The word biscuit literally means twice cooked, taken from the Latin bis (twice) and coquere (to cook). It is this slight cooling followed by a second burst of heat that gives crispness to a biscuit, a method used by the recipe I use for Easter Biscuits. Sure enough the resulting biscuits are light and crisp and very ‘moreish’: a crispy sugar topped treat for Easter. These Easter Biscuits are similar to the round ‘fruit shortcakes’ that can be found in shops, sometimes called ‘squashed fly biscuits’ (although I know that this title can also be given to the long Garibaldi biscuits). I am not sure why they should particularly be associated with Easter. Easter Biscuits are said to have originated in the West Country of Britain where they were given as gifts on Easter Sunday, (though they are also claimed by Shropshire and probably other places as well). They were often larger too, measuring up to 4 inches (10cm) across. An article in the Times, which includes an alternative recipe (untried by me) suggests that the ‘tradition’ be moved to Easter Monday. Not all recipes include the mixed spice with some Easter Biscuits including lemon zest, such as this Netmums recipe (also untried by me). I will definitely add zest next time, even though there is already mixed peel in the recipe.
The recipe used below comes from The Women’s Institute Book of Biscuits which was published jointly with Mornflake Oats. For these small biscuits I used a 2 inch (5cm) cutter: a metal one is good as it cuts through the pieces of fruit. However, I like the idea of bigger biscuits and I will definitely be making them larger next time.
(Makes about 3 dozen x 2inch biscuits)
175g/6ozs plain flour
75g/3ozs caster sugar
15g/½oz candied peel
Large pinch of mixed spice
1 egg yolk
Scant 2 fl ozs milk
1 egg white (or a little milk)
1. Preheat the oven to 170oC Fan oven/180oC/350oF/Gas 4. Grease 2 or 3 baking sheets.
2. Cream the butter and the sugar together and beat until it is soft and fluffy.
3. Add the egg yolk, spice, fruit and flour and mix together.
4. Add just enough milk to make a stiff dough. If the dough becomes sticky then add a little more flour but too much flour will make the biscuits a little hard and less rich.
5. Roll the dough out thinly on a floured surface. Cut rounds and place them fairly closely on the greased baking sheet: they do not need too much room for expansion.
6. Bake for 15-20 minutes. After 10 minutes remove the trays from the oven, brush the biscuits with egg white or a little milk and sprinkle with a little caster sugar. Return them to the oven for the remaining time – remove when just starting to become golden.
7. Remove from the trays and cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight box or tin.