth. Well, I cannot speak for you but chez moi, a quarter biscuit is not worth the effort: I need at least half a biscuit per mouthful to derive any gratification from it. It’s a class thing, or possibly a male thing, but dainty little moist nibbles just don’t work for me. Thus I run the gauntlet by absorbing so much tea into my biscuit that the extra weight is more likely than not to cause it to collapse.
Various studies have been carried out but none of them is comprehensive. Even the learned research– which proves once and for all that Hobnobs survive only half as long in tea as digestives or Rich Tea biscuits – fails to carry out the crucial volume test which has been the ruin of me.
As an aside, I must sound a warning about oatcakes. Foisted upon me by my Scottish ex-wife, they have no redeeming features. They are resistant to dunking and trying to eat a dry one is pointless for it is impossible to swallow. Add enough butter, or other lubricant, to facilitate its passage down the gullet and it will eventually pass through; but whatever health benefit is claimed for the fibre will be trumped by the damage caused by the butter. What’s more, it is flavourless and can only be justified when no other platform for cheese, jam or caviar is to hand. It does not meet my definition of a biscuit which is that it must give sweet pleasure and a willingness to yield.
Happily, there is one such oat biscuit. Enterprising biscuiteers have transformed the inedible oatcake into a delectable concoction by the simple – some would say obvious – act of adding lashings of sugar, syrup and butter to the mix. What was once repellant has become delicious – so delicious in fact that I have two for my lazy breakfast every day. But if the flapjack has given a new lease of life to oat biscuits, the discovery of one which comes half-dipped in dark Belgian chocolate has elevated them to “oat cuisine”.
Fudges Flapjacks – from Waitrose and possibly other discerning retailers – have changed my life. But for reasons I can well understand, the shelf is frequently bare. If you should be persuaded to try them, please don’t shop on Fridays.