The recipes and images given here are from a ‘Homes and Gardens’ magazine supplement from the mid-fifties. I’m afraid it’s a little tatty in places, but then so am I and it is a few years older than me!
The name derives from the old Flemish, ‘bis cuit’ meaning twice cooked. The dough would first be boiled, then shaped and baked. Their first recorded appearance in the form we are familiar with today would have been around the middle of the 16th century. Their main purpose was to be used as ‘dippers’ for the ever more popular creams and compotes that were coming to the fore.
The original idea behind the double cooking was to produce a thin, crisp biscuit. A far cry from the moist, melt in the mouth confections the Victorians preferred.
Home made biscuits will never fully match up to those bought from the supermarkets, simply because those are made by machines to regulate size and shape and are baked in specially designed ovens that cannot be replicated in the home.
Another difference between the home cook and the commercial biscuit maker is that the home cook has the opportunity to experiment with new and different flavours on a daily basis if she/he wishes, while a commercial producer must make the products that he knows will sell. The biscuit buying public can be very fickle if their favorite brands are tampered with!
Home baked biscuits are best made in small quantities to be eaten quickly at their crispest. They will absorb moisture from the air if left out in the open. If they are to be kept, they must be stored in airtight tins by themselves, away from anything moist such as cakes and buns.
Shortbread and oat cakes are generally classed as biscuits since by tradition they have the same dry crispness.
As a general rule, despite their distant relationship with bread, biscuits are un-leavened.