This week, I was inspired to bake up some digestive biscuits – probably because I’d been watching “Victoria” on TV. They turned out beautifully and I became curious about their origins.
The first digestive biscuit (“cookie” in American English) was the McVitie’s Digestive, created in 1892 by Alexander Grant, a young new company employee. The biscuit was given its name because it was thought that its high baking soda content served as an aid to food digestion.
I was skeptical – and wondering how many you’d have to eat to get any benefit – but according to LiveStrong.com, “ Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate*) helps to break down fatty substances and food particles, making them easier to digest and calming the turmoil in your stomach.”
In any case, digestives are a delicious, light cookie made with mostly whole-wheat flour for a nice fiber content. I wouldn’t call them health food but when your sweet tooth is calling they probably stack up pretty well compared with other cookies. (I’m talking to you, chocolate chips!)
It’s easy to make your own, and the butter tastes better than the palm oil in commercial products.
RECIPE (Adapted from King Arthur Flour)
Ingredients Click here for measurement by grams or ounces
- 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- (my addition: a pinch of salt)
- 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 cup cold milk
- Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a couple of baking sheets, or line them with parchment paper.
- There are two options for blending ingredients: Hand method: Measure the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour mixture. Add the sugar, (salt) and enough milk to make a stiff dough. Gently and briefly knead this mixture on a floured surface until smooth. Food Processor: Pulse the flour, (salt,) sugar, butter and baking powder in a food processor just long enough to create pea-sized bits of butter. Add milk and pulse briefly, just until mixture comes together. Be careful not to over blend.
- Roll out the dough to approximately 1/8″ thick, and cut into circles. Traditionally, the biscuits are about 2 1/2″ in diameter (a slightly smaller cookie cutter is the perfect size since they will not spread out much).
- Place the cutout cookies on the prepared baking sheets. Prick them all over with a fork, and bake until pale gold, about 15 minutes.
- Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool right in the pan. Store airtight at room temperature for up to a week or refrigerate if you like them extra crispy; freeze for longer storage.
YIELD: about 3 dozen cookies. Particularly delicious with a pot of freshly-brewed tea.
*In case you’re wondering: Baking soda has only one ingredient, sodium bicarbonate. Sodium bicarbonate is a base that reacts when it comes into contact with acids, like buttermilk, yogurt or vinegar. Baking powder also contains two acids.