You can read all about my cake week shenanigans here, here, and here, but that is all safely in the past. Biscuit week is officially upon us! Now, I hear biscuit and my Southern brain immediately thinks of the fluffy, buttery, lumps of goodness that every true Southerner supposedly has a recipe saved up in their back pocket. I love a good biscuit, but I don’t have a family recipe I can make with my eyes closed. That said, a Bisquick drop biscuit will turn me on any day.
But I am not here to talk about those biscuits. I’m here to talk about what I would actually consider a cracker - the British biscuit. Our Biscuit Signature Challenge is introduced as Mel serenades the instructions that the bakers must make 36 savory biscuits with Sue explaining that these must be crisp and enjoy with all the cheese. To quote, "It must be cheesier than an Abba tribute band at an all night fondue bash." I can get down with that.
As an American that is not intimately familiar with the art of afternoon tea, I am not accustomed to biscuits. As I did with the British Classic Cake, the Victoria Sponge, I wanted to do something simple and standard. Nothing fancy because I just want stay super basic until I feel more comfortable with all this European baking.
GBBO contestant, Norman, is the king of basic baking in the best way possible. I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to gush about Norman because this guy really stole my heart. He is an older gentleman with that paternal air that reminds me so much of my own grandfather that I just want to give him a hug, sit on a rug under his feet, and listen to his stories in his perfect Scottish accent from when he served in the Merchant Navy. Look at that picture! Can you honestly tell me you don't want to relax in his kitchen while he bakes you biscuits? Buzzfeed put together a little article homage with a non-exhaustive list on why Norman is the best ever. Perhaps that might help to convince you even more but believe me when I say Norman is the underrated champion of GBBO in the "adorable-ness" category.
Ok, ok, back to baking. During my Great Bham Bake Project journey, I want to try to avoid copying contestant recipes and only do the Technical Challenges verbatim. However, Norman’s Farthing Biscuits that he baked for the Signature Challenge not only seemed like a great, simple starter biscuit, but they were so perfect that he earned the coveted “Hollywood Handshake." They must be a winner!
I found the recipe for Norman’s Farthing Biscuits on the BBC website and the ingredient list was extremely short, containing nothing that I could not already find in my pantry.
I gathered together my short list of ingredients, only substituting vegetable shortening for lard, and got my hands into it working the butter and lard together until the mixture looked like sand – exactly the texture of pie crust. In fact, this whole recipe reminds me a lot of pie crust. Well, everyone knows the crust of a pie is the best part! I mixed everything until it came together into a ball, wrapped in saran wrap, and placed in the fridge to rest.
To add to my mass of baking illiteracy, patience is not my strong suit and I know that this may very well be my downfall and hopefully my biggest lesson throughout the whole journey ahead of me. And while this may not seem on the outset a recipe that requires patience, after you take the dough out of the fridge you have to *DUN DUN DUN* roll it out. Rolling dough does indeed involve a level of patience that I have never been privy to. Why is it so hard to roll out dough?! Watch anyone do it and it looks so effortless, but do it yourself and suddenly you realize how many elements go into the rolling; proper pressure and a well mixed dough with the correct proportion of ingredients is key. Your dough cannot be too dry unless you want a crumbly mess and it cannot be too wet unless you want a sticky mess. This whole thing has quickly spiraled into a mess.
I did not have a biscuit cutter or even a round cookie cutter, so I pulled a glass out of my cabinet and called it good enough. After trying and failing to work and roll out this dough several times and feeling it get tougher and tougher the more I worked with it, I gave up trying to create perfection and just managed to cut out 31 biscuits of varying thickness. Over it. Whatever. I ain’t getting judged.
I placed my rounds on a pan, dotted a fork across the biscuit to create a nice little pattern, and popped them in the oven unaware of how these will turn out or taste. My biscuits didn’t really change color but they did look similar to Norman's, so I pulled them out after the time stated on the recipe and set them on a cooling rack.
Now for the taste test – these tasted…well, they didn’t taste like much. Much like the dough reminded me of pie crust, the taste of the finished biscuit was a bit similar to that, as well. A cube of cheddar cheese or a slather of Nutella and leftover raspberry jam from my Victoria Sponge did make it much better. These biscuits are a canvas definitely not to be eaten alone and next time I would be tempted to sprinkle with some coarse salt or a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese prior to baking. That said I do believe that this recipe was indeed a perfect introduction to baking a British biscuit. Try these out and let me know what you think!
Norman's Farthing Biscuits
Adapted from BBC.co.uk
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup self-raising flour
- 6 tbsp salted butter
- 6 tbsp lard (or vegetable shortening)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix together the flours, salt, and sugar, and rub in the butter and lard until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Very slowly add iced water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture forms a dough. Wrap in saran wrap and rest in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.
Flour a work surface and remove from the fridge. Roll out to approximately 1/3 cm thick and cut out using a 3 1/2 inch cutter. Prick each round with a fork.
Bake for 14-16 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.