Digestive biscuits are a wonderful treat I discovered years ago thanks to my friend Emma. I’ll never forget the day she handed me a mug of hot black tea topped with a bit of milk and a plate full of McVite’s digestives. I had never seen these British cookies before and the moment I dipped one into my tea I was hooked. Digestives are an odd name for a biscuit, I know. Sounds more like medicine, right? We’ll just call them medicine for the soul.
The biscuits themselves aren’t overly sweet. They’re flaky and a bit dry. I enjoy eating them plain but the idea is to dip them in tea as you might dip Oreo cookies into milk. They become soft and you need to eat them quickly before they dissolve. Some biscuits come plain without any chocolate, but I think the chocolate makes them so much better.
I found a recipe for digestive biscuits in Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food. It’s a great recipe on it’s own but after a few experiments, I’ve made some changes. She uses two ingredients that most people probably don’t already have in their pantry: spelt flour and Demerara sugar. I tried swapping the spelt flour for whole wheat and didn’t love the results. The spelt flour stayed. Then I tried swapping the Demerara sugar for light brown sugar. The results? Just as good.
I also tested an all butter version of this recipe that omitted the shortening completely. I hate shortening and think it’s one of the most unhealthy products on the market so I’d always prefer to use real butter. The problem is that these cookies just don’t taste like digestive biscuits if you use all butter. I recently found an organic shortening at Whole Foods that uses coconut oil in place of the nasty hydrogenated fats. It worked great and there was no coconut aftertaste, which I had been worried about. You can go ahead and use regular shortening; the recipe will work either way.
I also swapped the whole milk for cream and added milk chocolate on top. These cookies are total comfort food to me. They make tea time just a little bit more special.
- ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 7¼ ounces (1½ cups) spelt flour
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- ¼ cup vegetable shortening, cold and cut into cubes (see notes)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
- ⅓ cup heavy cream
- all purpose flour for rolling out the dough
- 1 cup milk chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Add the rolled oats, spelt flour, salt, baking powder and light brown sugar to a food processor and pulse several times until the rolled oats are chopped into smaller bits. Leave a little bit of texture in the oats to add flakiness to the cookies.
- Move the oat mixture to a large bowl and add the shortening. Using clean hands, rub the shortening into the oat mixture until it’s crumbly. When the shortening is almost completely incorporated, add the butter and do the same thing until everything is incorporated with a few bigger pieces here and there.
- Add the cream slowly, stirring the mixture with a spatula or wood spoon, until the biscuit dough comes together. Kneed it in the bowl a few times.
- Lightly flour a clean surface and roll the dough to about ¼ inch thickness. Use a small cookie cutter (I used a 2½ inch cutter) and cut out the biscuits, placing them on the prepared baking sheet. Re-roll the dough until all of the biscuits are cut.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes, until lightly golden with faintly browning edges. Allow to cool completely.
- When the cookies are cool, place the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave the chocolate in 15-30 second increments, stirring well each time, until the chocolate is shiny and melted (this can also be done over a double boiler).
- Use a pastry brush to generously brush the melted chocolate onto the cookies (you can also carefully dip them into the chocolate).
- Place the cookies in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to set the chocolate.
- Serve the biscuits with black tea for dipping.
Adapted from Nigella Lawson