I try to make most of Eoin’s food myself, but I find I tend to buy a lot of snack-type foods pre-made, as they are generally convenient, portable, and can sit in the cupboard until needed without going off. This isn’t, of course, the worst thing in the world: I do check ingredients quite rigorously, and I try to buy the most sensible and healthy things I can. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that bought snacks are expensive, and, as time went on, I became more and more convinced that I had to work on making some healthy nibbles for Eoin. After all, there’s only so far a boy can get on satsumas and raisins: sometimes you need a biscuit.
I riffled through my cookery books, searching for recipes which combined Eoin-friendly ingredients with general portability. I liked the sound of both Dan Leppard’s black pepper and cheese buttons (from Short and Sweet, but also available online here) and the cheese straws in Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett’s Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook, but neither quite cut the mustard with the man himself. I spent several afternoons messing about with ingredients and quantities, and finally came up with something which Eoin enjoys, and which I feel is, in snack terms, reasonably good for him. I have used a mixture of plain and wholemeal flour: as the latter retains its bran and germ, it’s tastier and more nutritious than the former, and it also gives the biscuits a pleasantly crunchy texture. It’s important to mitigate the wholemeal flour with some plain, though: a biscuit made entirely of wholemeal flour ended up being rather too rough, unyielding and monastic. Eoin was still trying to masticate the first one a good ten minutes after he was given it.
A word of warning about size: I used my smallest biscuit cutter (about 5.5 cm in diameter) to make these. This, it turns out, is almost exactly toddler-mouth-size: in a lot of cases, the biscuit goes straight in, and then the child is stuck with a mouthful which is too big to chew, but which they are reluctant to remove. This leads to much spluttering and spitting of biscuit crumbs, which is a bore for all concerned. You may want to use a smaller cutter to create bite-size morsels, or just break the biscuit up pre-emptively before handing it over.
To make approximately 25 biscuits, you will need:
- 50g butter (you can use unsalted if you prefer), cut into small cubes.
- 75g plain flour, plus a little for dusting.
- 25g wholemeal flour.
- About 75g grated cheese: try to use a mixture of hard cheeses with a strong flavour. I used equal parts of mature cheddar, parmesan and Reypenaer VSOP, which is a sort of aged Gouda.*
- One large garlic clove, crushed.
- Half a teaspoonful of mild smoked paprika.
- A pinch of dried mustard powder (I dipped the tip of a knife blade into the Colman’s tin in order to get the right amount).
- 1 egg, beaten.
- A little cold water, if needed.
Pre-heat the over to 200C/Gas Mark 6, and line a baking sheet or two with greaseproof paper (I needed to use two, as you can see, but you may get away with one, depending on the size of your tray and your biscuits)
Put the butter and flours into a food processor, and process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Alternatively, if you have colder hands than me, or are just better at making pastry, you could rub the butter into the flour by hand. Add the garlic, cheese and spices to the mixture, and blend (or stir) well. If you have been using a processor, you will now want to tip the blitzed dry ingredients out into a clean bowl. Add the beaten egg, and mix into the dry ingredients, using a metal spoon. You may need to add some water if the dough is not coming together: if this is the case, I run a little water into the bowl in which I’ve mixed the egg, and add a drop of this water and egg-remnant mixture at a time. When the dough starts to come together, put the spoon aside and use your hands to complete the process.
Make sure your work-surface is clean, and then dust it and a rolling-pin with flour. Turn the dough out onto the floured surface, and roll it out until it is a little less than a centimetre thick (for me, this is about the depth of the fluted part of my biscuit cutter, so it’s easy to check). Turn the dough over and around a couple of times during this process, to ensure you’re rolling it evenly. Cut out your biscuits and lay them on your baking sheet: you need to leave a little space between them, but this mixture doesn’t seem to spread too much, so they don’t have to be miles apart. Bring the dough remnants together into a ball, roll and cut again: repeat until you have used all your dough up. Your last biscuit might be a somewhat pathetic little irregular splodge, but that’s the way of baking.
Bake the biscuits until they are a paprika-tinted golden colour, and firm to the touch: I find this takes somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes in my oven, but, as I use two baking sheets, I have to swap them over half-way through the cooking time, or else the top sheet cooks much faster than the bottom sheet. Let the biscuits cool on a wire rack, and then store them in an airtight container. I also find they freeze well, which helps with the convenience aspect of the recipe: place them into a freezer-proof container, such as a plastic box, in layers. You can re-use the greaseproof paper you have lined the baking sheet with in order to keep the layers separate (this is important, as you don’t want the biscuits to freeze together in a lump). When they’re frozen, you can either leave them in the box, or transfer them to a Ziploc-type bag, and then remove a couple of biscuits to defrost as and when you need them.
*It’s also excellent, and well-worth seeking out if you are ever in the Netherlands. Aside from Speculaas and those fantastic sweets that look like stones, it may be my favourite ever Dutch foodstuff.