Bourbon Biscuits – a lockdown review

Image: many Bourbon biscuits piled together.

I had longed for the Siberian wilderness. Bears, wolves, and a stout Soviet Ushanka for warmth. Despite the current cold snap, Warrington is nevertheless a far cry from such poetic ideals; my long walks near Lake Baikal replaced with a gentle stroll through the nearby park, the sinuous bears with some rather terrifying ducks. However, despite the temporary (one hopes) hiatus to the travels, one particular icon of British culture has brought me some joy. I talk, of course, of the Bourbon biscuit.

I should imagine that it is familiar to most readers. In itself, the recipe for a bourbon is simple. A layer of chocolate cream sandwiched by two identical chocolate biscuits – truly the biscuit of choice for the discerning chocolatier. As many great people before have said, there is great beauty in simple things.[1] And yet, as my tales shall hopefully demonstrate, the attainment of a perfect Bourbon biscuit is no mean feat. Let me first explain a little about the history of the biscuit before I lay down my rather specific criteria.

Introduced in 1910, and named for the French royal house of Bourbon, there is a class radiating from the simple design unmatched by other teatime biscuits. Indeed, where others seek to impress with patterns and swirls, the Bourbon stands true with its simple design, its name, and the depth of the chocolate tone. The familiar holes in the biscuit, a manufacturing aid to allow the escape of steam during baking, frame the biscuit’s name with casual opulence. Indeed, one immediately envisages the relaxed, yet formal atmosphere of a high-society casino.

Where others seek to impress with patterns and swirls, the Bourbon stands true with its simple design, its name, and the depth of the chocolate tone.

And now to the standards. A good bourbon is a difficult thing to achieve, as stated above. For those wishing to eat alongside tea, there should be enough sweetness so that one requires no addition of sugar to the beverage. As a stand-alone snack, the dark, rich cocoa should give the biscuit depth, working together with the cream to create a multi-dimensional experience. Thus, resolved to find the perfect commercially available bourbon biscuit, I decided to venture to ALDI, M&S, Asda, and Sainsbury’s in order to provide a somewhat worthwhile analysis of price, appearance, texture, and taste. My findings are as follows:

The ALDI variant of bourbon biscuits retailed for a mere 11p per 100g of biscuit, representing by far the best value. At the very moment of purchase, the cliché ‘you get what you pay for’ began to flash through my head. Would I truly manage to be objective, despite literally having paid for the biscuits in coppers? I’m pleased to say that the ALDI biscuits disproved my prejudices in an instant. The biscuit announces itself with a characteristically satisfying crunch; not so hard as to tax one’s teeth, yet sturdy enough to withstand repetitive dunks into a cup of tea. The biscuit is well-flavoured with cocoa, and despite the marginally-too-sweet chocolate cream in the centre, it is overall a very well-balanced biscuit. Add in the price, and it is a prospect ne’er to be refused.

M&S, the bastion of the middle-classes, has some work to do. With a bold pricing strategy of 17.5p per 100g of biscuit, 150% (more or less) the price of the ALDI variety, it represented a significant mark-up. The pressure for achievement builds. Amazingly, the M&S variety does not disappoint either. The biscuit, with a similar bite to the ALDI variety, lacks the cocoa punch of its discount predecessor. However, the investment has been well-spent on the cream, which is of a darker, more mysterious character, and in sufficient quantity so as not to compromise the overall mouthfeel. The net outcome is of a frankly more interesting biscuit, well worth the once optimistic 150% price hike – the other supermarkets have a mountain to climb.

Sainsbury’s makes a respectable summit attempt, yet Asda’s variety is one that ought never to have left the car park.

And much like the trainer-wearing individuals who have suddenly found themselves half-way up an unknown peak in the Lake District calling Mountain Rescue, the other two supermarkets fail to reach the lofty standards of their predecessors. [2] With both retailing at around 15p per 100g, one would expect similarity. However, the two fail on vastly different levels. Sainsbury’s makes a respectable summit attempt, yet Asda’s variety is one that ought never to have left the car park.

The Sainsbury’s biscuit is not bad. A biscuit with reasonable flavour with a sweet cream in the middle. Nothing much to write home about. However, it loses points for just how light the biscuit is – the obvious skimping on quality ingredients leads to a thoroughly unsatisfying experience, with one having to eat four, perhaps five biscuits in order to achieve the satiety provided by its predecessors. This is an obvious waste of time. After the increased levels of consumption, it becomes a waste of money, too.

This all pales into comparison with the Asda biscuit, however. Priced at a princely 15p per 100g, just 2p off the M&S variety, it is almost doomed to fail. Yet I, scarred by former prejudice of the ALDI biscuit, have learnt to approach these things with an open mind. A grave error. Simply put, biting into the ASDA biscuit is one of the biggest mistakes of my life hitherto. Instead of the comforting warmth of cocoa, the immediate flavour is one of cardboard. Despite a reasonable crunch, the frankly appalling balance between biscuit and cream forces a desperate aridity onto my palate. The cream, which ought to be a welcome source of moisture, is barely noticeable, overshadowed by the xerophilic biscuits that surround it. This is a biscuit which, if left untamed, will soon become responsible for water shortages. It is too late for me, who still has 100g of these biscuits left at home – I can only urge you not to make the same mistakes.

[1] Perhaps from the final scene of ‘The Office’ (US)

[2] Mountain Rescue have done a fantastic job so far – If you’re planning on scaling mountains, make sure you’re equipped! 

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