By Tom Channon
“B is for biscuit/That’s good enough for me,” as the song says…
But is it? IS IT REALLY???
Ask anybody (from this planet, at least) what their favourite biscuit is, and you’ll likely get these sorts of replies:
– “Uh, a custard cream probably.”
– “Ooh, those bourbons.”
– “Er, a chocolate digestive?”
– “We have Jaffa Cakes in our house, they count” (they don’t. They’re cakes. It literally says ‘cakes’ there on the thing).
– “My favourite is a tray-baked vegan-friendly Huntley & Palmers fruit shortbread.”
Hang on… HUNTLEY & PALMERS?!
What are you on about, you absolute melt? Of all the perfectly adequate biscuit companies we have in 2020, your preference is something that only dead people have ever eaten?
Well, humiliatingly for me, it turns out that the corpse of Huntley & Palmers has recently been reanimated, and they are an actual thing again, making biscuits and everything! This was news to me. Rather than bring themselves up-to-date, they have decided to milk the ‘retro’ market for all it is worth with a range of tray-baked biscuits, just like they were from back in the olden days.
In Their Own Bullshit – Huntley & Palmers describe themselves optimistically as ‘Britain’s most famous biscuit company’. I may be 27, but I’ve seen some shit, and any biscuits I didn’t see lining the shelves of the Hurricane Way M&W when I was 7 can’t have fared that well.
They’ve even had the gall to put ‘SUPERIOR READING BISCUIT’ on their tin. For fuck’s sake, is there any end to this company’s hubris? Especially having been away for about 700 years, and let’s face it, were a fucking car crash at least compared to other biscuit companies. ‘Superior Reading biscuits’ INDEED.
Deciding to put them to the test, I went on Amazon to look at the H&P range, and to be fair, the reviews for their Bakehouse Classics tin looked VERY promising…
First impressions? The biscuits got biked over to me at 8pm on Tuesday night, because simply telling you the Amazon courier came just doesn’t make me sound as important.
The first thing I can say is: WOW! I mean, the size of this thing: the biscuit tin is about the size of a newborn, its placenta a load of brown paper packing and a cardboard box.
The tin is admittedly beautiful and will make a nice ornament for my kitchen long after its contents have made their way through the digestive systems of my guests and I. The attention to detail on the reproduction is so good that just looking at it makes me feel like I’ve burgled a museum (not that I have any idea what that feels like, in case the feds and po-po happen to be sniffing around).
I almost expected it to start playing the theme tune to Ground Force as soon as I opened the tin, but instead there were four foil-wrapped cardboard tray things, each containing three of the four flavours.
I stayed up all night doing the maths (until I realised I was getting nowhere and asked a few trusted adults), and 12 biscuits per tray should get you somewhere around… 48 BISCUITS! FORTY. EIGHT.
Will I die eating these?
These contain gluten, wheat and oats (the latter is a bad thing even if you’re not allergic; more on that later), so commiserations. They are, however, dairy free, and the biscuits pride themselves on being 100% vegan friendly. Good news for vegans, I think? I’ve met hardly any vegans in my life, in truth, so I don’t know how many or how few options they have in terms of food generally; but I of course hope that their basic human needs for satiation are being met one way or another.
What are the flavours?
1) Choc Chip – So far, so shit. They’re the top left biscuit (pictured above), although you’d have no fucking clue looking at it. While there are some chips, they’re not visible to the human eye, and when you do eventually taste them, they’re so bland you’d be forgiven for thinking they were actually chucked out from Reading Museum.
The only biscuits worse than these are also the worst biscuits ever created across any timeline: Chips Ahoy cookies. I tried those while I was in the States last year, and 4 months later, I am still scrubbing my mouth furiously with toothpaste and every tool with a handle that I can find just to take the taste away. But anyway, I digress.
While America has no excuse, I guess I have to put Huntley and Palmers’ efforts down to the recipes being old and stuff. This new/old range of biscuits – as far as I know but don’t hold me to it, etc.etc. – follow the original recipes from the 1800s. The ‘Choc Chip’ one uses only the bare minimum of chocolate chips, so don’t expect it to be as nice as a chocolate digestive, or those chocolate roundies that you can get in Lidl – the ones with chocolate so thick that you might as well have bought a Ritter Sport.
2) and 3) Syrup Crunch and Caramel Crumble – This is where it starts to get a bit complicated, as I find it hard to tell the ‘Caramel Crumble’ and the ‘Syrup Crunch’ apart. Although I *think* I’ve got it worked out. The ‘Syrup Crunch’ is thinner and flatter. The ‘Caramel Crumble’ has practically identical ingredients to the Syrup Crunch, except it also includes vanilla flavouring (which hits you harder and faster than any ‘caramel’ flavour) and slightly more salt.
Although I’ll still eat them, both flavours are rather bland, quite like Hobnobs, and that’s the one thing that lets these biscuits down, overall, is the oats. These are way too crumbly and oaty for me to consider buying them on the regular. Any crumbly and/or oaty biscuits are on a hiding-to-nothing, from the mess they create to the nasty aftertaste that lingers on your tongue for hours. They’re the sort of biscuits your Mum buys no matter how many times you tell her you prefer chocolate ones.
4) Fruit Shortbread – Finally, we come to the only remotely unique addition to this rather anodyne selection: a shortbread with currants in it. I quite like shortbread, truth be told, and like all other sentient humans, there are one or two times a year that I absolutely crave it – but like most of the store-bought stuff, there is nothing here that stands out. But at least there’s no oats. That’s a good thing, for reasons I’ve already made clear.
Who are these biscuits good for? These biscuits are exactly as they are/were and make no attempts to be cutting-edge or ‘modern’. To that end, this tin would make a perfect gift for the older generation – the sort of people who voted ‘Leave’ and your uncle who incessantly shares those ‘When Britain was great’ memes on Facebook.
Conclusion – While delving into the biscuit company that my hometown is known for has been fun, I don’t think it’s enough for me to want to buy them again. The bizarre self-aggrandising both on the tin and on their website creates a hype where there is little to none. I know they’re a reflection of the olden days, but in 2020, that does seem not a bit boastful, doesn’t it? And how are ‘tray baked biscuits’ better, for one? I don’t know how the McVitie’s biscuits are made, but I’m sure those are not hand-kneaded by Nana Phyllis and fresh out of the Aga, yet they’re still fine for human consumption.
Overall, I would give the Bakehouse Classics 3/5. Mainly because of the beautiful tin.
Oh yeah, for what it’s worth, there are at least 44 biscuits still going begging. If you’re ever passing and want to pop round to my flat and sample some* with a drink**, you’d be most welcome.
* £5.99 each
** tap water
Find this interesting? Of course you did! Are you now bang into Huntley & Palmers and want to go see a whole collection in a museum dedicated to Reading biscuits? SURE YOU DO. THERE ARE MORE THAN 300 BISCUIT TINS ON DISPLAY FOR CRYING OUT LOUD…
It’s all at Reading Museum. Go and have a look. Or don’t. We don’t care, we’re not on commission.
See you next time, fans!