I have never been an avid biscuit maker which is strange really given the diversity of baking opportunities they present. I am not quite sure why I have avoided them, but they never really featured in my childhood which may go a little way to explaining why. My father’s favourite was a Ginger Nut, that rock hard ginger biscuit, that he used to dunk in his tea. I used to love a Garibaldi when they got put out for tea at my boarding school. Milk Chocolate Digestives and Hobnobs were a University favourite, and what can we say about the supreme Jaffa Cake which is really a biscuit and somehow a box can be demolished within minutes. The Jaffa Cake is my treat biscuit but possibly does not count here as officially it is really a cake (which was even the subject a famous tax case – only in Britain!). One biscuit however I cannot abide is the Custard Cream – a vile bland thing that it has taken years to train the hubby out of buying.
The one thing that did not exist in my childhood was Cookies. The word did not really exist in England. Even the existence of Cookie Monster didn’t help me because my first encounter with Sesame Street was when we lived in Germany and Cookie Monster was called Krümmelmonster (Crumb Monster) and Sesame Street was called Sesamstraβe.
Krümmelmonster liked to fress (scoff) his Kekse (cookies) but his delight at a fabulous Keks was not diminished by being in German. He was always my favourite. If you want to see Cookie Monster in all his German wonder watch this video demonstrating the art of eating Keks fast and slow – it took me back to being 7 years old in an instant, and I learnt a lot of my German from this fellow which explains a lot
A little googling has brought up one fascinating fact about Krümmelmonster: the German voice of my childhood was Alexander Welbat and 30 years later in 1994 his son Douglas took over . Douglas is still going strong, though I suspect he may be raiding Krümmelmonster’s cooking jar a little too frequently.
Which brings us on to that massive Atlantic divide – is it a Cookie or a Biscuit, and are they the same?
The Biscuit is a very European treat and comes from French meaning “Twice Cooked” (Bis Cuit) which says everything about the European biscuit. It is a hard thing that breaks with a snap and any additional ingredients tend to be put on top or sandwiched in between. In some instances the European biscuit can be so hard that they can last for decades. The Royal Navy survived on the ship’s biscuit or hardtack which frankly sounds indigestible, and whilst it no longer forms part of the diet of our much diminished fleet, it is still used by the Russians. This delight is simply made from flour, salt and water which is then baked until every drop of moisture has been removed through a 4 stage bake – less biscuit and more a fourscuit. To eat it, it had to be boiled in tea or water – an early and more revolting version of the tea-dunked ginger nut my father was so fond of.
The Cookie on the other hand is a very different thing. The word comes from Dutch, Koekje, meaning little cake. New York City of course was originally Dutch and called New Amsterdam until taken over by the British in 1664 during the only war we ever really fought with the Dutch. The Google suggests the term Cookie was taken on by our American cousins in an act of culinary rebellion against the English word. To add to the rebellion they then took our fillings, broke them up and scattered them in the much sweeter dough to create what we now know as the Cookie. It has been on the march in the UK since the 1980’s to the extent that it is now No. 6 in the British Biscuit league table beating the Digestive and Ginger Nut.
Which brings me on to the next challenge, and that stays in Germany.
The German for biscuit as I have already said is Keks. Now I thought that came from the Dutch Koekje but actually it is an import from the english word “Cakes” which is deeply surprising. Bahlsen is the biggest biscuit company in Germany and Hermann Bahlsen introduced the British biscuit to Germany in 1889. Hermann had been working as a baker in Britain (and there were many many German bakers in 19th century England), before heading back to Hannover to set up shop. He launched the “Leibniz Cakes” which were so wildly popular that the name became germanified and turned into “Keks”, pronounced just like the English but with a very German spelling. The biscuit bears a remarkable similarity to the British Rich Tea and is still going strong.
Now there must have been a german generic word for the biscuit before hand, but frankly if there was it is not to be found on the interweb. The closest I come is Dauergebäck (“Lasting Baked Good”) but even that took time to track down. Keks seems to be all conquering – yet another example of the all dominant English marching across the world.
The German cannon of biscuits is wide with many similarities to our own. So I now need to do plenty of research. There are lots of short bread varieties, piped items dipped in chocolate and of course the famous Christmas Lebkuchen which I suspect, like the Jaffa cake are really cake not biscuits.
I am rather attracted to the Nußecke (“Nut Corner”) which is shortbread with a hazelnut topping and dipped in Chocolate. The only challenge is getting hold of ground hazelnuts which tend not to be easily found on the UK high street, so meet one of the criteria for the next challenge in the form of an unusual ingredient.
It may however be a while before they are done as we have the builders in right now and my trusty Kenwood Chef is out for its 20 year service! Service however will be resumed as soon as possible.