Biscuits have never been my downfall in terms of unhealthy eating; I’m not really a biscuit person. Of course, they don’t have to be unhealthy nowadays in these more healthy eating times than when I was a child and there were packets of custard creams and other biscuits laden with sugar, or decorated in bright artificially coloured icing, filling shop shelves and kitchen cupboards. I’ve occasionally bought a packet of biscuits for rare occasions friends are coming round for a coffee – rare because mainly we meet in cafes these days. I usually end up throwing half-eaten packs away after they’ve grown soft and stale in my cupboard. My only ‘downfall’ biscuit-wise are cantuccini, those wonderful Italian biscotti which are gloriously indulgent to have with an espresso after lunch.
Recently, however, biscuits have been called for. My son, popping round for a cup of tea in the afternoon, has taken to requesting biscuits: ‘Do you have some biscuits, Mum?’ When I pick his 6¾-year-old son Freddie from school a couple of times a week, a biscuit and drink are required to keep him happy before I get him some supper; he’s always starving after school. I found some gorgeous but expensive Italian biscuits in Wholefoods; I bought some ‘healthy’ looking oat biscuits last week but didn’t like them. So … perhaps it’s time to try baking some biscuits. In the main, there’s not a lot difficult about baking biscuits but it’s a question of finding a recipe that we all like.
When it comes to going back to basics, for me there is only Delia to consult. I have an updated version of Delia Smith’s Book of Cakes, which was first published in 1977. The newer, 2013, version – a gift from a friend – has lovely photos of each recipe and the recipes themselves are updated. The Chocolate Orange Biscuits did look good; the kind of thing I was looking for. More importantly just in this moment, when a storm is raging outside and I don’t want to venture out to shops, I had all the ingredients. Well, more or less. I’m not into ‘spreadable butter’ so I got out butter from the fridge to warm to softness. I didn’t have ‘two oranges’ but a bowl of clementines, so guessed I could use three of those. So, there was nothing to stop me giving these biscuits a try – and hoping the family would love them!
Chocolate Orange Biscuits – Makes about 24
- 125g soft butter
- 175g golden caster sugar, plus extra for dusting at end
- 225g plain flour
- 2 level teaspoons baking powder
- 75g dark chocolate chopped into small pieces
- zest of 2 oranges
- about 1 tablespoon orange juice
You need 2 large baking trays lined with parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan 160/Gas 4
Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and mix till it comes together.
Then sift the flour into the bowl with the baking powder. Add the chocolate, orange zest and orange juice, all at once, and beat to a stiff paste. Delia does it all by hand with a wooden spoon but I used an electric hand mixer. However, it was such a stiff dough I abandoned the electric mixer once it was fairly well mixed and used a wooden spoon. I added a little extra orange juice as it was hard to bring it together. I’d used my favourite Sharpham Park’s Heritage flour which is stoneground and more ‘wholemeal’ so I guessed it would need a little more liquid. In the end, I just used my hands to pull into into a ball.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it’s about 1cm thick.
Use a 5cm cutter to cut out the biscuits and lay them on the prepared baking sheets.
Bake the trays separately, placing in the middle of the oven. (I think if using a fan oven it should be okay to put them in at the same time, but it didn’t seem a big deal to bake them separately.) Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown. Mine were ready in about 17-18 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven (put the second one in) and leave the biscuits to cool on it for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
Dust with a little caster sugar.
They really didn’t take that long to make and were ready just in time for a cup of afternoon tea!
They were definitely a biscuit and not a cookie – quite crisp and rather gorgeous. The taste was fabulous, a bright orange flavour that goes so perfectly with chocolate. My mix had made 28 in the end (more than Delia’s ‘about 22’). I packed them into a couple of airtight tins – one to keep here and the other to give to my son.
It was such a success I feel quite inspired to bake some more biscuits now. I find it hard to buy really yummy biscuits and these home-made ones are in a class all of their own.
Update: I was really pleased with the biscuits when they were first cool enough to try with a cup of tea, but the next morning, taking one at breakfast with a cup of coffee, I decided it was definitely sweeter than I like (and perhaps too much sugar for little grandsons). So I made another batch. This time I managed to get some spreadable butter that made it easier to mix and I put in just 125g of sugar (rather than 175g) to match the 125g quantity of butter, and beat them till pale and fluffy before adding the remaining ingredients. I’d cut out a lot of sugar but have to say this made a much nicer biscuit and I’m really pleased I gave it a less-sugary try! The biscuits also had a better ‘crisp’, I think because with the properly soft butter to start, I put in less extra liquid when mixing in the flour etc., and so they didn’t spread so much when cooking and while not having a cookie-style squidgy middle, they weren’t quite so ‘well cooked’ and nicer. This was definitely a lesson in practice can often make things better – even if you were reasonably happy to start with.