Digestives and English cheese
A series of events have kept me away from the blogosphere in recent weeks. Things will be hectic for at least another couple of weeks: c'est la vie. However, I managed to complete the assignment pertaining the current edition of Cook the Books.
Reading Nigel Slater's Eating for England was quite pleasant. A number of his vignettes struck a chord with me, since I have many memories related to English foods, and I had fun comparing notes, so to speak, with him. For example, it looks like we share an appreciation for Bourbon biscuits, which I tasted the first time while vacationing in Malta, together with another favorite biscuit, the Morning Coffee.
It is reassuring, in these days of triple choc-chip, caramel-coated super-biscuits, that the plain, singularly dry Rich Tea has survived. I feel the same about the Marie, the Morning Coffee and the Thin Arrowroot... You feel that this plain and simple biscuit is where all biscuits started from... Sometimes a plain, understated biscuit is all the luxury you want. Sometimes, it is all you get.
(In Italy, we call this kind of biscuits biscotti secchi. This is a kind I like and can only enjoy when I visit my country of origin.)
Slater's preference for the dark chocolate Digestive ("probably the best biscuit in the world") and dislike for "tongue-numbingly sweet" milk chocolate HobNobs matches mine. However, during my sojourns in England, I mostly consumed plain McVites Digestives, and those in moderation (an exercise in restraint). So, for old times' sake, I decided to try to make some Digestive-inspired biscuits. I read some recipes, then let my imagination take over and ended up with something different from what I set about making, but good nonetheless. Here are some recipes I looked at:
- Digestive Biscuits from Baking for Britain
- Digestive Biscuits from Recipes Wiki
- King Arthur's English Digestive Biscuits
Here is the list of ingredients I used:
- 3 oz. whole-wheat pastry flour
- 1 oz. white whole-wheat flour
- 1.5 oz. fine oatmeal [see below]
- 0.5 oz. toasted wheat germ
- 2 oz. whole-grain barley flour
- 3 tablespoons cold butter
- 1 oz. strutto (lard that I rendered recently)
- 35 g (2.5 tablespoons) fine sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- whole milk or an egg [see below]
In a previous post, I talked about the cracked oats I get as part of my share of a grain CSA. I sifted out the fine particles from a batch and used them as fine oatmeal in this recipe. The whole-grain barley flour also comes from the CSA. I made one batch of biscuits with whole milk and one with an egg: the results were quite different, each good in its own way. I did not measure the milk: I used enough to bind the dry ingredients into a dough. The version with egg was close to pasta frolla (sweet shortcrust pastry). However, the flavor was different, due to the whole-grain quality of all the dry ingredients.
To make the dough, I followed my pasta frolla routine, described here. I rolled the dough to 3-4 mm (1/8-1/6") thickness and used my circle scalloped cookie cutter to obtain the biscuits. I pricked them with a fork and baked them at 350 F on a sheet lined with a silicone baking mat. I checked them after 16 minutes and then every couple of minutes until done. After removing them from the oven, I let them cool on a rack. I forgot to do the pricking before baking some of the biscuits made with egg, so you can distinguish them in the photo below. I cannot say that my biscuits reminded me of the Digestives I ate in England many years ago, but I enjoyed them (and so did my husband) paired with some of my homemade cheese, a Gouda, to be precise.
My original plan was actually to make Cheshire cheese, a famous formaggio inglese, according to the recipe in 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes by Debra Amrein-Boyes, then use it to make Welsh Rarebit, based on the recipe in the same book. The problem was that I started too late, so the small wheel (forma) of Cheshire is not yet ready to undergo cutting. Another English cheese is currently aging in my house: a Stirred-Curd Cheddar, to which I added an ingredient that for now shall remain undisclosed. I will know in the near future whether my idea was good or not. As I mentioned before, cheese making teaches you to be patient.
This is my contribution to the current edition of Cook the Books, hosted by Johanna of Food Junkie, Not Junk Food. You can find the guidelines for participating in the event here, and here is the announcement of the current edition.
This post contains the roundup of the event.