Monday, July 03, 2006

Digestives: A Quest

Tonight, a holidayish night - one before July 4th – I made digestive biscuits. Another attempt to cull the culinary delights of the nation of my birth, and replicate them here in the nation of my adulthood.

The digestive biscuit has always occupied a comfy armchair in the kitchen of my heart. If that’s too difficult to imagine, here is a picture of my actual kitchen armchair. I feel that the digestive is sturdy of character, proffering just enough sweetness to make you feel treated, but a sweetness that is backed up by its ruggedly whole grain (before whole grains were fashionable) constitution.

It is excellent with a cup of tea after or during the workday, but also valiant as a crust to princessy toppings made of sour cream and cream cheese and summer fruits and the like. It is always there for you. It’s the biscuit that doesn’t get stolen first from the biscuit tin by furtive children and others. The biscuit I love to have brought to me by people returning from visits to the UK. My favoured brand is not actually the most popular brand, McVities, but rather Marks and Spencers. Marks & Sparks make a digestive that is crisper than others and its top has the quiet sparkle of extra sugar. On her last trip here, my mother brought me a packet (well, truth be told, three quarters of a packet) of chocolate orange digestives. These were so astrally good that they form a category of their own. My humble aim this evening was to bake me a basic digestive.

I found a recipe on the web that was only wholemeal flour and butter and sugar etc. This did not promise satisfaction. I felt that an essential ingredient must be wheatgerm, and I was also looking for some odd sort of ingredient that only factory production uses, the things you see on labels and don’t understand, but know they must contribute to the addictive yumminess of the store-made goody. When I found a recipe that included milk powder, I felt that was pretty close to such an ingredient. But I also remembered studying the packet of aforementioned chocolate orange digestives and noting “malt” as a component. My milk powder recipe had no malt, but I reckoned I could add an amount of the barley malt syrup sitting on my pantry shelves without getting into trouble. It got me thinking about malted milk powder and whether that would be better yet. But malt syrup I had to hand, so it would feature in this first draft.

The recipe was easy enough, though ends with that moment of having to add enough water to make the dough clump together. How is that when I cook such recipes they always end up requiring twice the water specified? I know it has something to do with humidity and the obstreperously, variously humectant activities of flour, but somehow I feel it has more to do with me. Can you have a dehydrated personality? The remedy to any such train of thought is, of course, a digestive biscuit, a cup of tea and a sit down. So – onward.

The dough cut out to mimic the store-bought size, B and I set about stabbing the raw biscuits with forks. She crafted our initials, “B” and “K,” while I more conservatively (dehydratedly?), poked out three rows of four tine-holes. Twenty minutes in the oven, and out came perfectly crisp brown biscuits.

They took seconds to cool and samplings of the offcuts were judged by us to be quite delicious. Less short, and less sweet too than shop ones, but honest and pleasing biscuits. Good with tea, but gooder with a plate of local (well, one state over) blueberries and some sheep's milk yogurt laced with brown sugar.


11oz plain whole-wheat flour
4 tablespoons wheatgerm
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons milk powder (I used full-fat organic goat milk powder)
4 tablespoons sugar
4 1/2 oz butter
5 tablespoons cold water
1/2 tsp malt syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla

Makes about 34 biscuits if cut to about 3” diameter

Combine the dry ingredients, then cut in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Combine the water, malt syrup and vanilla and drizzle over the dry mix.
Mix until the dough can be squeezed and it holds together. If necessary, add more water in small amounts.
Roll out either between two sheets of waxed paper, or – better – place the dough on a Silpat and then top it with a sheet of wax paper. Roll out to a thickness of 3mm/ 1/8” and then stamp out shapes. Peel away trimmings, then prick with fork.

Bake at 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3 for 20-25 minutes, taking care that they don’t over-brown.
When cool, store in air-tight container.

This recipe is not too sweet, so these would be good with cheese too.
If you want additional sweetness, try sprinkling the top of the dough with Turbinado sugar as you roll it out.


Blogger msprofe said...


those blueberries look like the moscatel I tried last summer with you guys... when are they in season again?

So what worked in the recipe? The milk powder or the malt syrup?

1:21 pm  
Blogger goodyoneshoe said...

To think that I have actually lived on digestive biscuits at different points of my life and have never thought to make them! (Ah, youth: I recall a moment on a bicycle tour of Scotish malt whiskey manufacturers with a certain Swedish Saab mechanic named Magnus when the digestives, wetted by the endless downpour, wed themselves to every piece of clothing in my pack. For days I smelled like sweet silage.) I mean, I might just as well try to make a KitKat bar. But then again, why not try to make a KitKat bar... I am feeling inspired.

12:43 am  
Blogger Sylvana said...

I found your recipe on and thought it might be the one that I had just submitted since one of my blogs is Syllogism AND I titled my original digestive recipe blog post "Digestive Quest". Weird, huh?

Anyway, cheers to great biscuits!

3:48 pm  

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