Tea Party for One

Originally posted on Six Months in Sydney

In a previous post I discussed my love of tea, and what is the perfect accompaniment to tea? Biscuits, of course! Dunkable or otherwise, a cup of tea and a biscuit is always delightful. Happily, that is equally true in Britain and Australia: tea and biscuits. I suppose it does make sense, rather than being an English curiosity. Even more happily, the blends of tea that are available are pretty much the same: English Breakfast (and the similar (and I hope ironically named) Australian Afternoon), Earl Grey etc.

However, the varieties of biscuits are vastly different. I’ll be blunt: I don’t really like Australian biscuits (bar a couple). I’m not sure if that’s because I genuinely don’t like them, or if it’s because I miss my beloved English biscuits. I suspect it’s a bit of both, but in any case I thought I’d try to find out with a scientific* experiment.

Before we get to the details of the experiment, however, a run down of some of my favourite biscuits that are available in England, but not here.

English Biscuits

rich tea

Rich Tea

Rich tea biscuits are very, very boring, and are the staple English biscuit. My Grandma always had these biscuits, and that’s probably the only reason I like them. They’re not all that good for dunking because they fall apart and collect in the bottom of the tea cup, but if you do manage to get a decent dunk, they soak up the flavour of the tea, and this the only way to make them even vaguely enjoyable.

There is a type of biscuit called Rich Tea available in Australia. These biscuits are quite different, and I discuss these below.

hobnob

Hob Nobs

Hob Nobs are made by McVities, and they are the most amazing things in existence. Obviously, the only ones worth eating are chocolate Hob Nobs. They’re oaty and crunchy and delicious. In L.A. I was willing to pay up to $12 for a packet of Hob Nobs. Alas, they are not available in supermarkets here, and I’m not prepared to go in search of a British shop, so I have to go without.

Pink Wafers

Wafer biscuits are available here: vanilla wafers, chocolate wafers, and strawberry wafers. What is not available, however, are pink wafers: those wafer finger sandwiches with cream in the middle. They are bright pink and don’t seem to have any actual flavour other than simply pink. I remember them from play school, and I think that perhaps they are children’s biscuits, but sometimes children’s biscuits are the best! Which leads me to…

party rings

Party Rings!

Oh yes! These are brilliant. They are definitely children’s biscuits because, well look at them. The main ingredient is, I think, food colouring, followed my sugar and then more food colouring. They come in a variety of flavours: pink, yellow, pinky-purple and fluorescent brown.

in essence, the actual biscuit is crap. It’s a very plain biscuit, but it is the brightly-coloured icing that makes them awesome. Definitely for children’s parties, but also a favourite at parties I went to as a student. I love the retro 80’s feel of these. But they just don’t exist here. People are also a little horrified when I describe them. I can’t imagine why.

Bourbons

I won’t go into too much detail, because these are a very basic chocolate sandwich biscuit. Similar things are available here, but they’re not called bourbons, and I think it is the name, rather than the actual biscuit I like.

The Scientific* Experiment

Okay, so not really a scientific experiment, but rather an afternoon session of me sitting and eating biscuits. Now, I did actually do it properly: I put out the biscuits on a nice plate, made a pot of tea, and tested each one, considering flavour, crunch and dunkability.

Shopping

A Packets

Arnott’s in Australia is basically what McVitie’s is in the UK. Now for this experiment, I splurged a bit and I bought Arnott’s. I could have got Woolworth’s own-brand, but I figure these wouldn’t have been as good, and I might have been accused of not conducting the test fairly. I also bought a pack of Anzac biscuits made in-house by Woolworth’s, and Rich Teas by Paradise biscuits, as Arnott’s rich tea either don’t exist, or aren’t available in my local Woolie’s.

The Party

B Plated upC Ready to Go

Like I said, I put the biscuits on a plate, as civilized people do, made a pot of tea (Yorkshire Tea, of course!), and sat down and started eating. Actually, it seemed rather daunting, the sight of all those biscuits, and knowing that I was going to have to eat them all. But first, a cup of tea to warm up my biscuit-eating muscles.

01 Tea

The Plain Biscuits

Nice and Milk Arrowroot

02 nice03 arrowroot

Nice aren’t particularly Australian, but they were included in the family pack of biscuits that I bought, so I thought I’d try them. They’re plain, but with a pleasing crunch. They dunk well, and the sweetness comes out when dunked.

Milk Arrowroots are very much like English Rich Teas, although they are oval instead of circular. They fall apart when dunked, and are an excellent option for a soggy biscuit.

04 choc ripple

Choc Ripple

Just a plain chocolate biscuit, with quite a nice texture. A good chocolate flavour, but it does not dunk well. I think it would probably dunk better in coffee, but the biscuit spoils the taste of the tea, and the tea spoils the taste of the biscuit.

This one definitely tasted chocolatey, which is unusual for commercially-produced chocolate biscuits that don’t have a chocolate coating or chocolate cream.

05 scotch

Scotch Finger

I don’t like Scotch Fingers really. They’re definitely Australian though. Essentially, they’re a shortbread biscuit, but not not nice like Scottish ones. These are very dense, and when chewed they sort of clump together in your mouth.

Sadly, they didn’t pass the dunk test either. There was no improvement to either texture or flavour by dunking in tea.

05 scotch dunk

06 teddy bear

Teddy Bears

A very disappointing biscuit. This is clearly a children’s biscuit, and going on this one might think that Australians do not like children or want them to have fun. This doesn’t even come close to the Party Ring or even the Pink Wafer. It is very plain, hardly even sweet. It’s an unpleasant dunker, falling apart quickly and finding itself at the bottom of the cup.

07 butternut snap

Butternut Snap

Now these are very nice biscuits. They come close, but not quite close enough, to Hob Nobs. They have a really good crunch and oaty texture, with a very smooth, buttery flavour. They dunk well (and from experience I know they dunk really well in coffee), and they hold their texture when dunked.

Milk Coffee & Rich Tea

09 milk coffee12rich tea

There is not much good to say about either of these biscuits. The milk coffee is very very plain, much like the teddy bear, but without even a fun shape. It totally disintegrated when I dunked it, and I had to fish out bits of it with a teaspoon.

The Australian version of the Rich Tea is very odd indeed. It’s completely different from the English biscuit. The texture is that of a tougher arrowroot, but it has a horrible orangey flavour that becomes really quite bitter, and dunking only makes it worse. It’s dotted with chewy currants too, which are really quite nasty. I will not be buying these again.

11 anzac

The Anzac Biscuit

Anzac biscuits are most definitely Australian, and they are gorgeous! The texture is chewy, but oaty, and they have a really good buttery flavour. They’re made with coconut, but the ones I had today didn’t really have a flavour of coconut. They are, however, still delicious.

Australia may produce some dodgy biscuits that make me pine for a Fox’s selection tin, but all is forgiven with the Anzac biscuit.

The Cream Biscuits

10 timtam

Tim Tams

I first heard about Tim Tams in 2009, and had an American licensed version of them shortly afterwards. They are really really nice, and not liking them is unAustralian apparently.

The thing they most compare to in the UK is the Penguin, although the actual biscuit part of Tim Tams is quite a bit softer, and the cream creamier. The only negative I have to add is that the chocolate is a little too sugary, but I should bear in mind that I had by this point already eaten a lot of biscuits, so my mouth was likely FULL of dissolved sugar.

Monte Carlo & Delta Cream

13 monte carlo16 delta open

The Monte Carlo is really nice. It looks crunchy, but really it isn’t. The cream is almost marshmallowy, and the raspberry jam around the outside of the cream is a really nice surprise. The Delta Cream is a lot like an Oreo, but not as chocolatey. Actually it’s not chocolatey at all. The cream is also very sugary, and although it is supposed to be vanilla cream, it doesn’t have any flavour at all. Disappointing.

14 orange slice

Orange Slice

Now, I’m not really a lover of orange flavoured biscuits; it makes no sense to me, so it’s not surprising that I didn’t like these. That said, the orange flavour was not very strong. The biscuit had no real crunch either. A really disappointing biscuit.

17 kingston

Kingston

The Kingston is a really very pleasant biscuit. It’s very much like two butternut snaps with chocolate cream in the middle.

The biscuit has a really good crunch and a pleasant oaty texture, and the chocolate cream was a nice surprise. It wasn’t that hard, flavourless chocolate cream, but rather almost like gooey melted chocolate. I could eat lots of these biscuits!

19 more munching

Shortbread Creams

Honestly, these are horrible. They have no flavour whatsoever, and the texture is not pleasant. The shortbread is like soft sand, and lacks that buttery flavour that Scottish shortbread has. The cream is sugary, but has no clear flavour.

I’ll be avoiding these.

The Conclusion

There are plenty of good things to say about biscuits in Australia, but I do miss my English favourites. My definite favourite out of all of these is the Anzac biscuit, but from the Arnott’s selection, either the butternut snap or the Kingston was in the top spot.

After all of these biscuits, I did feel rather sick, and I got a head rush from all the sugar, but I suppose it WAS in the name of research. And a tea party for one was a lot of fun!

follow me on twitter: @supercroup

Image credits:

Party rings photo:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mattbuck
mattbuck

Rich Tea (English) photo:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Xyrael?uselang=en-gb
Sean Whitton

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Steaks, sauces, and Delia Smith

This was originally published in 2012

Steak au poivre, peppered steak, steak with peppercorn sauce: call it what you will; it’s pretty much a culinary classic. I’m inclined to believe it is French because of its name, the use of flaming brandy and the French love of pouring rich, creamy sauces over anything that is put on a plate.

First a note about steak. Well a few notes actually. Rump, sirloin, and rib-eye are delicious cuts, full of flavor and so totally inappropriate to be cooked in a rich sauce like this one. Fillet is perfect: it is beautiful to cut, but needs a lot of help in the flavor department, and is an ideal cut to serve with rich, creamy sauces. It’s expensive, but one often deserves a treat! If you can afford fillet, buy good quality meat, and the steaks must be thick!

Secondly (and I mean this), I am very opinionated about how steaks should be cooked. My first opinion is that it is a shame to cook a steak at all. That said, for this dish cooking is necessary. The recipe below gives instructions on how to cook your steak if you like it rare. If you don’t like it rare, I wouldn’t bother to cook it at all: you will destroy the delicate texture of the fillet and will have wasted a lot of money on what is an expensive piece of meat.

The sauce is very rich and creamy, but hopefully the finished dish will not resemble what is so often served up in third-rate Italian restaurants; a glib bit of meat swimming in cream and brandy. Delia Smith’s version of this recipe includes no cream or brandy and is, although delicious, not nearly as indulgent as my version!

Steak au Poivre

Serves 4

4 fillet steaks
3 large shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves, chopped
4 tsp black peppercorns
75 ml brandy
200 ml red wine
400 ml good beef stock
90 ml double cream
2 tbsp butter

Begin by flash frying the steaks. I prefer to fry steak on a heavy cast iron griddle, but a large heavy-based frying pan is perfectly suitable. Get your griddle as hot as possible – heat it over a high heat for a good fifteen to twenty minutes. There will be smoke, but do not be afraid: an extremely high temperature is necessary. Spread a layer of butter over each steak (not the pan!) and lay butter-side down on the hot griddle and fry for one minute on each side, turning every thirty seconds. Remove the steaks to a warmed plate.

Next, over a medium heat, melt the rest of the butter in a large, thick-based frying pan (if you fried the steaks in a pan, use the same one). Add the shallots, garlic and peppercorns to the pan, and soften gently for about five minutes.

Now comes the tricky (and potentially dangerous) bit. Heat the brandy in either a large metal ladle or a very small saucepan. Once the brandy is hot, return the steaks to the frying pan, light the brandy with a match and (standing as far back as you can) pour the flaming brandy over the steaks. Swirl it around gently to keep the flame going as long as possible, but as soon as the flame dies, remove the steaks back to the plate.

Now add the red wine to the pan, turn the heat up to high and reduce the wine by about one half; this should take around five minutes. Next add the beef stock and let it boil for around ten minutes or until the stock has reduced by about two-thirds.

Now turn the heat back down to medium and stir in the cream. Allow the sauce to thicken a little and return the steaks to the pan to warm through. Spoon the sauce over the steaks. Once warmed through, serve immediately with grilled corn cobs and stir-fried savoy cabbage.

Note for readers in Australia/New Zealand. Fillet steak means eye fillet; shallots mean eshallots – the french shallots that look like small onions; not shallots that might also be called spring onions or scallions.