Plain, simple, humble. Above any other, this recipe for digestives, a type of cookie, lets locally-grown whole wheat flour shine in all its glory. They’re from Hanne Risgaard’s Home Baked: Nordic Recipes and Techniques for Organic Bread and Pastry, with special thanks to Joe for introducing us to them — they made for a perfect ending to a convivial evening among friends.
Digestives, also known as sweetmeal biscuits, refers to the inclusion of baking soda, which counteracts stomach acid. A plate of these served at the end of a meal satisfies as well as settles, and can be equally effective the morning after or a lovely treat with afternoon tea. We like these cut in smallish rounds, no more than 2 to 2½ inches across, just large enough to nibble on and not feel guilty when we reach for seconds or thirds.
The sandy texture of most whole wheat flour can make it challenging to bake with. Here, the graininess is an integral part of the biscuit’s tender crunch, with the barest amount of sugar added to enhance the natural sweetness of the whole wheat.
Amounts are given in baker’s weights and, as Risgaard instructs, there’s pleasure to be found in mixing the dough by hand. Depending on how long it’s been left in the fridge, the dough may feel crumbly to work with. Don’t fret, unlike that for pie, it’s a forgiving dough and will become more pliable as it’s worked. Avoid underbaking the digestives — you’ll know they’re done when they begin to caramelize and brown around the edges, releasing a toasty, buttery aroma.
250 g whole-wheat flour
5 g (about 1 teaspoon) baking powder
50 g sugar
3 g (about ½ teaspoon) salt
120 g unsalted butter
1 large egg
– Heat oven to 390°F. Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl, then mix in sugar and salt. Cube the bold butter, and rub it quickly into the flour mix. Add the egg, and knead until you have a smooth dough. Wrap dough, and refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes.
– On floured work surface, roll out dough until it is about ⅛ inch thick. Cut out digestives with a cookie cutter, and place them on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Prick with a fork, then brush lightly with a little water.
– Bake in the center of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until they are lightly golden. Cool completely, then store in an airtight jar.
Adapted from “Home Baked: Nordic Recipes and Techniques for Organic Bread and Pastry” by Hanne Risgaard.
Note: Thanks to those who’ve mentioned McVitie’s digestives in the comments! We haven’t had them so aren’t able to compare the McVitie’s to this recipe; the recipe here is similar to the more familiar Carr’s. Two other versions — ones that might come closer to childhood memories — are Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s, which includes oatmeal; and King Arthur Flour, which employs a mix of white and whole wheat flour. Both versions include milk rather than an egg; I’ve also seen vanilla extract added in other recipes online.
I also wanted to include a note about the digestive dough — it can be stiff and unyielding when taken straight out of the fridge. If so, leave it on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes to soften a bit. Just avoid letting the dough get too warm; it will start to feel greasy when worked, and the butter will leak out of the biscuits during baking.