Thursday, 22 December 2016

November History Bakers: Lemony Biscuits

Ever since History Bakers was restarted two years ago, I’ve been fascinated by the oldest recipes in our collections. The challenge of deciphering, interpreting and then trying to follow these centuries’ old recipes has been exciting, but also a little frustrating!

This month's bake comes from a recipe book found within the Sykes Family papers and dates from the 17th century [U DDSY3/10/6].

Recipe and ingredients...

To make lemmon bisketts
To 2 pound of almonds blancht and beaten very fine with a litell orange flower watter putt the juice of one large lemmon and the pill of 3 beat very fine with the white of an egg beaten to a high froth then take 2 pound of sugar well dryd then strew it into the almonds just before you bake then squint it upon papers and bake then in an oven heated for manchets.

This time I thought I had chosen a fairly simple biscuit recipe and being an avid watcher of the Great British Bake Off, assumed I had the skills to follow the recipe without any major problems. This was a bit of a mistake...

I managed to buy all the ingredients, even the orange flower water was easier to find than I thought, but once home, I realised there were not enough ground almonds! Instead of waiting and buying more, I decided it would be fine and chose to wing it. Over-confidence is very uncharacteristic of me but I was still labouring under the impression it would be fairly simple. As such, I ended up with only 300g of ground almonds (not 2 lbs) and 300g of sugar.

Rolling out the dough...


As instructed by the recipe, I weighed out the almonds and put them to one side whilst I beat the lemon juice (1 lemon), lemon peel (1.5 lemons) and the egg white to as high a froth as I could manage with a manual whisk (I was attempting to be as historically accurate as possible). I then weighed out the sugar and mixed all the ingredients together. At this point, I realised that not only was the mixture very bitty (even finely ground almonds are not as smooth as flour) but it wasn’t sticking together to form a dough, and I had forgotten the orange flower water! Consequently, another half lemon was squeezed into the mixture, and lo and behold, the mixture became too sticky! Over-confidence strikes again! With no almonds left to try to reduce the stickiness, I gave in and got my plain flour out. A very liberal amount of dusting later, the dough was just about firm enough to roll out and cut into shapes.

Before the bake...

Into the oven...

As with all old recipes, there was no indication as to oven temperature or cooking time. To be on the safe side, I opted for 180C for 10 minutes. I then did a very good impression of Great British Bake Off contestants by staring into the oven for the full 10 minutes! By the 10 minute mark, the biscuits were going golden brown/slightly burnt on the outside but had remained fairly soft in the middle. Nervous of leaving them in too long, as they could end up entirely burnt, I took them out and let them cool down. In the end, the biscuits have turned out quite reasonably, with a crispy outside and soft chewy centre, which seems to have gone down pretty well with the taste testers at Hull History Centre.

The finished bake!

So, with a last note of over-confidence before returning to my normal self, it turns out you can practically ignore a recipe and still end up with something reasonably edible!

Colleagues comments:

Sarah - Crispy, chewy and very lemony. Lovely!
Caoimhe - Yummy, very lemony and chewy, fab after taste.
Elaine - Lovely lemony taste, quite chewy!
Laura - Great biscuits, delicious. Love the combination of crunchy edges and slightly chewy middle. Nice and lemony.
Elspeth - Great mix of texture, crunchy and chewy! Lovely lemon zesty taste!
Claire - Deliciously lemony! Please make more!
Christine - Agree with all the other comments. Delicious!
Tom - Nice lemony flavour, both crunchy and chewy.
Francisco - Really nice!!
Neil - Crispy and chewy. Loved them!

Verity Minniti, Archives Assistant

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