JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Buzz's winter biscuits

These biscuits take me right back to Oxford in the 1950s, to my childhood, to my grandmother's welcoming kitchen. She always made them for special occasions during the winter. She cut them into rounds using a glass. When they had coooled down after cooking, she decorated them with a blob of icing made simply with icing sugar and water, topped with a little quince jam in the middle. For me, the quince jam was the taste I associated most closly with my grandmother - scented, honeyed, and not found in any other house I visited. I didn't know what it actually was until I was an adult, and bought a jar of quince jelly in a supermarket in France while on holiday. It was, as they say, a Proustian moment - and there I was sitting at the table that was slightly too tall, with the Gothic clock ticking in the corner, and the promise of a game of table croquet once the washing up was finished.

The recipe appears twice in Buzz's books. In the first, which dates back to her childhood in the late 19th century, they are called German biscuits. The second recipe was probably written in the 1920s, no longer a child, but now a wife. It's the same recipe, but now it's called Empire biscuits. I'll take my 20th century European history lesson with plenty of spice, thank you.

Buzz's recipe says:

half a pound of flour
quarter of a pound of butter
quarter of a pound of sugar
one egg
half a teaspoon of baking powder
one teaspoon of cinnamon
one teaspoon of mixed spice

Cream the butter and sugar, add flour, spices and egg by degrees, also baking powder. Mix into a stiff paste and roll onto a floured board. Cut into biscuits and bake 15-20 minutes. Coat with icing sugar and decorate.

Well, you can see the problem.

I used 250g flour, and stirred in the sugar (I used vanilla caster sugar), spices and baking powder. Then I poured in 90ml of grapeseed oil and one egg. There wasn't enough liquid to clump it into a dough, so I added another egg (the eggs we have at the moment are all very small, so one large one might be enough).

When I'd finished cutting it out - some round ones cut with a glass, as I don't seem to have a round cutter, but mostly hearts and stars - I put them on a greased baking sheet and into a moderate oven (160C) for 13 minutes (I started checking after 10 minutes, as this is the sort of thing that burns very quickly).

They're good, they taste just the same (I made some quince jam a couple of years ago, and we haven't yet eaten it all up), but the texture's not so good, not so crisp, more like hard instead. I'd use less sugar next time, and a little more spice. I'd also roll them out much thinner, so that I'd also make half the quantity (one egg's worth), because this made one baking sheet of thick biscuits, and I really wouldn't want two baking sheet's worth ... we really don't eat that many biscuits, and Horatio has just refused point-blank to even try a crumb.

I think next time I'll make something from the meat or vegetable section ... but this recipe, more than any other in the books, reminds me of Buzz, and childhood, and the kitchen where she first taught me to cook. So this post is my entry for the one-off Nostalgia event being run by Kitchen Wench.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They look adorable! I'm sorry the texture didn't quite work out well, but with a little experimentation I'm sure you could get them to be perfectly faithful to your memory of them :) Thank you so much for taking part in the Nostalgia event!