Q. What is the most popular biscuit in India, baked most famously in the town of Pune by a number of artisinal bakers, seemingly loved by everyone, and often given as gifts to friends and relatives?
A. It certainly isn’t anything traditionally Indian. It’s the Shrewsbury biscuit (also called Shrewsbury cakes), an English recipe that dates back to the 1500′s, and is apparently one of the bits of British culture that India decided to keep after colonisation.
I haven’t been to Pune (yet), but I used to love Shrewsbury biscuits when I was a kid. For some reason though they had dropped out of my mind, I had neither thought about them or eaten one for years.
Then at a flea market the other day I found a big bundle of old cookery booklets, magazines and newspaper cuttings all for sale for a couple of euros. Despite the fact that they are in four different languages and I only understand one of them, I had to have them. There, hiding away In a good housekeeping pamphlet on ‘cookies and biscuits’ from 1956 was a simple recipe for lovely Shrewsbury biscuits.
In truth the recipe was just a bit too simple, and the resulting biccies were not nearly as exciting as I’d hoped they might be, but they did set me off on a mission. A bit of research into recipes dating back to the 1600′s, a bit of experimentation, and an unhealthy amount of biscuits eaten later, and here we are with my recipe which gives fantastic biscuits every time.
Old vs. New
There is a stark difference between more traditional (c.1600-1800) and modern recipes for Shrewsbury biscuits. The old recipes all contain a high ratio of flour to sugar, probably because sugar was hideously expensive, whilst the modern ones have much more sugar than flour. This recipe uses a ratio of 2:1, because I think that if you add any more sugar the biscuits become too sweet and it overpowers the flavour of the lemon.
Original recipes also contained caraway seeds, whilst modern ones generally use lemon rind. I love them with lemon, but if you are a caraway fan, then you can easily substitute it in.
If you don’t have any rose water to hand, then don’t panic. Just skip that bit and add the butter as you would normally.
Let’s get biscuity
- Unsalted butter115g
- Castor sugar115g
- Plain flour230g
- Grated rind of 1 lemon
- Rose water
Preheat the oven to 170°C and line a baking sheet with baking paper.
In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar.
Beat the egg in a cup with a little bit of rosewater, and add it slowly into the creamed butter/sugar, mixing well as you do.
Sift the flour and add it to the mixture together with the grated lemon rind, then mix it well until it forms a stiff paste.
Turn the bowl out onto a lightly floured surface and roll it out to about 4-5mm thickness, then cut the biscuits into circles (or whatever other shapes you fancy).
Bake the biscuits for about 15 minutes, until they are a very pale brown, then allow to cool.