If you’re familiar with my Black Tom’s Sea Biscuits, then you’ll no doubt be at least aware of Dead Man’s Fingers (DMF) rum.
It’s totally worth trying on its’ own or mixed with a cola. It’s a fantastic rum from Cornwall and contributes to making my favourite biscuit in the range.
More recently however, they have just released a 4th flavour (in addition to coconut, coffee and the original spiced). This time it’s hemp, or CBD. Once again, perfectly good on it’s own, or with a cola.
But what actually is Hemp?
Part of the Cannabis family, hemp or more specifically industrial hemp, is grown for it’s stem fibres. They’re incredibly strong and used to make room and fibreboard among other things. The seeds also contain oil, which can be extracted.
Our favourite DMF rum has been infused with the hemp oil to create an amazing experimental rum. Which leads to the next obvious question… could it work as a biscuit?
Could hemp oil work in a biscuit, or am I straying into “loaded cookies”?
I get a lot of fun suggestions for biscuits flavours. There’s always the common ones of course, gin, sherry, port etc. Some of those are in development right now, but the one that caught my interest last year, was a particularly famous brand of fortified wine.
Instagrammer Eoin made the suggestion (and subsequently received the very first box in production). The tricky part, is it’s so famous, it can’t be named. I know, bananas, but it’s a legal thing. I can’t piggy back off another brands’ name. But I can tell you, the biscuits are called “Quick Buck”, and they’re made with a Fortified Wine that’s produced in Devon, England, and it has a worldwide reputation for being infamous.
It also has a great selection of colloquial names, such as “bucky/buccy/buckie”, “wreck the hoose juice”, “lurgan champagne”, “commotion lotion” and more locally in Ireland, “bottle of stuff”.
None of these names were particularly suited to a product label, and the term “champagne” is protected in law, reserved for select French wineries and thanks to an agreement from World War 2, a few wineries in California.
I had never tried the wine until it was suggested, but I was surprised by it’s pleasant caramel colour, which incidentally looks really well on the biscuits. (Any flavour which doesn’t require an artificial colour is always welcome). Oddly, the bottle declares a high alcohol content and a high caffeine content, but doesn’t provide any ingredients other than fortified wine.
For my early biscuits, the ingredients were straight forward, with a paper based analysis sufficient to provide all of the ingredient and nutritional values, subject to verification by a lab before launch. But these were different. These called for some specialist testing. So off they went, post shelf life testing, they were submitted to a food analysis lab for a nutritional break down.
The results weren’t particularly surprising, but the key element here is accuracy. I couldn’t find any paper based analysis which provided a breakdown of the wine. It has always been (and for the foreseeable future will remain) a drink with a little mystery about it.
And the taste? I can’t say I’d drink a full “bottle of stuff”, but the biscuits are definitely tasty, and just a little bit mysterious.
I’ve always imagined test kitchens to be laboratories, with colourful liquids and expensive machines spinning tubes and outputting graphs.
My kitchen in the house doesn’t do any of those cool things, but apparently it is a test kitchen. The only thing that makes it different from other kitchens (aside from a really old dodgy Electrolux oven), is the detailed records of all biscuits produced.
Biccie lovers regularly ask if they can test the biscuits, try new flavours and suggest the next biscuit to be made, which I completely understand. It sounds glamourous, fun and scientific all at the same time.
What lots of people don’t realise, is eating your way through several kilograms of biscuit dough (cooked and raw), is neither glamourous nor fun. But it is scientific, as long as you write everything down.
Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not complaining. It’s a bit like fishing. You don’t know what you’re going to get until you see it. You have a plan for what you want and a plan to make it happen, but until you’ve got it in your hand, you really can’t be sure.
So where is the fun and glamour? The fun (for me anyway), is in the planning and nearing the final result. In developing Black Tom’s Sea Biscuits for example, there was a selection of rums to try. (The fun part). Each rum was tasted straight – no mixers, just as they’re bottled.
The next stage is to pair them with the icing and the biscuit. This naturally changes the flavour, making it sweeter and changing the consistency, so it’s a completely new product. The secret is not stopping with a great new flavour. The secret is to keep testing, rebalancing the alcohol with the ingredients until the product is fully tested. A great product could be a tweak away from an amazing product.
It’s also equally possible that a great flavour turns into a rotten flavour, which is where the importance of paperwork comes in. Looking back through the notes and findings will identify the perfect biscuit, and exactly what’s required to recreate it.
Sadly, making the biscuit is the easy part and typically takes around 4-6 weeks. With the ingredients and design decided upon, lots of biscuits are produced to test scaleability. You’ll notice the cool pirate arm with the rum bottle I designed doesn’t actually appear on the biscuits you buy. Sadly the process to add the arm wasn’t repeatable at scale without some extremely expensive machinery. The test biscuits are then bagged and packed away in a cupboard for shelf life testing. If you want three months shelf life, you need to store and test for a minimum of three months. If you want a year, it’s store and test for a year, assuming the product hasn’t spoiled during that time.
The hard part is the packaging.
Packaging has so many requirements, it’s a world of study all on it’s own. Obviously the first product is the hardest, but every new product requires a new label and nutritional values calculated. Bagging and boxing are slow processes, unless you have tens of thousands of pounds spare, so it’s a cheap and painfully slow process to get started.
You can design the most beautiful box or packet for your biscuits, but if it doesn’t handle well in transit (in delivery vehicles, boats and aircraft, shop cages, shelf packers and so on), then it’ll never see a shop shelf. If you want scaleability, the pack also has to fit inside another box (an outer), which can fit securely onto a pallet when stacked.
The label is yet another field of study, from product naming to ingredient lists; there’s an encyclopedia of regulations to determine what you can and cannot write or display on your label. But getting back to the fun, there is the naming and graphics to be chosen. Personally, I’m a fan of my research, and basing my products on historical details. Black Tom for example, is a rarely documented pirate, who is thought to have hidden his treasure in Dunluce Castle, a couple of hours north of my kitchen. (Spoiler alert, in Northern Ireland, anywhere in the entire country is no more than a couple of hours away, unless there’s sheep walking up the road). So with a local pirate, a delicious Cornish rum, and a new biscuit, we’re all set for a new product.