December 12, 2010

the smell of warm butter and toasty flour

I've recently discovered white whole wheat flour. Have you used it? White whole wheat flour is ground from white spring wheat. Compared to traditional whole wheat flour (which is ground from red wheat), white whole wheat has a lighter, milder taste but still has all the great nutritional benefits of whole grains. (You can read the label of my flour bag here, if you are so inclined.) I know I sound like an infomercial (but wait! there's more!) but the fact is, I would like white whole wheat flour even if it didn't have the nutritional benefits: it bakes into something with the toasty complexity of traditional whole wheat, without the bitterness. I happen to like the flavor of traditional whole wheat flour, but not in everything, and the knowledgeable folks at King Arthur suggest substituting white whole wheat for all-purpose flour in cookies, brownies, waffles and pancakes, among other things. Well, they didn't have to tell me twice.

The first thing I made with white whole wheat flour was digestive biscuits. If you aren't familiar with digestive biscuits, they are semi-sweet wheat cookies popular in the UK and other Commonwealth countries. The closest thing we have to digestive biscuits here in the U.S. is probably graham crackers, though digestive biscuits are simply butter/whole wheat flour/white sugar/salt and graham crackers are often flavored with brown sugar and sometimes vanilla or cinnamon. 

digestive biscuits + tea

Anyway, I love digestive biscuits but, thanks to an irritating inner voice that persuades me not to buy store bought cookies, I haven't had one in way too long. Like, 5 years. Happily, my homemade digestive biscuits were worth the wait. I was super pleased with how they turned out:  wheaty, buttery, with a crisp and sandy texture and just slightly sweet. Mark has been spreading them with a chocolate/hazelnut spread I made last week, while I like eating them plain or with a swipe of homemade cherry jam. And they are a nice accompaniment to milky tea, of course; that goes without saying.

These digestive biscuits are worth making just for the amazing aromas that will pervade your house, but they are also one of the most delicious things we have eaten lately. I imagine a festive tin filled with these would make a lovely holiday gift though, if you wonder whether "digestives" are special enough to give as a gift, consider calling them by another name (just as correct) instead: whole wheat shortbread cookies. Whether you eat digestive biscuits or whole wheat shortbread, may your house smell like warm butter and toasty flour.

like shortbread, but better

Whole wheat shortbread cookies, also known as English digestive biscuits
slightly adapted from King Arthur
Makes about 23 2.5 inch cookies 

Notes: I made a few changes to the original recipe. As mentioned, I used white whole wheat flour rather than the combination of whole wheat and all-purpose flour called for in the original recipe. I added a scant amount of salt, which was a good call, I think. Finally, the recipe called for room temperature butter, an instruction I must have blithely ignored because it is so opposite to what I normally do when making shortbread dough. Instead, I cubed the butter and stuck it in the freezer for 15 minutes, which worked well. If you have an aversion to working with cold butter you could try, as the original recipe directs, using room temperature butter. (Kindly report back on the outcome!)
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) white whole wheat flour  
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 ounces (3/4 cup) confectioners' sugar
  • 4 ounces (1 stick or 1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces (1/4 cup) cold milk
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Ready a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.
2. (See note above.) Cube the butter (1/2 inch pieces or so) and set in the freezer for 15 minutes or so, until hard.
3. By hand: Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk to combine the ingredients. Quickly, working with your fingertips or a pastry blender, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. Add the milk and work through to form a stiff dough. Turn out on a floured surface and knead until smooth.
Using a food processor: Measure the flour, baking powder and sugar into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 10-15 seconds to ensure all the dry ingredients are evenly combined. Add the cold butter and pulse until butter is evenly combined, 4-5 pulses. Add the milk and process 1-2 seconds. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead slightly until you have a smooth dough.
4. Using a well-floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to a bit more than 1/8 inch thick and cut into rounds, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. You can keep rolling the scraps together to make additional dough. (If you prefer, use a sharp knife to create square cookies and forget the whole scraps issue.)
5. Transfer the biscuits to your baking pan and, if desired, use a strand of uncooked spaghetti to prick the biscuits with holes. Bake 15-20 minutes until biscuits are somewhere between pale gold and pale brown. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack. Note: If you undercook them, the biscuits will taste floury (not good). I like them to be crisp, so mine stayed in the oven around 20 minutes. Don't be afraid to put them back in if they are not crisp enough. 


Amy said...

I have the same inner voice telling me not to buy cookies. It must be the same for you -- if you're going to eat a cookie, why choose something with trans fats or vegetable oil when you could have butter? These look fabulous. Love shortbread.

Lauren said...

Oh. My. Gosh. I love digestives. And therefore, I love you for posting this.

LJ said...

Actually, I prefer whole wheat shortbread to All purpose flour/rice flour/cornstarch shortbread. it's such just so much nuttier and has more flavor. (since shortbread is so few ingredients).

Translation: I'm totally on-board with digestives!

Kim said...

Yay! I hope you guys will try them and let me know if you have any ideas for improvement. And I forgot to say that I am already plotting my next project: homemade Hobnobs, that wonderful hybrid of flapjacks and digestives. :) I'm hungry just contemplating it.

Allison@KingArthurFlour said...

So glad you gave the white whole wheat flour a try! I'm going to try this recipe - I love digestive biscuits (and recently bought some Carr's...).

Happy holidays!

Anonymous said...

These were terrible burned edges soft centres .. Followed recipe exactly ( food processor)