Digestives! What in the world could I be thinking! Do you know what a Digestive Biscuit is? Honestly, it is a relatively unexciting cookie made with whole wheat flour, some oatmeal (not much), brown sugar and baking powder, but Brits love them … and they go so well with a good cuppa. Fifty-two Digestive biscuits are said to be eaten every second of every day in Great Britain. Prime Minister Gordon Brown caused a huge uproar in 2009 when he refused to acknowledge which manufacturer he thought made the best biscuit. Digestives are a huge export item and are found in most grocery stores in the international foods aisle. Of course, Hubby loves the chocolate covered ones, which makes this cracker-like cookie a little more interesting. So, I’m going to ‘give them a go’.
In doing research for a good, authentic recipe, I’ve learned that Digestives actually originated during the elaborate Victorian period of Great Britain when long multi-course breakfasts and dinners were served. The Digestive biscuit was created as a way to ‘help’ aid digestion either after or before one of these marathon meals. The thought was the whole wheat flour and oatmeal would add fiber and the antacid properties of baking soda would aid “digestion”. Hence, the “Digestive“.
Producing 27 million biscuits every single day, the largest manufacturer of Digestives today is McVitie (pictured above). They claim to have created this their signature product in 1894, the recipe for which is kept very secret, but they may have a problem. Huntley & Palmers claim to have created the ‘wholemeal biscuit’ in 1839, 55 years earlier. But it seems even Huntley & Palmers may not be the creator. An advertisement in the ‘Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser‘ placed by J. Hutchinson, proprietor of Abernethy’s, on September 19, 1829 states that his biscuits are “… highly approved by medical men.”
This early recipe from the 1890 cookbook ‘The Bread And Biscuit Baker’s And Sugar-Boiler’s Assistant‘ by Robert Wells may be interesting, but I think I’ll make them using something a little more current.
“5 lbs. of granulated wheat meal, 1 lb. of butter, ¼ lb. of sugar, ¼ lb. of ground
arrowroot, 4 eggs, 1 quart of milk, ¼ oz. of carbonate of soda. These are mixed up
in the usual way, pinned out and cut with a small round cutter, docked and baked
in a moderate oven.”
If you haven’t tried a Digestive, they are not sweet cookies – more like a cracker – and I must admit these aren’t as good as the packaged ones (sometimes the original is just had to beat), but they are pretty darn close. Not only can Digestives be served as an accompaniment to a dessert (especially the chocolate covered ones) or alone to dunk in a hot cuppa, they can also pair very nicely with a good quality cheddar and glass of wine.
Makes 3 dozen. Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes.
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons rolled oats
1 stick butter, room temperature
3/4 to 1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cold milk
8 to 10 oz. good quality bar chocolate
In a small bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. In another bowl, with a mixer, cream the softened butter and brown sugar together.
Add the dry ingredients to the creamed butter/sugar and mix until well blended. Add the cold milk and continue to mix well. When thoroughly combined, dump the batter onto a floured pastry board. Form into a ball and knead lightly. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for at least an hour or more (or even overnight if you’d like).
Preheat the oven to 350°. Working with half the dough at a time, put the other half back into the refrigerator. Working quickly, place the chilled dough onto a floured board and roll to 1/4″ thickness. Don’t roll too thin or they will crumble after baking. Cut with a 2″ cookie cutter (or smaller, if you want more cookies) and place on parchment lined sheet pans. This is a very wet dough so flour your work surface and work quickly.
Prick the tops with a fork to keep the biscuits from rising. When finished, roll out the second half of the dough and do the same.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350° or until firm. It is not necessary to have them brown. The longer they bake, the crisper they will be. Remove the pans from the oven and let them cool completely before transferring the cookies to a wire rack.
For chocolate Digestives, melt good quality bar chocolate in the microwave and then thin the melted chocolate with about 2 tablespoons of cream. Mix well. Either dip or spread the chocolate onto the cooled cookies. These cookies keep very well for a week or more in a tightly sealed container.
Now put that kettle on (or open a nice bottle of red wine) and enjoy!!
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References: McVitie’s, Foods of England, Downton Abbey Cookbook, Food 52, Washington Post