Biscuit Best Of: the definitive guide

Biscuits have been an important part of my life since childhood. Many significant chapters in my life have featured them in a supporting role.

One early memory involves me wondering whether or not to ask my mum for another before dinner. The moment I seized that first unsanctioned biscuit was the moment I established my independence and free-thinking vis à vis the baked delicacy. From then on, I would decide whether it was too close to dinner time, too soon after dinner, too early or too late for some twice-baked action.

When I made my virgin forays into illicit underage nights out and binge drinking, my buttery friends were there at the end of the night to prolong the evening and, importantly, to soak up the excess booze. Since then, they have also been there for the hangovers.

When I left home and went to work in France, biscuits gave me a cultural reference point and an emotional anchor. The exciting new varieties on the wrong side of La Manche provided me with an excuse to test them all, as well as two stones’ worth of cold comfort from my homesickness. I sampled every strain and specimen I could find with an almost scientific commitment.

Such experience in the biscuit field would hold me in good stead when, years later, I returned to France and impressed new friends with my extensive knowledge. I was a biscuit sommelier, albeit a low-rent one: warning friends to avoid certain types after a heavy meal, presenting the most delicious and upmarket varieties with a flourish, advising on the best brands for dunking, recommending superior hangover crutches. Lasting friendships were built on such crumby foundations. However, friendships have also been strained by this oral fixation. My generosity with my gear has resulted in more than one addiction, and hooked friends have despaired as their need got out of control and their chins multiplied.

The people I meet are always incredulous at my capacity for cookie munching any time, anywhere. I can be sick or tired, feeling fat or thin, celebrating or commiserating, and a biscuit will always seem appropriate. As social smokers need a fag as soon as they have a pint in their hands, so I find it difficult to drink tea without a biscuit chaser. I’ll admit it – sometimes I don’t even feel like a cup of tea. The tea is the vehicle that makes another biscuit seem more socially acceptable.

I have found that, for many, many people, particularly southerners, biscuits have never featured heavily in their lives. It seems to be a northern vice (like tea with flavour). I on the other hand think about biscuits more or less constantly and regulate my intake in certain situations so as not to get a reputation as a biscuit whore. Sooner or later though, my addiction becomes common knowledge and people look to me for a sugar hit. So, if you’re feeling peckish and like a list, have this one on me: my biscuit top ten (subject to change depending on what is my flavour – read obsession – of the month).

10. Animal biscuit – or should I call them, in Scooby Doo fashion… chocolate digestives! Has no mother ever baulked at the price of animal biscuits and considered cutting a few choccie digestives into quarters for her child’s party instead? These do not feature regularly in my cupboards because a) I have no offspring and b) I have no money, but they are as delicious as my staple chocolate digestives, only a bit denser and with added kitsch value and childhood memories attached, hence they make this list. (They also have slightly higher chocolate to biscuit ratio.)

9. Party ring – the joy of sliding said ring onto your index finger and licking at it until the sugar melts… The faint high as the E numbers work their way through your system… Strictly for consumption at kids’ parties or in the comfort of your own home. Must only to be eaten in company when those around you are trusted longstanding friends. Not ideal for dipping but always a good stand-in when your usual biscuit selection is becoming tiresome.

8. Cigare russe – roll on Christmas! In our household, these are always the first in the tin to go. Not the powdery cocoa ones that have latterly infiltrated the selection, but the traditional vanilla cigars. So moreish: if only the space inside was filled with more of the same, Yuletide would be even more festive.

7. Digestive – there is always room in my belly for one more digestive. It is a deceptively plain biscuit with hidden depths that always leaves you wanting more. Woe betide anyone who opts for it as the ‘healthy’ choice. Once in the mouth, it reveals its true colours: only a clinically obese biscuit could melt to unctiousness the way this one does. Its universal echoes of childhood make this safe classic a nostalgic option for many. Addition of plain chocolate was inspired.

6. Ginger nut – an all-inclusive biscuit ideal for the workplace. When you offer bicuits to colleagues in the hope that they will share your guilt, some feign indifference with an ‘oh, I don’t really have a sweet tooth’ or ‘I’m not a biscuit fan’ – [pah!]. A ginger nut, however, is alluring to a larger demographic, spanning as it does sweet and treacly flavours and a sticky texture with the bite of spicy ginger. This biscuit also transcends class: whether your ginger nut is run of the mill or super fancy (subtler flavour, softer biscuit, with chewy stem ginger pieces), it will be divine.

5. Bourbon – we owe the creation of these biscuits to history. For some reason, bourbons are delicious, even though they promise chocolate and deliver thinly disguised synthetic sugar mixed with cocoa powder. Perhaps the attraction is due to their high dunking potential and duality of textures. Or it may be down to their satisfying height, which makes biting and chewing a conscious action.

4. Shortbread – it’s all about the butter here. Shortbread is such a satisfying biscuit because of its sheer density. The amount of butter they have managed to cram into this compact brick of a bicuit is to the Scots’ credit. Such a high rating here leaves little doubt as to the state (and size) of my bum though…

3. Petit écolier – the tastiest schoolboys are French and come in groups of twelve. A crisp all butter biscuit is the sideshow to the hefty slab of solid chocolate that ‘tops’ this biscuit par excellence. They belie their superiority by being difficult to dunk (I have made several attempts at successful dunking but to no avail). No matter, they can be scoffed unashamedly without accessories.

2. M&S pistachio and almond cookie – these are inspired. Another St Pancras discovery, this packet never left the train carriage I opened it in. A crunchy, crumbly, buttery cookie (none of your half-baked nonsense here) packed with generous clusters of toasted nuts, these work on your senses until you don’t care who’s watching.

1. Sable biscuit – somehow almost more buttery than pure butter, these are biscuits you can grab hold of with both hands. Solid little hockey pucks of exquisiteness, they show that the French know the value of butter better than anyone. If Calais had warehouses full of these instead of booze, I’d have a gold-embossed P&O customer loyalty card.

NB – Leave the HobNobs to Peter Kay. And the oats get in my teeth, alright? 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