• The Tenuous Purpose

    This Blog is built - not, as some might expect, on a flimsy whim but on a strong and single minded principle.

    That principle concerns Biscuits and their position in the world.

    We are really very keen on biscuits.
    As are many of you out there.
    We think.

    We wish to create an archive of Arrowroot, a backlog of Bourbons and a catalogue of Chocolate Fingers. Anybody can contribute an entry - or dispute somebody else's - provided they are not dull.
    Even Americans who perhaps don't really have the heritage of biscuitry that we are fortunate to have here.

    Or maybe they do and we are unaware of the full glory of the cookie.

    We realise that this whole subject is admirably and concisely dealt with by that excellent and unbeatable website A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down. Our feeble efforts will be as the kicking of a gadfly in the face of their wisdom and experience but we hope that we may have a small contribution to make.

  • Biscuit Encounters on Twitter

  • The Synod of Biscuitry

    James Alexander-Sinclair of Blackpitts
    Gardener, Blogger, Journalist, Lecturer etc, etc. Much of his life is spent loafing around other people’s gardens issuing directives and generally cluttering up the place. However, like the great Mr Kipling, he does (occasionally) make exceptionally good gardens. (Although even Mr Kipling messed up a bit with the Carrot and Walnut Mini Classics.)

    Mark Diacono of Otter Farm
    He does sterling work growing many inappropriate plants in Devon. He dedicates a great deal of time and effort nurturing a plethora of plants that are (mostly) totally unsuited to our climate. His is a life of such extreme eccentric dedication that to start a Blog about Biscuits seems perfectly normal. He treads gently in the footsteps of people like the great William Buckland,a professor of Geology who claimed that he could tell location by tasting the local topsoil.

Christmas Biscuits

Photo by Elena Heatherwick. Decorations by Recipe Rifle

Photo by Elena Heatherwick. Decorations by Recipe Rifle

This post has been (legally) filched from the excellent Blog of Esther Walker, Recipe Rifle to whom we extend an almost indecent gratitude as we are running out of stuff to post. You the readers are our lifeline and you are fraying somewhat. Look, we are reduced to thievery in order to survive…..you will miss us when we’re gone. All posts and suggestions welcome: now, over to Esther…..

Another Jamie Oliver recipe. The dough quantity here makes loads of biscuits – at least 30 depending on how big your biscuit cutters are.

I decorated these using Dr Oetker’s writing icing*, available from Waitrose, but any writing icing, sprinkles, or silver ball decorations will do.

So here we go:

210g plain flour
pinch salt
1tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp bicarb soda
125g butter, cubed
100g sugar
1 egg
4 tbsp warm golden syrup

1 Preheat oven to 190C or 180 for fan ovens.

2 Mix together the first 6 dry ingredients. I recently learnt that swizzling dry ingredients with a whisk does pretty much the same job as sieving.

3 Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture is crumby then add the egg and the syrup and mix with a spoon – not a fork or a whisk or it’ll all get stuck between the spikes and drive you mental.

4 You ought to have a fairly soft dough by now, depending on how accurately you manage to measure out your syrup. Too much syrup – very easily done – and you’ll have to compensate with a bit more flour.

This dough at the best of times is quite soft and fragile. It breaks away and flops out of shape quite easily – so don’t lose heart if you only manage to get 2 out of every 3 dough-shapes safely onto your baking tray. A useful tool to have at hand is a fish slice or any other slim, flat metallic thing to slide your shapes off the worktop.

This dough rises a bit, so best to roll it out quite thin – about 2-3mm. If you want to use these as tree decorations, poke a hole in the top before baking.

5 These biscuits are incredibly sensitive to individual oven strengths. Mine has a fan and is brand new and is a very unsubtle creature – she is the BA Baracus of ovens – and so I only needed to do these biscuits for 5 mins at 180C.

Your oven will be different. So my advice is to start off by baking one or two biscuits at 190 for 10 minutes and take it from there. What you’re looking for is a nice golden colour but a still a fraction of give in the middle of the biscuit. When they come out of the oven, they will still be squidgy and will harden on cooling, so wait 5 mins before testing their done-ness.

Decorate when cool.

A note: Babies seem to go completely nuts for these, especially those teething. It’s the ginger or something – and the fact that if you drool a lot over them they turn into a sort of cakey consistency. If you wanted to do them especially for a baby, you could halve the quantity of sugar, (or cut it out completely depending on how sensitive you are about that sort of thing), and then cut them out quite thick, like a rusk.

Esther Walker

* if I might interject briefly: Dr Oetker holds a mythic position in my life. He is the inventor of Dr Oetker’s Ice Cream Pulfer which was a sort of dehydrated ice cream which we ate as children. I remember it being ambrosial but I am pretty sure that, in reality it tasted like the sludge at the bottom of a goldfish bowl.

Biscuit crime wave

Courtesy of Karen Wilde

A Little Conundrum….

A couple of years ago, the town council annexed our estate from the sleepy village of Langley Burrell and merged it with the rest of Chippenham Without*. This was not completed without some protest from us residents as it resulted in a major hike in our council tax payments. But our pleas fell on the deaf ears of central government and thus our fiscal fate was sealed.
A positive outcome from this sad affair has been the formation of a local residents association hell bent on ensuring that we actually get something of value from the hundreds of extra pounds we have to pay every year. The main goal is to have a community centre built: the estate was going to have a school which would have doubled as such, but the local parents baulked at the prospect of sending their little darlings to a place situated under an electricity pylon, so houses were built there instead.
Despite the lack of a focal building, there are some social and community events already under way. There is a coffee morning in a local pub each Wednesday, various quiz evenings, a summer barbecue, plus a spring litter pick. Last night saw 30 souls gather for a meal at The Plough and NAH** went along: a night without sleep had made me extremely grouchy, so I wasn’t being very sociable with him, never mind 29 complete strangers.
As you’ve probably guessed from the picture heading this post, he arrived home late last night bearing gifts of a biscuit nature in the form of a festive selection tin courtesy of the evening’s obligatory fundraising raffle. So dear reader, which biscuit do you think he picked first from the tin this morning? And which one was delivered with my mug of coffee this afternoon?
Michelle Chapmanof that Mint.
(You will notice from the above appellation that Michelle has become the first person to contribute twenty posts to this blog and has therefore been further ennobled. She will be expecting due deference and first go at any selection tin in future)
* = outer Chippenham. Central Chippenham is called… Chippenham Within
** = Non-allotmenteering Husband – just in case you don’t know already

Taking The Biscuit

‘Should we have a biscuit?’ Dylan asked, this evening after dinner.
‘All right,’ I agreed, ‘But just one… so long as you clean your teeth afterwards.’
‘Of course,’ he replied, taking two from the tin. ‘One’s for you,’ he grinned… ‘while we watch the video.’
‘I thought you were going to bed?’
‘Not till eight,’ he pleaded… ‘Come on Dad, you know you want to.’
And so I’m typing this post on the laptop as we watch the Big Rock Candy Mountains (for the tenth time). I’m also smiling, because as we left the kitchen Dylan made what might be his first step to a future career.
‘Have you been in the sweetie tin?’ Jane asked, blocking his exit.
‘No,’ he replied, holding the biscuits behind his back. ‘Just going to watch a DVD with Dad … ‘
And as he squeezed past her, he moved the biscuits carefully to his side, keeping them out of sight. By the time I joined him in the lounge he’d eaten one chocolate chip cookie and was looking longingly at the other. Do you want your biscuit Dad? he asked, knowing full well what the answer would be.
I’m a soft touch and he knows it. After a dull day at the office there is no one who makes me happier and he knows that too. Had I told him to put the biscuits back he’d have done so, and I doubt he’d have whinged if I’d said it was bedtime. That’s because he’s learned outright defiance doesn’t work half as effectively as being my buddy and cuddling up on the sofa.
He’s always been cute, but his little deception tonight was something different. He knows full well there is no substantial difference between biscuits and sweets as an evening snack – and by hiding them behind his back he proved it. Whilst he didn’t exactly lie to Jane, he deceived her by omission.
That’s quite subtle for a child of six, I thought – a sign of intelligence I’m sure (must get it from me) – but it could lead to trouble in future. Mmmm…
Perhaps I should talk to him; explain how deceptions lead to mistrust; show the distinction between ‘acts and omissions’ to be morally spurious…
On the other hand, the Big Rock Candy Mountains is a great video.
And on reflection, I should perhaps encourage it – in moderation of course. After all, a cute manner and a little deception bodes well for a successful career…
…in politics!
And that really would take the biscuit.

Biscuit Monitor

OK, it is now time to fess up; I was once a biscuit monitor! This may sound a fairly minor & mundane position, but let me tell you it involved purchasing, marketing, money management, in fact huge responsibility. Actually, truth be told, I only remembered very recently that I had held this exalted biscuity position. Scary, I know: it should be foremost in my mind & top of my CV.

So, I set the scene; secondary school, break time, hungry children milling around, energy gaps breaking out everywhere, what was needed was a sugar rush to keep up energy levels until lunchtime (hopefully not one of those delicacies hairy fat stew or wobbly fat pie), but not sweets, no, too iccy & not sophisticated enough for young people. Instead the school sold biscuits to keep the revolting hordes under some semblance of calm. It was a great honour to be awarded the title of biscuit monitor & I was one of the exalted few.

What did we have tp do? We were responsible for deciding what variety to order & we are talking about biscuits in packets being sold individually, not choccie bars or anything luxurious. I wish I could remember what was the favourite but it is just too long ago. These were sold out of a little window in the admin block that looked out over the playground. We were also responsible for eating all the broken biscuits or the odd biscuits left in packets. It was a heady time, we were in the lower 6th, no exams but entrusted with such responsibility. Indeed the year was 1971, we had decimalisation to contend with & a major re-pricing exercise.

I have just realised I could put myself forward for The Apprentice with that experience. I may have missed my vocation.

Ms B.

Taking the Digestive to a New Level

I have no idea why this is called ‘Chocolate Praline’ – it bears no resemblance to any other praline I have come across but there you go.  It’s one of my Mum’s recipes which she probably got from a magazine at some point but it is a treat I remember from my childhood and my boys love it; in fact I have never met anyone who didn’t love it (particularly men!).    This is my youngest’s favourite treat and he frequently asks for it instead of a birthday cake.  I just pile the slices on a plate and stick candles in randomly.

The measurements are in imperial but then it’s an old recipe

Chocolate Praline

¼ lb margarine

1 tblsp sugar (whatever type you have to hand but dark sugar will make it even more sickly than it is)

1 tblsp golden syrup

2 tblsp cocoa

½ lb digestive biscuits

Good size bar of plain or milk chocolate (at least 250g I think!)

1. Melt the margarine, sugar, cocoa and syrup over a low heat

2.Put the biscuits in a plastic food bag and bash with a rolling pin until in fine crumbs (very good for the soul) – put into a good size bowl

3.Grease a sponge sandwich tin

4.Add the syrup/cocoa etc mixture to the biscuit crumbs and mix thoroughly

5.Press the mixture into the tin, compacting it as much as possible (I find a potato masher is excellent for this and many other things!)

6. Put in the fridge preferably overnight.

7. When the mixture has set melt the chocolate bar and pour over the top to create a covering of a reasonable depth. Return to the fridge until the chocolate has set hard.

8.Turn out onto a board and cut into wedges (as per cutting up a cake).

This is incredibly sickly and rich so small children will have to be deprived of this delicacy as it is far to advanced for them

The Orange (and sticky) Helen Johnstone

A New Love…

We have not had a nostalgia post for ages so…..

As the years pass one’s tastes change.

In every arena from women (or, indeed, chaps), clothes, hobbies, nightlife and of course biscuits.

My wardrobe was much more eclectic (for a while I wore corduroy jodphurs and Antique Polo boots at every opportunity) whereas now I like nothing better than a well made suit or a pair of cashmere socks.

With women it was pneumatics whereas now I seek quality and conversation.

My hobbies used to include heroic smoking and occasional loafing.

When I was younger I was up for dancing all night, every night, whereas now I can only manage it every few months.(i)

As is often the case, however, it is in the field of Biscuits that the differences are particularly distinct.

So far my memorable biscuits have been (in – as they say on X Factor – no particular order

Playbox – scraping the icing off with one’s teeth was a delectable (though frowned upon) sensation.

Penguins – the ultimate treat: one was not enough, two was too many.

Custard Creams – cheap sugar rush

Bahlsen Choco Liebnitz – chocolate as thick as the plate armour of a Teutonic knight.

Marks and Spencer Selection Tin – we used to buy one of these a week and eat them in a precise and exact order.

The Ritz Cracker – their main advantage was that could be eaten anywhere and did not require either effort or cooking. Occasionally they were augmented with Mattessons Liver Pate. In retrospect this was repellent stuff possibly made from finely pureed liver, lights and nipples.

The Bath Oliver – a titan among plain biscuits.

Jaffa Cakes – not, strictly speaking, a biscuit.

Chocolate Digestives – as classic, comforting and timeless as a Harris Tweed Suit.

Now I have a new love: the Marks and Spencer Chocolate Chip Cookie. Thick, chocolatey and obscenely buttery.

And available in petrol stations.

(i) This phrase should not be used out of context.

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