This should be a birthday cake post. But the beginnings of the “cake” have been shelved in the freezer, awaiting a meeting of the minds on whether or not to celebrate. You may like to go back to the front page of the blog to find last year’s post (The Truth about Birthdays) and read about the first rumblings of discontent that led us to today and today’s full-fledged mutiny.
To get my mind off the standoff (yes party vs. no party, a debate where even the winners will be losers) I needed a diversion, and so I baked, several things, and not one of them cake. A few days earlier, another blogger had asked around for recipes for a Carr’s-style or McVitie’s-type wholemeal biscuit-cracker-cookie. The question got me thinking about how much I love McVitie’s Digestive Biscuits. Back in the day, as an exchange student sitting with textbooks and a pot of tea in front of the gas fire, I would have done my best to eat an entire sleeve of the wheatmeal biscuit’s plain version in one sitting. So after I linked Jacqueline to a website I like, called The Little Loaf, I decided to bake a batch (okay, a double batch – it was an emotionally trying day) myself.
If you enjoy baking and baked goods in general, and British baking and baked goods in particular, you – like me – will love this blog. You will love TLL’s biscuit recipe, one she credits to British chef Gary Rhodes, as well. 100% whole grain, far less sweet than its factory made prototype, the biscuit is somewhat healthy, especially if you limit yourself one or two with a cup of tea, and completely comforting, reminding one of simpler times and a less jaded palate.
I have included both the metric weights and volume measurements for my double batch in the recipe below, plus an alternative to the butter for those who may prefer a dairy-free biscuit. Keep in mind the recipe will be more accurate if you weigh your ingredients, but the standard American translation should work fine. You want a dough that you can roll out, a whole grain version of a shortbread. Use a 2-1/2-inch round cookie cutter for a traditional size and shape. If you have a cookie stamp (something avid butter cookie bakers might possess), stamp the unbaked cookie in the center with your distinctive mark. Or do what I did, and stamp the top with the blunt end of another, smaller cookie cutter in some fun shape, or prick the top with the tines of a fork, or do both. The shapes you imprint will remain through the baking process and yield a whimsical end product.
Whimsy matters when baking for diversion.
Wholemeal (Digestive) Biscuits
- 200 grams (2 1/4 cups) whole oats
- 200 grams (1 1/2 cups) wholemeal flour*
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 100 grams (1/2 cup) turbinado* sugar (or light brown sugar)
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 200 grams (14 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature (alternately use 10 1/2 Tbsp. coconut oil)
- 2 – 4 Tbsp. milk
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
Place the whole oats into the bowl of a food processor and process until the oats have been ground into a fine powder. I left a little uneven texture, and that was fine.
Pour the ground oats into the large mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Add to this the wholemeal flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Whisk to combine.
Place the bowl into its stand and fix the mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the butter to the bowl and mix the ingredients together on medium speed until the butter is distributed through the dry ingredients. The mixture will look crumbly at this point.
With the mixer running, add the milk a little at a time until the dough just begins to come together in a ball without being too wet. I used the entire 4 Tbsp.
Turn the dough out onto some plastic wrap and wrap it loosely, flattening the dough ball into a disk. Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes.
After refrigeration, lightly flour a work surface and place the dough onto this. Roll out the dough to about 1/8-inch thickness, or just slightly thicker. Cut out rounds with the cookie cutter.
Decorate the tops of these rounds as you like. Place the cut cookies onto the prepared baking sheets, 15 biscuits per sheet.
Put the sheets into the preheated oven, one in the upper third and the second in the lower and bake for about 15 minutes. Halfway through baking, switch the sheets on the racks (upper to lower and lower to upper) and continue to bake to 15 minutes, or until the edges of the biscuits begin to brown lightly.
Remove the baking sheets to cooling racks and let the biscuits cool completely on the sheet before removing. These will last for a week or so stored in an airtight container.
The finished biscuits are great plain, or topped with a little butter and jam, or laid out on a platter and used as a crunchy vehicle for your favorite cheese.
First, the flours. Or the meals. The recipe uses a combination of whole rolled oats, ground to a powder, and Irish-style wholemeal, a more coarsely ground and lighter whole wheat flour.
In wholemeal, you’ll see large flecks of the bran in the grind, and a cup of this meal weighs a good deal less than a cup of the finer grind, more commonly known wholewheat flours you or I might bake bread with. Last March I wrote a brief explanation of the difference between the flours when I experimented with classic wholemeal scones:
On paper both flours sound the same. Both are milled from red spring wheat berries, and both contain the entire bran and the germ of the grain. The differences lie in the milling and in the resulting flour density. American-style whole wheats are ground fine, to a uniform consistency; a cup of this weighs approximately 159 grams. The British-style wholemeals are irregularly milled, resulting in a product that is part flour as fine and light as powder together, and part flakes and fibers of wheat bran. A cup of this contains more air in between the particles; its weight comes in at 113 grams.
Breads, scones, and (as I am about to show you here) cookies baked with wholemeal flour taste of wheat and bran – nutty, slightly tangy – without being saddled with the close-grained and compacted heaviness that sometimes keep us from enjoying whole wheat products. All will have more texture and less density without sacrificing whole grain nutrition, and I like these qualities.
You can purchase the wholemeal flour from King Arthur as Irish-style wholemeal. I feel it is important to tell you I am not paid to endorse any products in this blog. There may be other sources in your area for wholemeal flour, but I like the quality of King Arthur flours and use them almost exclusively.
Next, the sugar. If you can find turbinado sugar, use it.
A larger crystal cane sugar that has not been separated from its molasses, turbinado will add another crunchy texture to the biscuit along with the deeper flavor of an unrefined sugar. If you can’t find it, light brown sugar will be a fine substitute.
©2013 Jane A. Ward