When my grandmother died, she left her recipe notebook to my mum and, by extension, to me: it is a small, green-covered notebook with dog-eared corners and loose pages, containing recipes for all of the delicious baked goodies I remember from childhood tea-times in the north of Scotland. It was from here that I got my shortbread recipe, and I’m still working on decoding the rather elliptical instructions for sticky gingerbread.
One of the more mysterious entries was for Melting Moments, a biscuit which I don’t remember eating, but which my mum says she cooked many times when she was little. A quick google reveals that there are almost as many permutations of this recipe as there are stars in the sky, but the general idea seems to be a sort of soft-ish, splodgy plain biscuit, of the sort easily prepared by children. My grandmother’s version, being a product of the 1950s, was worryingly full of references to margarine and crushed cornflakes, both of which I decided to eschew in my first attempt at the biscuits. I was, however, a little disappointed by the plainness of the original recipe: feeling that the aforementioned cornflakes wouldn’t improve it, I dug around in the cupboards for some alternative ingredients to spice up the mixture. I came up with this version, which results in a slightly more chewy, moist and substantially tastier biscuit. I imagine that a little grated orange or, in a more Christmassy vein, tangerine zest might be a rather pleasant addition too.
The ceramic star of this post, by the way, is Great Aunt Edna’s rather spectacular Crown Derby plate, which combines gilding, a vine and grape relief and a multicoloured floral centrepiece without even a sideways glance at subtlety. It’s quite something. isn’t it? Apparently you can get a whole dinner service in this, which suggested that maximalism is alive and well somewhere.
To make about 12 large biscuits, you will need
- 3 oz caster sugar
- 4 oz self-raising flour
- 1/2 oz cocoa
- 1/2 oz ground almonds
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 4 oz butter
- 1 egg
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4, and line a baking sheet or two with baking parchment: the biscuits spread rather a lot when they are cooking, so, if in doubt, use two baking sheets to allow for plenty of room for expansion.
Mix the flour, cocoa, spice and almonds together, sifting the flour and the cocoa to get any lumps out.
You can make the biscuits by hand or, as I prefer, mix the dough in the food processor. If you are making them by hand, cream the butter and sugar together until they are smooth. Beat the egg and incorporate it into the mixture, then gradually mix in the dry ingredients until you have a smooth, firm dough. If you are using the processor, I wouldn’t bother with the creaming: add all the dry ingredients (including the sugar) to the processor bowl, blitz briefly to mix, then add the butter, roughly chopped into cubes, and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Break the egg into the processor bowl and blitz again until the mixture forms into a dough. This happens rather suddenly: one moment, the bowl is full of a muddy-looking mixture, and the next a lump of fairly solid dough will be revolving at speed, making a loud rumbling noise.
The biscuit dough is rather sticky, so wet your hands a little before you handle it. Roll small pieces of dough between your palms to form smooth, walnut-sized balls. Place the balls on your lined baking sheet, leaving a reasonable amount of space around each ball so it can spread. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the biscuits are firmish to the touch, a little darker in colour and slightly cracked-looking on top.
Lift the biscuits carefully off the baking sheet (a blunt knife will be useful here) and leave them to cool on a wire rack. They will firm up slightly as they cool, but they should remain moist and chewy. Store them in an airtight tin, out of sight of any small people who may be harbouring deep-seated desire to grind biscuit into your cream-coloured carpet.