Sunday, July 21, 2013

Arnold Circus Biscuits

At year-end, I compile a list of my favorite cookbooks of the year. (Quick aside: 2013 looks to be an outstanding year for cookbooks. Stay tuned!) In 2012, Margot Henderson’s You’re All Invited topped my best-of list, hands down. Henderson filled her cookbook with recipes from her catering business, Arnold & Henderson; and from her London restaurant, Rochelle Canteen. These recipes—whether fancy(ish) or simple—feel honest: straightforward food to enjoy during any celebration, whether a Christmas Dinner or New Year Party or even a quiet Date Night at home. Although published in Britain, the recipes in You’re All Invited should pose no real problem for American households. It’s a wonderful and gracious cookbook and I highly recommend it.

Being a dessert and tea-loving lot, my family particularly likes the Pudding and Cakes section of You’re All Invited. In it Henderson shares a recipe for Arnold Circus Biscuits, a version of a cookie called an Anzac biscuit in her native New Zealand. Anzac stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corp and the original rolled oat cookie recipe dates back to World War I. The wartime biscuit needed to survive long, slow journeys without spoiling, thus it contained neither eggs nor butter. Instead, the biscuit relied on ingredients not apt to spoil (in this case, oats, flour, coconut and sugar). Modern versions of the recipe still omit eggs, but many, including Henderson’s recipe, now contain butter.  Why does Henderson call her version Arnold Circus Biscuits? Perhaps because she located her catering business and restaurant in an old Victorian school—its old bike shed, to be specific—in East London’s Arnold Circus. So I think of the biscuit as her house cookie. Henderson’s recipe makes about 36 biscuits.

100g porridge oats
75g desiccated coconut
100g plain flour
100g caster sugar
50g demerara sugar
100g butter
50g golden syrup
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/fan 160º/350ºF/gas 4, and line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Put the oats, coconut, flour and both sugars into a large bowl and mix to combine.
Put the butter into a pan and add the golden syrup. Heat slowly and stir with a wooden spoon until the butter and syrup have melted together. Put the bicarbonate of soda into a cup, add 2 tablespoons of boiling water and mix to dissolve. Pour the mixture into the pan. Stir with a wooden spoon, then tip into the dry ingredients and mix to a crumbly paste.
Take teaspoonfuls of the mixture and roll them into balls. Place them on the cold baking trays, leaving a space of at least 3cm between them because they will spread as they cook. Bake for about 12 minutes, until they have spread out nicely and are a dark golden colour.
Cool on a rack, then store in an airtight tin.

For those of you that don’t speak British, some clarification might be in order. Porridge oats are rolled oats. Desiccated coconut means flaked or shredded coconut. Plain flour, as opposed to strong (high-protein) flour and soft (pastry) flour, is all-purpose flour. Caster sugar means super-fine sugar. Golden syrup, practically synonymous in England for Lyle’s Golden Syrup, is cane sugar syrup. Bicarbonate of soda translates to baking soda. Three centimeters equals just over an inch. And, of course, colour means color.

Although these cookies boast a long shelf-life, I can tell you that they don’t hang around too terribly long in my household: we can put away a batch in a couple of days. They are perfect with tea or as dessert (or even for elevenses…just ask my dear wife).