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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 August 2007, 13:23 GMT 14:23 UK
The strange appeal of the custard cream
Custard cream
The design is Baroque
The custard cream is the nation's favourite biscuit, suggests a survey. So why has it endured so long?

They don't make them like they used to, it seems.

The old-fashioned custard cream biscuit has annihilated its newer, more fancy rivals in a survey.

Nine out of 10 people named the custard cream as their favourite biscuit, in a poll of 7,000 people. The result even prompted surprise from Trufree, which hosted the survey, and said despite there being "so much to choose from on the market, it seems people still plump for a no-nonsense nibble".

Baroque swirls

No-nonsense up to a point, that is. That intricate, swirly design on every custard cream harks back to Victorian times, says self-appointed biscuit expert Stuart Payne.

"The little baroque swirls on the top, that's all Victorian because in the Victorian age there were a lot of ferns so the custard cream has ferns designed on it."

He thinks it unlikely that Trufree's survey is a true representation of opinion. His website conducted its own poll and the custard cream was voted the ninth favourite, with the dark chocolate digestive placed first. The custard cream was also ranked seventh in the list of biscuits people were most likely to buy.

It's a popular balance of having something a bit special, but not being vulgar
Stuart Payne
Biscuit expert

"It's been with us for ages and ages but our poll shows it's kind of in the middle.

"With the cream in the centre, there's enough nice stuff in it that people think they're getting a bit of a treat, but not so nice that people feel guilty eating three of them. It's not like stuffing chocolate bars down the throat.

"So it's a popular balance of having something a bit special, but not being vulgar."

Mr Payne, author of A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down, fondly recalls it as being the first biscuit he ever tasted, thanks to his aunt Edna who fed him the cream, which is not cream at all but is actually icing, in 1966. He never looked back.

But eating one in this way is controversial. A biscuit purist wrote to Mr Payne's website to describe the separation method as "desecration".


Such is the popularity of the classic biscuits like the custard cream, rich tea and digestive, manufacturers looking for new brands often try and adapt the old by adding something new, says Mr Payne.

"It's an extremely difficult trick, to bring out a new biscuit that lasts more than a flash in the pan, so you have to hand it to those that have been out for 100 years and stood the test of time.

"People come back to these standards and whatever manufacturers bring out they have to nod to these classics."

Mr Payne's favourite biscuit is the "ground-breaking" McVities Abbey Crunch, which is no longer produced. But his favourite custard cream is Crawford's, now owned by United Biscuits.

A spokesman for United Biscuits says: "Crawford's Custard Creams continue to be the nation's favourite and everyone has their own preferred way of eating them from dunking to nibbling to pulling them apart and enjoying the cream centre.

"These popular biscuits have recently been further improved by removing partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and contain no artificial colours or flavourings but still have the traditional taste people love."

Extracting the trans fats from biscuits proved unpopular, says Mr Payne, because it caused a degeneration in taste and texture. But a successful compromise has been reached by using palm oil.

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