Chocolate Ring Biscuits

Whenever someone brings in a Fox’s biscuit selection (other biscuit selections are available), the first ones to go are the chocolatey ring biscuits. The other biscuits are nice but there is something about shortbread with an obscenely thick layer of chocolate that just can’t be beaten for most people. The recipe below is my take on these biscuits. The chocolate layer isn’t quite as thick but you are welcome to double up to a kilo of chocolate and double dip the biscuits if you want them to be ultra-chocolatey.

As the chocolate is being used to coat the outside of the biscuit, and thus will be handled when the biscuit is eaten, it is important to make sure that it is well tempered. Tempering is a process where you control the crystal structure which forms when the cocoa butter in chocolate cools. This is why compound chocolate doesn’t need tempering… there is no cocoa butter in it, they use other fats instead! But real chocolate, with cocoa butter, has a far nicer taste and mouth feel, so to get the best results we must temper the chocolate. This involves melting the chocolate, cooling to a specific temperature and then warming it slightly before it is used.

Cocoa butter has six crystal stages which are arranged by the temperature at which they form: I, II, III, IV, V and VI. This ability to exist in multiple different crystalline structures, as exhibited by cocoa butter, is known as polymorphism and this polymorphic property is what can make or break your chocolate work. When you buy chocolate it has already been tempered and it is packed solid with type V crystals – the tempering not only gives the chocolate a satisfying snap when you break it but also is what keeps it solid at room temperature. Crystal types IV and lower melt well below 27°C, well below body temperature meaning that your chocolate will be soft at room temperature or immediately melt all over the hands of anyone who tries to touch in. In contrast, type V crystals melt just below body temperature (33°C) meaning that your fingertips will not melt it when you pick up the chocolate as they are slightly cooler than your internal temperature but when you put the chocolate in your mouth, it will begin to melt.

The issue is that when you melt chocolate so it can be used for covering the biscuits, you destroy the temper, that is to say that the heating melts the type V crystals which the manufacturer formed in the chocolate. Because of this, you must make sure to heat the chocolate well above the type VI melting point (36-37°C) so that there are no “bad” crystals and you can start the process of forming the chocolate from an unadulterated mixture. While the type VI crystals are solid at room temperature, their melting point is too close to body temperature so they don’t melt in the mouth as nicely as type V. The addition of unmelted chocolate cools the mixture as the unmelted chocolate not only must be warmed to the same temperature as its surroundings but will take in latent heat so that it can also melt. This rapid cooling, whilst also agitating the mixture by stirring, prevents the formation of type VI crystals. The reason we continue to slowly cool the chocolate down to around 28°C is to make sure that it is close to the type V crystal formation temperature. It is then warmed just a little bit to melt any type IV crystals that could have formed, slackening the mixture in the process, and making the chocolate perfect for dipping.

You will notice when you temper chocolate that as you approach the correct temperature, the chocolate becomes a lot more viscous. This is a good indicator that you are almost ready to dip. It will also mean that you get a thicker layer of chocolate on your biscuit and that is always a good thing.

Chocolate Ring Biscuits

Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 18 mins

Dipping time: over an hour

Makes around 35-40 biscuits

Ingredients

11 oz. (310g) plain flour

1/4 tsp salt

7oz. (200g) butter

4 oz. (110g) sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp vanilla extract

To cover:

500g dark or milk chocolate (you will need to temper this if it is real chocolate).

50g white chocolate for decorations.

To make the biscuits:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180°C).

Place the butter and flour into a food processor and blend until the mixture resembles sand (this is like rubbing the butter into the flour – which also works – but is more effective as you don’t introduce heat from your hands).

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Add the sugar and salt and blend again until fully combined.

Pour in the vanilla extract and add the egg yolks. Blend again until everything appears homogenous.

The mixture should feel slightly sticky.

Pour the contents of the blender onto a surface. Use you hands to squeeze all of the bits together and continue to compress until the dough comes together but try to avoid kneading the dough too much so you don’t get too much gluten forming – a little is fine as you need the gluten to hold the biscuits together when you dip them.

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Lightly flour the dough and roll out to ¼ inch (about 1/2cm) thickness.

Use a two-inch cutter to cut as many rounds out of the dough as you can.

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You can bake the biscuits as they are at the moment (circles) but you will get fewer than 40.

To make the rings, use a cutter just smaller than half an inch (about a centimetre) to cut a circle in the centre of each of the larger circles. I found that the cap from a bottle of whisky was best for this as I didn’t have a proper sized cutter.

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Place the rings on a tray lined with baking parchment – leave about an inch between each biscuit.

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Place the rings on a tray lined with baking parchment – leave about an inch between each biscuit.
Let the biscuits rest in the fridge for ten minutes to firm up.

Bake for 18 minutes – or until the biscuits start turning golden around the edge.

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When the biscuits are cooked, transfer them to a wire rack to cool and leave until completely cold.

If you are using compound chocolate, ignore the tempering instructions. Just skip to the dipping stage.

Tempering the chocolate

Chop up two thirds of the chocolate and place it into a large bowl.

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Roughly chop the remaining chocolate and place in a smaller bowl and off to one side for later.

Fill the base of a saucepan with water and place the big bowl of chocolate over the top.

Heat the water until it is just simmering – don’t let it properly boil – whilst occasionally stirring the chocolate in the bowl until it melts. Don’t stir to vigorously (it’s just unnecessary).

Continue to heat the chocolate until it has reached 55°C for dark chocolate or 45°C for milk chocolate. If you do not have a thermometer, dip your finger in and the chocolate should be uncomfortably warm. If you do have a thermometer, you can still dip your finger for an excuse to eat some of the melted chocolate – I would. PSA: remember to wash your finger between dips

Remove the bowl of melted chocolate from the heat.

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Tip the contents of the smaller bowl (the unmelted chocolate) into the melted chocolate and gently stir. This will bring the temperature of the chocolate down whilst also introducing the desired V crystals into the mixture. These V crystals from the unmelted chocolate will help seed the formation of more of them in the melted chocolate as it cools.

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Continue to stir the chocolate until it reaches about 29°C for dark chocolate or 27°C for milk chocolate. This will feel cool to the touch. If you dip a spoon in the chocolate and place it in the fridge, the chocolate should harden very quickly to a semi-shiny state on the back of the spoon.

Place the chocolate back over the heat until it reaches 31°C for dark or 29°C for milk. If you don’t have a thermometer, heat it gently for about 45 seconds to a minute. This will slacken the chocolate a little making it easier to work with.

Remove the chocolate from the heat again.

The Dipping

Set up a dipping station with the biscuits on one side of the bowl of chocolate and a lined baking sheet on the other.

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Use a fork to place a biscuit into the chocolate and make sure it is just covered.

Lift the biscuit out and gently tap the fork on the side of the bowl a few times to let the chocolate drip off.

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Place the biscuit on baking parchment and repeat with the rest.

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For the white chocolate decoration, melt the white chocolate in the microwave in fifteen second bursts stirring between each heating.

Pour the chocolate into a piping bag, make a tiny hole in the end and pipe lines of chocolate across the entire batch of biscuits. This will ensure that the biscuits have the same design but each one is unique.

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I hope you enjoy the recipe. If you fancy trying some classic shortbread or alternatively, going the other way and making yourself some millionaire’s shortbread, you should definitely check out my recipes for them.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a super duper spicy recipe.

H

Pfeffernüsse

Pfeffernüsse and gingerbread are very similar biscuits. Both are sweetened with a mixture of sugar and honey/syrup, flavoured with warm spices and often use the same technique to make the dough. The difference, as you may have guessed from the name, is the primary flavour. Whilst pure gingerbread uses only ground ginger, pfeffernüsse use a full quintet of spices. This selection of warming spices gives the pfeffernüsse a most incredible depth of flavour that is hard to find anywhere else in baking.

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Cloves, allspice, peppercorns, nutmeg and cinnamon in their unground state.

As you may have guessed from the name, the predominant flavour of pfeffernüsse is black pepper. Unlike chilli peppers, the spicy flavour that comes from peppercorns is caused by piperine (not capsaicin). This is why the ‘burn’ caused by eating peppery food feels different. Where capsaicin is aggressive, painful and can be felt through the entire digestive tract, piperine is far milder. A measure of piperine has only 1% of the ‘burn’ that would be experienced with an equal weight of capsaicin and causes a less aggressive, more warming, reaction. Black pepper is the spiciest of all the peppers and comes from the unripe fruit of the plant; green pepper is also unripe but picked at a different stage in the growing process; white pepper is created from the ripened berries of the plant; and pink peppercorns are from an entirely different plant altogether. Pink peppercorns are actually from the same family as cashews and can cause allergic reactions in people with a nut allergy!

The lack of much leavening agent in pfeffernüsse results in a harder texture than standard biscuits (although not nearly as hard as amaretti or biscotti). The butter and syrup soften in the oven and the small amount of bicarbonate of soda expands causing the pfeffernüsse to spread a little, resulting in their domed hemispherical appearance. Before they can spread too much the flour cooks, setting the biscuits in their final shape. The cracks on the surface occur as the outside sets but the inside is still flowing, causing the cooked outside of the biscuit to split open. These cracks are never anything to be worried about. With a sprinkle of icing sugar, they can look artistic or with a thick glaze, they are completely covered up. I often find that if I make my glaze too thin, it can sink into the crevasses of the biscuit so do not be afraid if a second coat is required to get a fully smooth, shiny appearance.

I first came across these in Germany but you don’t need to wait to visit to enjoy these delicious treats. They are easy to make and addictive to eat so have a go and let me know what you think.

 

 

Pfeffernüsse

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Glaze time: 15 minutes

 

Ingredients:

125g butter

270g plain flour

60ml golden syrup

1 egg

150g light brown sugar

½ tsp vanilla extract

¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda

¾ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cloves

¼ tsp ground pepper (the fresher, the better – I use a mortar and pestle to pulverize a mixture or black and pink peppercorns for this but fresh black pepper works fine by itself)

½ tsp ground allspice

¼ tsp grated nutmeg (like the pepper, fresher nutmeg works better)

 

To glaze:

450g icing sugar

60-80ml milk

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3.5 (175°C).

Line two or three baking trays with baking parchment.

Gently stir together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, and spices.

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Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.

Beat in the golden syrup.

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Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat again until fully combined.

With the mixer beating slowly, add the flour and spices and mix until just combined.

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Once the mixture has come together, take a heaped teaspoon and roll it into a tight ball between your palms.

Place the balls about 3cm apart on the baking trays.

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Bake for around 15 minutes until the pfeffernüsse are golden, firm(ish) to the touch and have begun to crack on top.

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Leave to cool.

 

To glaze the biscuits, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and make a well in the middle.

Add 60ml of milk and slowly mix together to create a smooth, thick icing. If not all of the icing sugar will mix in, slowly add extra milk until everything has combined.

Dunk the top of each biscuit into the icing leaving the base clean. Place the biscuits onto a wire rack to allow the excess icing to drip off.

If you want, you can sprinkle some coarsely ground pink peppercorns over the top to give the biscuits some colour but they look just as beautiful without.

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These keep for a good week or so and actually taste better the day after they are made once the flavours have been allowed to mature!

If you like spiced biscuits, you should definitely check out my gingerbread recipe or if you are looking for a dessert that will suit your Veganuary needs, why not check out my vegan apple pie?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a hearty winter dinner.

H

Chequerboard Biscuits

Biscuits are my Achilles heel when it comes to baking. They always seem to come out too soft or absolutely rock solid. Luckily, this recipe turns out well almost every time; you just have to be patient when letting the dough rest in the fridge – something I struggle with.

Having been around since the Roman era in one form or another, I feel that it is safe to say that biscuits are one of the oldest types of confectionary out there. Because they kept so well without going off, biscuits were very popular on long distance travels both by horse and on ships. These biscuits were made of just water and flour (sometimes with a little salt) and would be baked several times to ensure they were completely dry – the name biscuit arising from the Latin words bis and coquere meaning twice cooked. Often, they would have to be dunked in brine or tea to make them soft enough to eat! This level of dryness always strikes me as impressive because biscuits soften as they get older so the method of storage would have had to be pretty airtight to prevent the food spoiling over a long voyage which is quite an achievement over 2000 years ago.

One of the most interesting things about biscuits is how they age. This is also one of the main differences between a biscuit and a cake: stale cake goes hard but stale biscuits go soft. This distinction was one of the major factors in the McVitie’s vs HMRC case in 1991 in which the nature of the Jaffa cake was discussed in court to determine whether it was a cake or a biscuit. The argument arose because chocolate covered biscuits are charged at 20% VAT while chocolate covered cakes are not. After a lengthy case – in which McVitie’s baked a giant Jaffa cake to try and prove their point – the court ruled in their favour meaning, for tax purposes, Jaffa cakes are considered cakes.

The premise for chequerboard biscuits can be applied to many different designs. This gives you the chance to get creative. Pinwheels, where you place two rolled out colours of dough on top of each other and roll them up, are a classic. I even made music notes a few years ago. The trick is building the design out of one colour before packing around it in another colour and then slicing the dough to reveal the pattern on each biscuit.

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Good luck!

 

 

Chequerboard Biscuits

Makes: around 30

Prep time: 45 mins

Rest Time: 2hr 30 mins

Cook time: 10 mins

 

 

Vanilla Biscuit Dough:

250g butter (room temperature)

125g icing sugar

250g flour

1 egg (separated)

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

 

Chocolate Biscuit Dough:

250g butter (room temperature)

125g icing sugar

50g cocoa

200g flour

1 egg (separated)

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

 

 

To make the vanilla dough:

Beat the butter until it is soft and pale.

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Add the icing sugar and the salt and beat until the mix is light and fluffy.

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Mix through the vanilla extract and the egg yolk. Reserve the white for later when you are going to assemble the biscuits.

Add the flour in two additions and beat until just combined.

Form into a ball, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for an hour or until firm.

 

To make the chocolate dough:

Repeat the instructions above but add the cocoa at the same time as the vanilla and egg to ensure it is fully combined.

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Once the doughs have hardened, roll each one out into a rectangle 12 x 6 inches (30 x 15 cm) and leave them for another half hour in the fridge.

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Remove the dough from the ridge and divide each one up lengthwise into 9 even strips.

To assemble the biscuits, place a strip of cholate dough onto a piece of cling film.

Brush one side of it with the reserved egg white to help the different pieces stick together.

Align a piece of vanilla dough with the chocolate one and press them lightly together (we will press harder later to fully stick the biscuits together but you don’t want to deform the dough at this point).

Brush the vanilla dough with egg white and add another strip of chocolate next to this.

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Once the base layer is complete, brush the top with egg white and repeat with more strips of dough, alternating the colours, until you get a three by three block.

Tightly wrap this in cling film and then use a flat tray to lightly press down on the top to seal the dough strips together. Rotate the dough onto a different side and repeat. This will also help get sharp edges.

 

Repeat the above steps with the remaining dough (five strips of vanilla and four of chocolate) to get another log with alternating colours to the first.

Place both of these into the fridge for an hour to firm up fully before slicing.

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3 (1600C).

Line two baking trays with parchment paper.

Remove one log from the fridge and slice it into quarter inch pieces (around 7 mm).

Place these onto a baking tray leaving about an inch and a half (around 4 cm) between them for the biscuits to spread in the oven.

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Bake for ten minutes.

Remove the biscuits from the oven. They will still be soft so slide the parchment off the baking tray and leave the biscuits to cool for five minutes to firm up a little before moving them onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

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If you only have two baking trays like I do, slice up the dough and place it onto baking parchment on the counter top so when the tray comes out of the oven, you can slide the baked biscuits off it, run the tray under cold water to cool it down, slide the raw biscuits onto it and then bung it back into the oven.

 

If the chequerboard design doesn’t turn out well or everything falls apart as sometimes can happen, you can always squish the two doughs together and make marbled biscuits. Just make sure to squeeze them into a long round log and cool it before you start to slice the biscuits so you don’t deform them!

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy something of the more cakey variety, check out how to make a delicious, moist carrot cake or if you want a meal instead of a sweet treat, why not make yourself a luxurious smoked salmon risotto.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe involving hot water crust pastry.

H