One of the problems, which has reared its ugly head as a result of my unannounced Christmas hiatus, is that there is a pile of holiday related recipes which have been, just as the resolutions will be, shut out in the cold. One cannot legitimately post a recipe for nut roast after Christmas Eve – it simply will not do. Still, this means that my stock of Christmas themed recipes will be more than healthy come December. However, with the change of year does not come a change of season; it is still winter. As such, these biscuits are an ideal way to satiate one’s Christmas hangover. After all, there is nothing quite like the hair of the dog.
This recipe is the first in what I expect shall be a fairly long, but disjointed, line of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipes. Ironically, these biscuits have not come from his newest recipe book which found its way into my Christmas stocking; instead, they come to you from the lifestyle section of the Guardian’s website. As usual, the recipe has been altered slightly; they were not winter-spiced before I came along.
In the article prefixed to the recipe, Hugh gives a rather lucid and scathing account of the downfall of the British biscuit. He complains about the American coffee chains (Starbucks) and about ‘cookies the size of hubcaps’; and do you know what? I agree with him. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like cookies as much as the next Westerner, but what has become of the humble biscuit, devoid of chocolate, sweets and excess sugar. Of course, these biscuits have plenty of sugar in them, but it is nothing in comparison to the vast quantity which finds itself piled into those which have become the standard. What I suggest, is that we stem the tide of ridiculous cookie cooking and bring back the humble British biscuit. That goes for you too, America!
More than anything, I adore the way these thumbprint biscuits look. They are so rustic and varied, yet they work so well. Biscuit baking shouldn’t be about what is perceived to be perfect, but the joy and ultimately the taste of the result. In this particular case, the ultimate taste sensation is provided by the slightly tangy edge of the damson jelly. It cuts perfectly across the sweet butteryness of the biscuit itself to bring one’s tongue a little zing. Enjoy!
Winter Spice Biscuits with Homemade Plum Jam
Makes roughly 20
• 225g butter, at room temperature
• 225g caster sugar
• The zest of 1 lemon
• The zest of 1 orange
• ½ tsp vanilla extract
• 2 egg yolks
• 2 tbsp milk
• 280g of plain flour
• 1 heaped tsp of mixed spice
• A little salt
• Around 6 tbsp homemade damson jelly, raspberry would also do
1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line two or three baking trays with butter and greaseproof paper. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until creamed. Add the lemon and orange zest, as well as the vanilla extract, and mix thoroughly. Next, beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, before stirring in the milk until combined.
2. Fold in half of the flour, gently stir, then add the rest, along with the salt and mixed spice. Do not overwork the dough, otherwise it will become tough. Gather together the soft dough and work it gently into a ball. Wrap it in cling film and leave it to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
3. Roll the dough into as many balls, of a 2.5cm diameter, as possible. Place them on the grease baking trays roughly an inch apart. Press into each with your thumb and add a splodge of jelly to each well. Bake for around 15 minutes. By this point they should have browned around the edges and be firm to the touch. Leave to cool for 5 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack.
Cost: As you can see, these biscuits are extremely humble, both in look and in ingredients. As such, the entire confection should set one back £1.80. Not too bad, especially when one could envisage them being sold for at least £1 each in certain American coffee chains.