Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Quietly Satisfying Taste Buds for Over 100 Years...

Just the name Custard Cream made my mouth water when I first saw these biscuits. I'm not sure just what it was, but I was instantly captivated by the name and what I imagined could be nothing less than delicious. I was not wrong! 

Crawford's are one of those companies which has a very loyal following, but for which there is very little information available. If you go to the website for United Biscuits, the company which bought William Crawford & Sons in 1960, there is no information whatsoever about Crawford's biscuits. When I wrote to United Biscuits asking for information regarding this biscuit, I was told simply that they were in production at the time United Biscuits acquired Crawfords and is a small brand which is manufactured and sold in the United Kingdom only.

What we do know is that William Crawford & Sons was founded in 1813 at Leith. 

According to a 2007 BBC News article, "Nine out of 10 people [in the UK] named the custard cream as their favorite biscuit, in a poll of 7,000 people. The result even prompted surprise from Trufree, which hosted the survey, and said despite there being "so much to choose from on the market, it seems people still plump for a no-nonsense nibble." 

Self-appointed biscuit expert Stuart Payne believes that the Custard Cream dates back to the Victorian era. In the same news article he goes on to say, "The little baroque swirls on the top, that's all Victorian because in the Victorian age there were a lot of ferns so the custard cream has ferns designed on it."

So what is a Custard Cream? Well, it's delicious! Oh, yes, I said that before, didn't I? A Custard Cream is quite simple and elegant. It is vanilla icing sandwiched between two vanilla biscuits. It is neither overly sweet nor is it too fancy. It's yummy enough to feel like you are treating yourself, but not so fancy that you feel bad for having two or three at a sitting.

And they were improved in the past 10 years by removing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil  which they replaced with palm oil. These biscuits also contain no artificial colors or flavorings.

Now earlier I said that United Biscuits informed me that Crawfords Custard Creams were only sold in the United Kingdom. While that might be the official story, if you spend a short bit of time on the internet, you will find quite a variety of sources to help you to enjoy this classic treat at home outside the UK.

Now to go raid the cupboard and find what remains of my Custard Creams...

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Monday, February 27, 2012

With a Glass and a Half of Milk...

While I've always had a sweet tooth for chocolate, I've never been much of a fan of milk chocolate.

I have to admit now, that I have been missing out, well at least on one milk chocolate product, Cadbury Dairy Milk.

Cadbury was founded in 1824 by John Cadbury in Bull Street, Birmingham, England. By 1842, they were offering 11 types of cocoa and 16 distinct types of drinking chocolate.

In June 1904, Cadbury created a chocolate containing a "far higher milk content than previously known" as a challenge to the Swiss domination of the chocolate market. It  was launched as Cadbury Dairy milk in 1905 and was an instant success. By the mid 1920s, Cadbury Dairy Milk was the best selling chocolate brand in the United Kingdom and it remains so even today.

 1920 Cadbury Dairy Milk advertisement from Cadbury Archives

Cadbury introduced the advertising slogan "Glass and a half of full cream milk in every half pound," in 1928. Fifty years later, the "glass and a half" design was added to the packaging, where it still appears.

In March 2009, Cadbury announced that it would use 100% Fairtrade cocoa in Cadbury Dairy Milk, re-energizing the cocoa farms in Ghana that supply Cadbury with cocoa beans.

Cadbury is also made in the United States, under agreement with Hershey.

Do the British and the American Dairy Milk bars taste the same? Do they use the same ingredients? Which one is better?

The only way I felt fair to do this was to contact Hershey's, which makes Dairy Milk in the US for Cadbury. Unfortunately they never did respond to my e-mail. So, instead I went to Hershey and bought a bar of the Hershey made Dairy milk at Chocolate World to use in a completely unscientific blind taste test at home. The British Dairy Milk was purchased online thought a British Food company.

My wife, who studied for a year at St. Andrew's and had some previous experience with British Cadbury, agreed to be the blind panel.

She immediately identified the Hershey's made Dairy Milk from the British made version. What she found, was the American version had a very distinctive Hershey taste. While not unpleasant, it was not the same as the British made version, but far superior to Hershey Milk Chocolate. If you have never had British Dairy Milk, it is a very good milk chocolate, with a creaminess most American chocolates lack.

The British Dairy Milk was much more along the lines of the Swiss chocolate against which it was originally designed to compete. And it lacked a distinctive sour finish which we both find in all Hershey Milk Chocolate. It is truly milk chocolate heaven. And that is no small praise coming from someone who really has never enjoyed milk chocolate.

So why the difference in the American made and the UK made Cadbury chocolate? Well, I got a nice reply from Cadbury and what they had to say made complete sense. “While the recipe is a closely guarded secret, one of the main reasons for the different taste, not just between US and UK, but with Cadbury Dairy Milk across the globe (Ireland, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand), is they are all made with local milk. So each country has its very unique taste. There are also other factors that can affect the taste of the chocolate, even with the recipe being the same, for example if we used the same way of producing Cadbury Dairy Milk in the UK, but in a hot Australian summer the chocolate would melt before it reached the stores shelf. So in Australia and other warmer climate areas, we produce the chocolate to be able to hold its shape at those temperatures, so that it only melts once it’s in your mouth.”

So if you have a Cadbury Dairy Milk from the UK and one from Hershey, you now know that the difference is not in your head or some bias you might have for or against one country of origin, but a real difference in the ingredients.

So when it comes to milk chocolate, I'm going to look far and wide to find the British version of Cadbury Dairy Milk when I have the urge for some extraordinary milk chocolate. Thankfully, I still have some more of the British Dairy Milk remaining from my taste challenge to enjoy now that I've done sharing my results with you...

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chocolate and Ginger Perfection...

Like their Bitterorange and Bitterginger, Bendicks has decided to discontinue their Chocolate Gingers as well, to focus on their mint chocolates.

I don't think I ever thought much about ginger until recently. And once I'd discovered it as small bits in a ginger cookie, or other sweet treat, it is hard to imagine what life was like before I discovered the joy of real ginger.

Bendicks managed to create an amazing confection which the most discerning ginger lover would find amazing.

Bendicks was founded in 1930 by Mr Oscar Benson and Colonel "Bertie" Dickson as a small confectionery in the Kensington neighborhood of London.

While primarily known for their range of premium dark chocolate mints, which I have recently written about, Bendicks as also explored other flavor combinations, most notably ginger and dark chocolate.

One of these was Chocolate Gingers. Bendicks took the finest Austrian Buderim stem ginger and lightly covered it in chocolate before enrobing in rich dark chocolate containing 50% cocoa solids.

The result in each case was nothing slight of a heavenly experience of flavor.

There is no doubt in my mind that they will be missed by others, just as they will be missed by me. Until then, I will seek out what remains from those stockists which have carried these two exceptional products and enjoy them to the last, after which time I will continue to enjoy the exceptional chocolate mints which Bendicks continues to produce.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Decadence in a Bottle...

Over the years, like so many others, I have worn a variety of fragrances. I'm sure we all have memories of our years at University and the associated memories of our ourselves, our friends and those special in our lives and their successful and failed experiments with new fragrances.

Sometimes we are lucky and we find, through experiment or the recommendation of a friend. Other times it is the good sense of a loved one that points us to the fragrance which suits us better than any other.

For me, it was the good sense of my wife, who helped me find my perfect fragrance for these cooler months.

Penhaligon's opened in 1870 as a barber shop in Jermyn Street, London and they have been creating fragrances for men, and later women, ever since. 

Hammam Bouquet was inspired by the scent of the Turkish Baths on Jermyn Street, by William Penhaligon in 1872. Animalistic and golden, it's a warm and mature,

Animalic and golden, it is warm and mature, reminiscent of old books, powdered resins and ancient rooms. At its heart is dusky Turkish rose, with jasmine, woods, musk and powdery orris. Heady and glamorous, Hammam Bouquet is evocative of the Edwardian era of decadence and excess.

Most importantly, it is not what everyone else is wearing. In this day and age of mass marketing and worldwide distribution, it's nice to stand out in the crowd as an individual. And even as old as this fragrance is, it is still very unique today.

I'm very lucky to have found it, and even happier to wear it.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

When a Simple Mint Crisp Reaches Perfection...

So by now, it should be quite obvious, that I greatly enjoy fine chocolates. In most cases, I prefer the pure form, with no other flavors added, and I also prefer dark chocolate to other styles.

Every now and then, a chocolatier comes along who creates a flavor combination which I find irresistible.

And Bendicks does that again and again.

Bendicks was founded in 1930 by Mr Oscar Benson and Colonel "Bertie" Dickson as a small confectionery in the Kensington neighborhood of London.

While they have produced some other flavor combinations to great success, they are primarily known for their range of premium dark chocolate mints.

They treat fine ingredients not as an indulgence, but as a necessity. They use a minimum of 50% cocoa solids in their mint crisps creating a rich and complex chocolate. Crisp handmade honeycomb pieces are then enrobed in this chocolate and infused with natural peppermint oil.

It is nothing less than the perfect mint crisp, artfully balancing chocolate, mint and crisp.

Before I found these, I would never have thought of keeping a chocolate mint on hand, but now that I have tried these, it almost seems unthinkable not to have some around the house all the time.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Once a Classic, Always a Classic...

In my quest for my perfect fragrance, or fragrances as is my case, I sometimes run into some which have been along longer than most European nations.

One fragrance which I came across a few years back was Floris Limes Eau de Toilette. For those unfamiliar with Eau de Toilette, it is a more concentrated fragrance than Cologne and less concentrated than Perfume.

Floris was founded in 1730 by Juan Famenias Floris and his wife Elizabeth.

One of the oldest fragrances in their product line today is Limes Eau de Toilette. It was created by Juan Floris in 1790 to fight the oppressive heat of London in the summer.

Limes is comes at you with a vibrant burst of the zest of lemon, accompanied by petitgrain, an essential oil extracted from the green twigs of the bitter orange plant. This introduces the refreshing heart of lime blossom, neroli and lily of the valley, which are sustained by a musky base.

Even 220 years after its creation, Limes has remained one of the great classic fragrances for men. In July 2009 it was recommended by Esquire as "a pure blast of summer citrus," "[a] fragrance for hot summer nights in the city." That year it also was shortlisted for Classic Fragrance of the Year in the UK Beauty Awards.

This is a fragrance which was created in the days before daily, or even weekly bathing, as a way to feel refreshed. In the summer stench of the late 18th century city, Limes provided a much needed relief. And today it does the same, even with our improved and modern hygiene.

When I wear Limes, even in the semi-tropical humid heat of the Mid-Atlantic coast of America, I feel cooler and prepared to stay smelling clean and fresh no matter how hot the summer will get.

And while I enjoy a variety of fragrances for a variety of seasons, Limes is my heavy artillery for feeling my best when Summer serves up its worst.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Be Kind to your Face...

If you are like me, then like most men, you've always assumed that a bar of soap, what ever is on sale at the store, typically, is good enough. While you might be able to rationalize that for the shower, on some level, when it comes to your face, this indiscriminate practice will add years to your face by the time you have reached your mid-forties.

Every day when we wash, we have a choice, we can either take our skin for granted or we give it the extra bit of consideration it deserves. It is truly one of those rare instances when vanity can actually be to one's benefit.

So in this quest to be a bit more responsible about my skin, I discovered this Mild Skin Tonic from D.R. Harris.

D.R Harris is one of London’s oldest pharmacies and has been in St James’s Street since 1790. This family-owned business is renowned for their range of quality products for men and women, including soaps, colognes, bath and shaving preparations, skin care, and aromatherapy oils. The majority of their products are still produced by traditional methods,  hand-made, and packed in their own premises in London.

Their Mild Skin Tonic is ideal for removing the last traces of facial cleanser and toning the skin prior to moisturizing. It is clear, herbal and clean-smelling. Containing witch hazel, it also serves to tighten and close pores, stabilize the pH balance, leaving your skin clean, soft, and refined.

I love that its scent is subtle, and doesn't conflict with any cologne which I might wish to wear afterward.

So from now on, I'm going to enjoy my daily ritual with D.R. Harris, relaxing as I take care of my skin and feeling wonderful as I do.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What's in your Butter?

For those who know me well, you will already know that I enjoy butter. Now I don't use it on everything nor do I use it all of the time. But I can tell when my butter has been altered or is missing something.

So what is required to make butter? That's simple.... cream!

That's it, nothing else, unless you want to salt the butter for a bit of extra flavor.

Now, if that's all this is required to make butter, why do we find things like "natural flavors," among other things, listed as ingredients in butter? One would think the quality of the cream used would in itself provide enough flavor to make butter. Apparently I was wrong.

Luckily there are some companies out there which take the time to find cream of such quality that nothing else is needed, except perhaps adding a bit of salt for some additional flavor. One such company is Coombe Castle.

Coombe Castle is a family run export business based in Wiltshire, in South West England. For over 30 years, they have been exporting cheese and cream worldwide. They source their cheese and cream from both small local dairies as well as larger creameries, depending their customer needs.

Their Double Devon butter is made at a small dairy based in Devon using double devon cream and is nothing short of heavenly. It is made in the traditional butter vats and is still hand wrapped.

Double Devon cream, the next most famous English cream after clotted cream, is a thick freshly pasteurized cream of 48% milk fat with a distinctive flavor. Using such rich cream produces a butter unlike any other. It's smooth, creamy and slightly sweet. It is without a doubt the ideal accompaniment to any dish requiring butter.

For me, this is a butter which deserves to stand on its own, a butter which deserves to be highlighted in a meal, or even a light snack. For me, its perfect place is on the table, when ever butter is called for to add to the flavor of any dish, from pancakes, to toast.

Just writing this has my mouth watering...

More information about Coombe Castle and their products can be found at Coombe Castle.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

In Honor of an Earl...

It might be said that Americans lost their affection for tea over 225 years ago. But to say that would certainly not be true.

While coffee might be our national hot drink for morning and any other time, tea holds a place in our hearts just as strong and true.

There are times when, during the course of the day, something more gentle and relaxing than coffee is just what is needed. For me, I can think of nothing better than a cup of Twinings Earl Grey Tea.

Earl Grey Tea is a blended tea named for Charles Grey, the Second Earl Grey, who served as Prime Minister of the united Kingdom in the 1830 to 1834. He is said to have recieved a gift of tea flavored with bergamot oil. Bergamot is a citrus fruit typically found in South East Asia and also commercially grown in Italy.

The tea was specially blended by a Chinese mandarin for Lord Grey to suite the high lime content of the water at his estate in Northumberland. It became so popular with their guests there and in London, that they were asked to make it available to the public, which is how Twingings came to market it as a brand.

Twinings Earl Grey is a light aromatic blend of fine black tea, scented with the distinctive bergamot flavor.

So how to enjoy a perfect cup of tea?

First, tea absorbs moisture and kitchen smells. To keep your tea fresh and avoid spoiling the flavor, keep loose tea or teabags in a sealed jar or tin.

Using loose tea involves a ritual which many find a pleasure, and it certainly means you must take time out of your day to relax and enjoy not only your cup tea, but the entire process as well. And some tea drinkers believe that the quality of loose tea is superior to that used in tea bags, as the loose tea tends to have a larger leaf size than tea bags. Regardless, both types of Twinings tea will produce a equal quality cup of tea.

When brewing tea, be sure the use freshly drawn cold water in kettle. Tea loves oxygen and it helps the flavor develop. And only pour on freshly boiled water, don't over boil it.

Make sure your tea pot is clean and warm it by swirling a small amount of boiled water inside it.
Add one teaspoon of loose tea per person and one teaspoon for the pot is the standard measure, but feel free to add as much or little to create to perfect strength tea for your tastes.

You should allow the tea to brew in the teapot for up to seven minutes. the general rule is the larger the leaf, the longer the brewing time. In the case of Twinings Earl Grey, you should allow about five minutes for it to brew.

Sugar can be added, though some people feel sugar will mask the flavors of teas. And while not typically added to Earl Grey tea, milk may also be added. Historically milk was added first to protect the bone china cups in which the tea was served, but today that choice is a very individual one.

Regardless of how you choose to take your tea, an afternoon cup is a wonderful way to relax during the day and enjoy life for a moment and Twinings Earl Grey tea is a terrifically traditional tea with which to enjoy those moments.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

And She smells Delicious...

While it is, and has been my intention to provide this blog from the male perspective, I find that on occasion, it is a good idea to let other men know about some things designed specifically for women, especially when those things are to our great benefit and enjoyment.

Artemesia by Penhaligon's is just one of those things.

Penhaligon's opened in 1870 as a barber shop in Jermyn Street, London and they have been creating fragrances for men, and later women, ever since. Penhaligon's has an unique ability to understand the emotional power of scent. They know how it can unlock memories, stop us in our tracks, lost somewhere for a moment in time. And that is exactly what Artemesia does.

Artemesia, created in 2002, is both floral and fruity, with a beautiful sensual powdery dry down. It is haunting and addictive with its caramel soft notes, sweet, powdery and silky. Mixed inside each bottle is tumble of green apples and nectarines washed with jasmine tea and sprinkled with a luxurious medley of violet, cyclamen and lily petals . All this softly unfolds with great subtlety surrounded with layers of honeyed vanilla, warm spices, a touch of amber and a hint of musk.

The fragrance, once it reaches your nose, it instinctively draws you in and captivates your complete attention. It is one of those perfumes which a woman wears and she is never forgotten.

It is nothing short of delicious! Elegance in a bottle.

So now you know, about this little secret from London. I hope those who take the time to discover it, find it as captivating as I have.

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Requiem for Sublime...

I must confess, that I have a bit of a sweet tooth. I always have and I am also sure it runs in my family.

But over time, I have learned to moderate this craving by choosing quality over quantity. I'd prefer a few exceptional sweets any day to a mound of sugary sweetness.

And when you find that perfect sweet, the one which is in true balance and harmony with its flavors, you don't easily forget.

Unfortunately, every now and then, a product which you come to love, is discontinued. And this has in fact just recently happened to me.

Bendicks was founded in 1930 by Mr Oscar Benson and Colonel "Bertie" Dickson as a small confectionery in the Kensington neighborhood of London.

While primarily known for their range of premium dark chocolate mints, which I will cover in a future post, Bendicks as also explored other flavor combinations. And these can only be described as sublime.

One of these was Bittergingers. Bendicks expertly combined hot and spicy Chinese ginger extract and tender ginger pieces in a soft fondant which they then double enrobed in dark chocolate containing 95% cocoa solids.

The other of these amazing creations was Bitteroranges. Here, Bendicks took tangy Sicilian orange oil which they combined with a hint of chilli in a firm fondant. And like the Bittergingers, they enrobed this is intense dark chocolate containing 95% cocoa solids.

The result in each case was nothing slight of a heavenly experience of flavor.

There is no doubt in my mind that they will be missed by others, just as they will be missed by me. Until then, I will seek out what remains from those stockists which have carried these two exceptional products and enjoy them to the last, after which time I will continue to enjoy the exceptional chocolate mints which Bendicks continues to produce.

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The rich, the beautiful and the fashionable flocked to our doors. Prominent among them was the Duke of Kent, son of King George V, who regularly visited for some of our famous Bittermints.
The company soon became known by the name that was to become famous around the world: Bendicks of Mayfair.
Our reputation grew still further, and in 1962, our position at the pinnacle of British confectionery was sealed - we were awarded the coveted Royal Warrant: “By Appointment to Her Majesty The Queen”.

Friday, February 3, 2012

So this is Peat....

Scotch isn't a drink for everyone and Laphroaig isn't a drink for every Scotch drinker.
For the longest time I wasn't a Scotch drinker myself. I'm not sure what it was about the drink, but I just didn't feel the call.

Then in the late 90s I had a chance to try a Scotch I had heard about, but had never sampled myself. I made good use of this chance and was quite surprised to taste something unlike any Scotch I had ever tried before. And I've been hooked ever since.

Laphroaig, pronounced "La-froyg," a gealic word meaning "the beautiful hollow by the broad bay," comes from the remote island of Islay in the Western Isles of Scotland.

The Irish had been distilling on Islay for years and the locals continued the tradition after the Irish had departed, but as small stills on farms were illegal, they were rarely discussed openly.

Around 1815, two brothers, Donald and Alexander Johnston leased 1000 acres from the laird of Islay to raise cattle. They began to distill the surplus barley, which was grown to feed the cattle during the long winter months. With whisky being more profitable than raising cattle, the brothers officially opened the distillery in 1815.

By the 1920, the trick of "sweetening" and softening the flavor of whisky by using Spanish sherry barrels was a common practice. Ian Hunter of Laphroaig scoured the world looking for the perfect oak cask to breath with the whisky, but not add any "alien" flavors. This he found in "first fill only" American bourbon barrels, and they have been used exclusively ever since.

The particular version I tried and have since adopted, was Laphroaig 10 Year Old, an all-malt Scotch Whisky. The malted barley is dried over a peat fire. It is this peat, found only on Islay, which creates not only the distinctive rich peat flavor, but one unique to Laphroaig.

The resulting whisky is sparking gold, with a huge smokey, seaweedy, even perhaps slightly medicinal nose with a hint of sweetness. And then when you taste it, you find it to be incredibly full bodied, with a surprising sweetness adding hints of salt and layers or peatiness to its lingering finish.

How best to drink Laphroaig could cause some considerable debate. The distillery suggests drinking it neat, or perhaps with a little cool water. And I am sure there are some who will add a few cubes of ice. Then roll it around on your tongue to unleash the pungent earthy aroma of the blue peat smoke, the sweet nuttiness of the barley, and the delicate heathery perfume of Islay's streams.

But no matter how those who love Laphroaig choose to drink their favorite Scotch, they will all agree that this is a truely amazing whisky. And while it is not for everyone, for those who enjoy it's distinctive peat flavors, it is the perfect way to relax and enjoy the day, the week, and our lives.

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