Scotch CookiesPosted: January 22, 2020
We’re going to start 2020 with a bang – and also biscuits.
OK, so I lied about the bang, but… BISCUITS!
I have been obsessing a little over biscuits of late, and how they are possibly, unjustly, a little under-appreciated in the world of baking.
They have so much going for them! Unlike cakes, tarts, pies and desserts, they have relatively few ingredients, they bake quickly, they small and self-contained – no-one ever had to cut a portion of biscuits. They bake is a short amount of time, they keep well, and you can easily customise them to your own tastes.
“These walnut biscuits are amazing! You should try them.”
“Walnuts? WALNUTS?? What are you saying!?!? I can’t STAND walnuts! Walnuts are an ABOMINATION! I can’t believe you’d even bring the subject up! Walnuts are DEAD to me! YOU are dead to me! Why I oughtta….”
“You could make them with hazelnuts instead?”
“Oh ok – cool. Thanks.”
And there are so many varieties, plain, sandwiches, iced, with fruit, with nuts, with vanilla, citrus, spices… There is one aspect, however, which in my book is NOT up for discussion, and that is a biscuit is CRISP. Non-negotiable. So I’ve gathered together some new and exciting (to me, and hopefully to you too) biscuit recipes to try over the coming weeks.
So I’m browsing t’Internet and I find an American article about a Madeleine Moment. Now, if I love anything to do with food, it’s a Recipe With A Backstory™. The recipe was called Scotch Cookies, and originated online in an article about food and memory from 2009, which had found the recipe in Chebeague Island Cooking published in 1986 by Chebeague Parents Association. The Cushman Bakery in Portland, Maine had made these cookies, but since the bakery had closed in the 1960s, the recipe was sourced for the cookbook by Jean Dyer, who took the initiative to contact the Harris Baking Company (who had bought Cushman’s and along with it, the Scotch Cookie recipe).
*draws breath* But I digress….
I have my doubts about these having any link to Scotland at all, since cookies in Scotland are actually sweet buns (at least according to the 19th/20thC bakery books I’ve consulted – friends north of the border please correct me if I’m wrong), but I decided to give them a go, not least because they are lightly spiced with mace and cinnamon. Mace used to be extremely popular, as did caraway, but both have fallen out of fashion over the last couple of centuries, so this recipe piqued my interest because firstly, the majority of recipes I’ve read pair it with nutmeg, and secondly, use it very sparingly. So to see it paired here with cinnamon and also a full teaspoon of each at that, had me wondering what it would taste like.
The answer is – like nothing I’ve tasted before. In a very, very good way. It is as if the combination of cinnamon, mace and treacle produce something much greater than the sum of it’s parts. Thin and crisp with a delicious flavour and (eventually) a very satisfying crunch. Very moreish.
The texture needed work, especially since I changed the fat from shortening (I’m just not a fan) to butter. As you might have noticed with, for example, an all-butter pastry, the texture loses it’s crispness, so to counterbalance this, replacing a small proportion of flour with cornflour brings the crispness back. Other tweaks included substituting treacle for molasses, and halving both the biscuit size and the recipe as a whole (seriously, who needs so many ginormous cookies in one batch?) but keeping the spice quantities. This resulted in the unfortunate (in my opinion) ingredient of half an egg. I am mitigating this with having a recipe later that also uses half an egg, to prevent waste. Don’t keep the other half an egg ’till then, though – obvs.
After a few more experimental batches I also had to add adding cooking times and temperatures, since the original recipe’s “Bake, but do not overbake.” has to rank as one of the most useless recipe comments I’ve ever read.
Makes about 40 thin biscuits.
140g soft, light brown sugar
115g unsalted butter – softened
½ large egg
150g plain flour
½ tsp salt
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- Put the sugar, butter, treacle and egg into a bowl and whisk until smoothly combined.
- Sift together the flours, salt, soda and spices and add to the butter mixture and fold in.
- Add the milk and stir to combine.
- Lay out heaped teaspoons (15g or so) of the mixture onto some baking parchment and put into the freezer for 30-45 minutes to firm up.
- When firm, roll into balls (about the size of a large grape/cherry tomato) and lay onto Silpat/parchment-lined baking sheets. NB These will spread quite substantially whilst baking, so space them well apart. I use the inbuilt oven shelves and a Silpat to bake them on, and have just 14 (in a 4-3-4-3 formation) per sheet. I bake 2 batches of 2 trays.
- Wrap the base of a tumbler in cling film and lightly grease it with a little butter. Press the tumbler base onto the balls of dough to flatten.
- Heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Baking the biscuits: Now I appreciate that people’s tastes differ, and some of you might like a biscuit that is chewy in the middle and crisp on the edges. No problem. Just bake them for the shorter cooking time. If you’re unsure which you might like best, bake a small test batch of one or two biscuits on separate pieces of parchment (so you can remove the shorter-baked ones easily), allow them to cool and then taste to decide.
- For crisp biscuits, bake for 12-13 minutes, for chewy biscuits, bake for 10-11 minutes.
- These biscuits will be thin and very soft when they come out of the oven, so you will need to let them cool on the sheets for 2-3 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
- When completely cool, store in an airtight container.