As important as the recipe are good quality ingredients. Cheap chocolate is a route to disaster: always use the best you can find, with a high percentage of cocoa solids (50 per cent is the absolute minimum). Margarine is out, and I would not advise using bargain-basement butter either, particularly for biscuits such as shortbread that rely on butter for their fine flavour.
You also need an attentive and patient disposition. Biscuit-baking, once you get past making the dough, is not child's play. You really have to watch them as they cook, and be immensely wary of timings given in recipes. Ovens vary quite enough to make a difference to a dough that is high in sugar and/or fat. While it may take 12 minutes to bake a biscuit to perfection at Casa Grigson, the difference of a degree or two in your oven may mean it takes only 10 minutes to do them to a turn. Burnt biscuits are fit only for the dustbin.
Judging 'doneness' is not always easy, and may take several tries. Never overcrowd the oven in an attempt to save time, electricity or patience. It is far more sensible to bake two (or at most three) trayfuls at a time, so you can keep an eye on them, changing their positions if necessary so that they cook evenly.
I always think of this recipe as a family possession - my aunt and cousins make them, my mother did, and so do I. But I have just discovered that it comes originally from The Constance Spry Cookery Book. These little cheese biscuits are irresistibly crumbly and crisp, and so simple that you barely even need a recipe.
If you like them, it is worth making up a large batch of the dough and freezing what you do not immediately need. With a sharp knife dipped in hot water, you can slice it straight from the freezer.
Ingredients: For the biscuits, you will need equal weights of:
lightly salted butter
strong-flavoured hard cheese (such as cheddar or red leicester), grated plain flour
a pinch of cayenne pepper
lightly beaten egg
caraway, fennel, poppy or sesame seeds (optional)
Preparation: Use a processor if possible. Whizz the butter with the cheese. Sift the flour with the cayenne and work it in. (If you do not have a processor, rub the butter roughly into the sifted flour; add the cheese and work to a homogenous, pasty mass.)
Mould the mixture into a sausage, about 1 1/2-2in (3.5-5cm) in diameter on a sheet of greaseproof paper or silver foil. Roll up and chill until hard.
Line baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment. Slice biscuit mixture as thinly as possible and lay slices on the baking sheets. Brush with egg and sprinkle with seeds if using. Bake at 190-200C/375-400F/gas 5-6 for 5-10 minutes until golden and slightly puffed. Cool on a wire rack.
I have always loved bought bourbon biscuits, but I do genuinely think these home-made ones are even nicer. If time is short, make plain chocolate biscuits without any filling.
Makes about 12
Ingredients: 5oz (140g) plain flour
1 1/2 oz (40g) cornflour
1 1/2 oz (40g) cocoa
pinch of salt
4oz (110g) butter, softened
4oz (110g) caster sugar
For the filling:
3oz (85g) plain chocolate
3oz (85g) butter
3oz (85g) icing sugar
Preparation: Either line several baking sheets with non- stick baking parchment, or grease thoroughly.
Sift the flour with the cornflour, cocoa and salt. Cream the butter with the caster sugar until light and fluffy. Work in the flour mixture, adding enough milk to form a fairly stiff but not crumbly dough.
Knead the dough briefly, then roll out to a thickness of about 1/8 in (0.3cm) on a lightly floured board. Cut out rectangles about 1in by 2 1/2 in (2.5cm by 7cm). Lay on the prepared baking sheet and prick with a fork. Chill in the fridge for half an hour. Bake at 180C/350F/gas 4 for 12-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
For the filling, melt the chocolate over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool until tepid. Cream the butter until light and fluffy, then work in the icing sugar and finally the chocolate. Chill until thickened. Sandwich the biscuits together in pairs.
These are great either/or biscuits - they are just sweet enough to satisfy with morning coffee or afternoon tea, but plain and unfussy enough to set off good cheese.
Makes about 18
Ingredients: 6oz (170g) 100 per cent wholemeal flour
2oz (55g) plain flour
4oz (110g) fine oatmeal
1/2 tbs bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
5oz (140g) butter
2oz (55g) light muscovado sugar
2-3fl oz (30-45ml) milk
Preparation: Line a baking sheet with non-stick baking parchment, or grease well.
Sift flours with bicarbonate of soda and salt. Stir in the oatmeal. Rub in the butter until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, then stir in sugar. Add just enough milk to form a soft but coherent dough.
Roll out to a thickness of about 1/8 in (0.3cm) on a lightly floured board. Stamp out 3in (7.5cm) circles and lay on the baking sheet. Prick with a fork. Bake at 190C/375F/gas 5 for 10-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
The original chocolate chip cookie, said to have been invented by Ruth Wakefield of the Toll House Restaurant in Massachusetts. She sold the recipe to the Nestle company which made it famous throughout America.
Ingredients: 10oz (280g) plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp vanilla essence
6oz (170g) slightly salted
5oz (140g) caster sugar
4oz (110g) light muscovado sugar
14oz (400g) chocolate chips or diced plain chocolate
4oz (110g) chopped pecans or walnuts
Preparation: Line several baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment, or butter them generously.
Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt. Beat the egg lightly with the milk and vanilla essence. Cream the butter with the caster sugar until light and fluffy. Add the muscovado sugar and keep beating until it is evenly incorporated. Now add about a third of the egg mixture, beat well and then stir in a third of the flour. Repeat until all used up, by which time you should have a thick, smooth batter. Stir in the chocolate and pecans.
Drop dessertspoonfuls of the mixture on to the sheets, leaving plenty of space between them. Bake at 190C/375F/gas 5 for 12-16 minutes. Cool for a couple of minutes on the sheets so they begin to firm, then transfer to a wire rack.Reuse content