Sunday, 6 February 2011

Prince of Biscuits

Here at the Pouch, it has long been a bone of contention that not all Custard Creams are created equal. Indeed, Yours Truly has since childhood been of the opinion that the finest incarnation of this prince among biscuits hails from the aisles of Sainsbury's alone. A tick in the plus column for a supermarket chain that, as you may recall, has earned my displeasure for subdividing its cereals into Adults' and Childrens' thereby daubing me, the sprogless grown-up, as some kind of cereal groomer whenever I slink over to the Frosties shelf.

But enough of Sainsbury's crimes against breakfast. We're here today to talk Custard Creams, the most fabulous, most dunkable, most ornate of all tea-time, indeed anytime, snackage. What other other biscuit can boast the intricate curlicues and flourishes of the Custard Cream? Not the rough old digestive, the MDF of the biscuit world. Not the chocolate hobnob, that painted strumpet. Not even the weird pink wafer thing whose name escapes me. No, for sheer design and elegance, the rococo majesty of the creme de la creme anglaise has no equal in all of bicciedom.

Do not gaze at its weird angles overlong...
If Dan Brown were to conceive of a plot wherein the secret lore of the Knights Templar / Illuminati / Freemasons / Tufty Club (delete to taste) were hidden in (gasp) plain sight, he could do no better than to suggest that the strange, twisting symbols embossed onto each and every Custard Cream pointed the way, in the form of a visual map that only Dr Robert Langdon (and millions of readers across the world) could decipher. Surely there is something of the zodiac in those markings, the alchemical? Do they not also suggest the ancient astronaut carvings of Meso-America, and the Nazca Lines of Peru? Did not those queerly writhing frondlike pictograms inspire old H.P. Lovecraft himself when composing the language of the Elder Things in his novella At The Mountains Of Madness?

No, they did not. But they're bloody tasty all the same.

To return to my original contention, I put it to Herself that Sainsbury's taste the best. Moreover, I claimed that I could identify Sainsbury's Custard Creams by taste alone. A bold assertion made on the back of the previous week's Blind Cola Taste Test, in which I successfully picked out proper Coca-Cola from Diet, Zero and Pepsi Muck variants. Clearly I am like the blind superhero Daredevil, whose superhumanly enhanced tastebuds enable him to distinguish foodstuffs that mere mortals cannot detect. This will doubtless prove useful should I become a crimefighter (or royal taster, whichever pays better).

And lo it came to pass that we carried out a proper scientific blind taste test on a variety of Custard Creams from local supermarkets. Sadly this did not include the venerable Peek Freans as they seem to have been subsumed by the Kraft kolossus some time ago, but as I seem to remember, they were crap anyway. Herself, being very nearly a proper scientist at this point, and having watched one too many episodes of Mythbusters and Brainiac, was only too pleased to do all the hard work of schlepping round the different shops and preparing the test under rigorous laboratory conditions (at the living room table).

The test conditions were as follows:

The test subject (hello) was blindfolded and presented with randomly selected Custard Creams from seven different retail brands. This necessitated an element of trust from Yours Truly, especially when it came to Herself popping said biscuit into my mouth, and not sticking it up my nose or substituting it for a stick of celery or some other foulness. Mercifully her scientific zeal overcame her natural propensity for scampishness, and the tests proceeded free of hilarity.

Each of the seven biscuits were dunked in a cup of scientific tea and presented to me for nibbling. I then judged each for taste, texture and structural integrity with a mark out of five. (Thinking about it now, I should have awarded three different scores for each biscuit - we could then have played Custard Cream Top Trumps later. But sadly too late now.) Finally the seven biscuit samples were randomly mixed up again and offered to me for a second time undunked, just in case they performed differently au naturel. Again, I awarded points accordingly.

And here are those results...

The Custard Cream blind tasting test:
                     (Dunked / Dry)

Asda:                       4 / 4
M&S:                       4 / 4
Morrisons:              4 / 4
Sainsbury's:            4 / 4
Sainsbury's Basic:  4 / 3
Tesco:                      2 / 2 (appalling and fell apart)
Waitrose:                3 / 3 (different, just different)

As you can see, Sainsbury's scored among the highest, but was no better than Asda, Morrisons or M&S, causing us to suspect that perhaps these chains are all scandalously subcontracting the Custard Cream production to some unsung hero of the biscuit industry. So while my contention that Sainsbury's taste best has been sort of borne out by our scrupulous experimentation, I cannot say hand on heart that they are uniquely the best. On the other hand, it does mean that I can spread my patronage wider and obtain my fix from whichever dealer vendor is closest at hand. Huzzah.

And for some slightly less subjective numbers, here are a few health facts and figures cribbed from the packets of said biscuits. Some of those packets had already been in the kitchen bin for a day when I thought to do this next bit, so I hope you appreciate the lengths I have gone to in order to pad substantiate my article with cold hard factosity:

Custard Cream health facts per biccie:
                              (Calories / Sugar / Fat)

Asda:                       60 kcal / 3.5g / 2.8g
M&S:                       60 kcal / 3.2g / 2.8g
Morrisons:              59 kcal / 3.5g / 2.8g
Sainsbury's:            59 kcal / 3.5g / 2.8g
Sainsbury's Basic:  56 kcal / 3.2g / 2.6g
Tesco:                      65 kcal / 3.7g / 2.7g
Waitrose:                 59 kcal / 3.5g / 2.8g

I've no idea what we can make of those figures, apart from that Tesco's Custard Creams are not only the nastiest and least structurally coherent, but are also the most calorific and sugary. So they might be good for an emergency sugar boost, but to paraphrase Jules Winnfield, I won't eat the mofo.

A final sobering note: the Wikipedia entry for the Custard Cream warrants a mere eight sentences. This is the equivalent of reducing the entire history of the planet Earth to 'Mostly Harmless'. Shameful. I expect the authorities to rectify this sorry state of affairs as soon as they receive my letter of complaint.


Mitchell Adcow said...

Interesting reading and glad to see that the snack of your youth still retains its special status. I think your vital research should be uploaded to Wikipedia forthwith to supplement the clearly inadequate "information" there at present - it doesn't even tell us which brand of Custard Cream won the 2005 UK Biscuit of the Year!

Mitchell Adcow said...

I'm also disappointed that you didn't take any notice of those fine teachers, Mr Dean-Bowers, Mrs Spackman and Mr Tyrrel during geography, history and RE lessons at St Mary's.

Had you been concentrating you would have immediately recognised the pattern on a Custard Cream as a street map of Berlin from 1944.

The words that appear to say Custard Cream in the centre are actually an anagram of "Cut Sacred Ram", a clear reference to animal sacrifice on the Ark of the Covenant (see Exodus Chapter 25, vv5-22).

If I'm not mistaken this clearly points to Nazi treasure, looted during the crusades, buried in the crypt (itself a reference to cryptology) of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, now a branch of United Colours of Benetton.

The Chocolate Ocelot said...

Mitchell: I quite agree that the Wikipedia entry is woefully lacking, but unfortunately I've been banned from making any attempts to update the site since the infamous 'Pugwash' incident of 2007.

As for the legacy of our fine teachers, they all in their own special ways left me too emotionally distressed to realise that they were all actually mentoring us in occult symbology. Tch, foolish me!

Now you mention the whole Cut Sacred Ram thing though, it's so obvious. You are some kind of real-life Dan Brown professor and I can only dream of aspiring to the role of pointless female hanger-on to whom you can explain the plot. Much in the style of an old Dr Who assistant.

Another interesting anagram is Master Craduc, one of the magus Aleister Crowley's 'names of power' in the Order of the Golden Dawn. It's said that he would meditate on the diamond at the centre of the biscuit in order to project his thoughts into a higher 'creamier' plane of being. That's what I heard anyway.

Anonymous said...

Lets see if this replying things works...

Anonymous said...

Cut sacred ram. Brilliant !


The Chocolate Ocelot said...

Update 2011: Sainsbury's changed the recipe this July. Now it tastes foul. My world is at an end.