[140-365] 23rd. December 2020- Yes, I know all biscuits are nice, but these are Nice. These are the biscuits that you lovingly ate as a child when all the other biscuits in the tinned assortment were gone. When nothing else Nicer was on offer these were nice.
They are - Coconut biscuits sprinkled with sugar. Originated c.1860. It is a plain or coconut-flavoured biscuit. It is thin, rectangular in shape, with rounded bumps on the edges, and lightly covered with a scattering of large sugar crystals, often with the word "NICE" imprinted on top in sans-serif capital letters. It is often served as an accompaniment to hot drinks, such as tea.
Again it is amazing to me how many of our favourite biscuits were invented so long ago, 160 years ago to be exact in this case. So is it Nice as in niece or Nice as in rice? According to Wikipedia it is pronounced as in the French city of Nice which in case you didn't know is pronounced as in niece. The real clincher though, is how can you not admire a biscuit that declares it's own name in sans-serif capital letters, that is pure class, as befits one of Queen Victoria's favourites. It is said that the original designer named it for being nice and it was only when Queen Victoria falling for that old marketing trick, took them with her to Nice in France that the French connection started. (French Connection another great film) By 1929 the biscuit being named after the city had become established so much so that....
1929 editions of the Hull Daily Mail carried an advertisement for Huntley & Palmers Nice Biscuits using the phrase "Delightful as the town after which they are named", indicating that by this point their manufacturers intended the public to associate the biscuit with the French town, whether or not that had hitherto been the intended pronunciation.
The natural environment of the Nice area and its mild Mediterranean climate came to the attention of the English upper classes in the second half of the 18th century, when an increasing number of aristocratic families took to spending their winters there. In 1931 following its refurbishment the city's main seaside promenade, the Promenade des Anglais ("Walkway of the English") was inaugurated by Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, and owes its name to visitors to the resort. These included Queen Victoria along with her son Edward VII who spent winters there. (wikipedia)
There's a definite suspicion of jumping on a bandwagon attaching the biscuit to the place because at exactly the same time as the biscuit is being branded for Nice the city, the city of Nice was being rebranded for English tourists.
In 1860 when these biscuits were invented, The Grand Duchy of Tuscany was annexed to the newly formed Kingdom of Italy. The Pony Express began its first run from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California, with riders carrying a small Bible. The Expedition of the Thousand took place when Giuseppe Garibaldi and his troops departed from Quarto, to start a different biscuit story. The Nightingale Training School and Home for Nurses, the first nursing school based on the ideas of Florence Nightingale, was opened at St Thomas' Hospital in London. John Hanning Speke and James Augustus Grant left Zanzibar, to search for the source of the Nile River.
So people were eating Nice biscuits and the source of the Nile had not yet been established.
Christians and Druzes clashed in Damascus, Syria. Robert Bunsen discovered caesium and rubidium. And Britain produced 20% of the entire world's output of industrial goods, and presumably 100% of the world's Nice biscuits. Gustav Mahler was born.
That is how old Nice biscuits are.
For those of you who have just gone into Tier 4 lockdown I have a recipe for you to experiment with, to while away the next three months, that's if you were far thinking enough to stock up on desiccated coconut.
At least coconut is not something we import from Europe as far as I know so there should still be some left available, not affected by the latest French blockade. I like the way the media portray the latest French blockade of our ports as something novel. Anyone who has ever travelled to France more than once in the last forty years will have encountered at least one of these before. For years I thought France was a large car park at Calais, which was always preferable to the large car park at Dover only because if you were in the one on the French side at least you had already experienced a holiday. When you were stuck in the English version you were on borrowed time.
I have not tried the recipe yet so I cannot vouch for it, but if you all want to have a go, you can leave your findings in the comments section.
Make those traditional biscuits at home!
50g desiccated coconut, plus more for sprinkling (I would leave out the extra for sprinkling, I'm just saying)
110g caster sugar
225g butter, at room temperature
200g plain flour
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees fan and line a large baking tray with baking parchment.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Stir in the flour, cornflour and coconut pieces until a dough forms, and then chill for 30 minutes.
Roll out the dough to a 1cm thickness (That seems a bit thick to me) and use a square fluted cutter to cut out biscuits. Reroll the dough to get as many biscuits as you can. (I'm not sure how handy you are with fonts so good luck with the sans-serif bit) Arrange on the baking tray, sprinkle with sugar and bake for 10-12 minutes.
Allow to cool, then keep the biscuits in an airtight tin for up to one week.
Real fresh coconut was a revelation when I first tasted it, having presumed for my whole life up until that point that all coconut was desiccated. In fact desiccated coconut must be the only foodstuff ever invented that sold itself on the idea of desiccation, the majority of foodstuffs preferring to use the moist route to advertising.
Desiccation only ever conjured up a large cold drink to me, like the final scene in "Ice Cold in Alex" where Sir John Mills is seen savouring a cold beer after days in the desert. The story goes that Sir John Mills being no fool took fourteen takes to get the scene just right.
The other problem with desiccated coconut is the fact that it never leaves your mouth, it goes around and around for days gradually leaching coconutty flavour for the first three minutes, until it is just sawdust that won't go away. It doesn't matter how many times you rinse, it has a half life like Plutonium, you only ever lose half of it at a time, until eventually the last two pieces become one. But how do you lose half of one piece, you have to chew it for months. There is always a tiny morsel hidden away in that cavity or down the side of a bit of gum difficult to reach with your Oral-B. Dentists should offer a tooth valeting service for people who have been idiotic enough to sample desiccated coconut. But you really should try a Nice biscuit at least once.