Sometimes there’s nothing more comforting than a cup of tea and a homemade biscuit.
I’m not generally a big biscuit eater, but every now and then, it’s just what I fancy. When I get this urge, I start hunting around in my cupboard to see what ingredients I have to create something in cookie form.
For me the process of biscuit making is as much part of the pleasure as the eating. Baking and biscuit making was my gateway to cooking. It was a safe and easy way for my mum to introduce us to the kitchen – with the added benefit of bowl licking if I was lucky enough to get first dibs before my siblings (you learn to be quick in a household of 5 children). Actually, licking the bowl is still one of my favourite bits! If I’m feeling generous, I’ll sometimes give my husband the spoon.
We had our own Whitely family biscuit favourites: melting moments, chocolate-topped Afghan cookies, peanut butter biscuits and trays of buttery shortbread (almost impossible to wait until it was warm enough to cut). Oh, and of course the great Aussie favourite, Anzac biscuits.
Store bought biscuits just didn’t come close to these treats, so I never developed a taste for them. I personally think it’s much better to eat something that’s been baked fresh rather than a packet full of all sorts of weird stuff that’s sat on a supermarket shelf for weeks – or even months depending where you shop.
Biscuits or cookies are pretty forgiving in comparison to lots of other baking, so I think they’re a good place to start if you’re a baking novice. They’re also a very child-friendly type of cooking. We were certainly able to make our own biscuits by the time we were 9 or 10 years old, with a bit of mum guidance in the background.
And because the ingredients tend to be pretty straightforward, they don’t have such a heavy financial cost compared to some more complicated cakes if you do have the odd baking mishap (which is bound to happen at some point and all part of the learning).
The other reason I love biscuits is that they can be great reminder to stop, even if just for a few minutes, with a little happy mouthful. Their naturally affinity with a hot drink is an instant sign to pause. Especially if you bake with slightly unusual flavour combinations, like I do, which make you sit up and pay attention.
I worked with someone who had a cup of tea and a biscuit at 4pm. Every afternoon. Apparently he had done this with his mother when he was growing up. Each day it marked a few minutes to down tools, sit quietly and enjoy a soothing brew with a biscuit he took from a little container on his desk.
While I’m not necessarily promoting everyday biscuit eating, I love this dedication to pausing even in the midst of a busy office. It’s also a great illustration of the power of food to connect us to personal memories and family habits that form our lives.
It’s melting moments that give me some of my strongest biscuit memories. These buttery morsels did indeed seem to melt on touching my tongue, disintegrating into lovely lemony crumbs. Even just the smell emanating from the oven took me to a happy place.
As we’re now into warmer weather, I wanted to add some of these zesty flavours and happy memories into my own summer cookies. Lemon is a smell that instantly makes me feel good; actually this is true for a lot of people as a number of studies have identified the mood enhancing powers of citrus aromas. To get the most out of the lemon, the cookies use the juice and the zest (which is where a lot of the flavour comes from as it contains essential oils).
And lemon just loves black pepper, which adds something extra in is tongue tingle. I think maybe it’s the double zing of citrus and spice. These are quite spicy so you can reduce the pepper by half if you want a more subtle hint. I’ve also used olive oil instead of butter as it adds another interesting flavour layer – but these are definitely sweet not savoury.
Normally I’d put the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up and have more precise shaped rounds before cutting. However, I wanted to experiment with what would happen if I cut the cookies straight away. Actually there isn’t too much cookie spread at all while cooking and the result was nice soft biscuits that are almost a tiny bit cakey.
I’d love to hear what you think if you give them a go, especially if you try out any of the different flavour options.
Lemon Olive Oil Cookies with a Hint Of Black Pepper
Makes 20 medium cookies (using a 10cm cutter)
225g white spelt flour (I use Dove’s Farm organic flour)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp Himalayan pink salt
75g coconut sugar
100ml extra virgin olive oil
1 medium egg
Zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
1. Preheat your oven to 180°C (160° fan oven) and line a baking tray with baking parchment.
2. Pop the flour, pepper, baking powder and salt in a medium sized mixing bowl and stir together. Add the coconut sugar and stir again so everything is combined.
3. In a separate small bowl, pour in the olive oil and add the egg. Whisk both together lightly so they are evenly combined. Grate over the lemon zest and squeeze in the juice (watch out for stray seeds), and give everything another good whisk.
4. Make a well in the centre of your flour mix and pour in the liquid. Stir together so that a dough starts to form; you may even want to use your hands to bring it together in a soft ball.
5. Lightly dust your work surface with some flour and gently press the dough out in a layer, a couple of centimetres thick. Dust the edge of your cookie cutter and cut out the shapes. The dough is quite soft so you may need to gently lift it with the flat of a knife and place on your lined tray. After you’ve cut as many cookies as possible, bring together the leftover dough, reform and press out in a layer and cookie cut. Repeat this until your dough is used up.
6. Pop your tray with the cookies in the oven and cook for 12-15 minutes until they are a little golden around the edge and light on top. Turn the tray half way through cooking to help with even baking. Take the tray out the oven and leave the cookies to rest on it for 10 minutes, before removing them from the tray and leaving to cool on a wire rack.
Sit back with a cup of tea (or your preferred beverage of choice) and enjoy…
Some other flavour options…
– use ground cardamom seeds (3-4 pods) instead of black pepper
– while the cookies are still warm, squeeze over a little extra lemon juice for even more lemony-ness
– sprinkle some freeze-dried raspberries over the cookies while cooling
– throw in half a teaspoon of dried rosemary
– replace the black pepper with half a teaspoon of chilli flakes
– drizzle a little melted dark chocolate over the cookies once they are cool
– make the cookies gluten free by replacing the spelt flour with 175g rice flour and 50g cornflour
These are soft, chewy cookies rather than crispy ones – but will hold together well if you’re a tea dunker. They will be good for up to 5 days if stored in an airtight container.