Pitcaithly  Biscuits

This biscuit recipe is based on an old bannock recipe that I have.  There’s a lot of nonsense out there written about bannock on food blogs, and we all know how I love to set things straight.  First off, bannock describes the shape of the bake.  It is a round, flat loaf that can be savory or sweet. It can be baked in a skillet, or in the oven.   The only requirement is that it is baked into a flat circle and cut into wedges when served. 

I’ve seen the word bannock attributed to a Gaelic origin but that doesn’t make a lot of sense, because there’s not a word that is even close in Gaelic. In Old Irish it was bairgen or more modernly báirín as in báirín breac. The Old English word was bannuc .

I believe this is one of the times when people writing food blogs don’t know one form of Celtic language from another.  The name was more likely adopted from the Breton language which used the word bannac’h.  The Scottish use of the word probably comes days when France and Scotland joined forces to keep the English at bay (1295 CE).  There is a whole dictionary of Franco-Scottish baking terms stemming back to the Auld Alliance in F. Marian McNeill’s cookbook The Scots Kitchen published in 1929.

Regardless the Scottish did make a lot of  bannock.  There are all sorts of famous types of Scottish bannock.   They were served at each quarter and on other holidays. The Yule bannock was made of oat flour and the edges were crimped a bit to look like the sun. Each region had their own take on it.  Robbie Douglas sold his famous Selkirk bannocks made of whole wheat and SO many sultanas. The Fife bannock is a more savory bannock, kind of like farl.  In Renfrewshire where my Grandma Ralston’s people were from a bannock made of barley meal was served at weddings.

Pitcaithly bannock  originated in Perthshire and calls for orange peel and almond.  It’s a little bit fancier than a lot of them because Perthshire had a good number of natural springs and a spa where wealthy folk would visit and take nice mineral water baths. It’s more like a shortbread or a biscuit.  Because my recipe doesn’t give exact proportions I use my basic biscuit recipe for it.

That’s a whole lot of typing to explain that even though the concept is loosely based on a Pitcaithly bannock recipe, I have to call it a biscuit.

So, my basic biscuit recipe is:

250g (1 cup) butter
140g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
300g flour
1 tsp baking extract

To make the dough, first   mix the butter and sugar together until the sugar is as dissolved as you can get it.  (For new bakers, this is always the point of creaming sugar and butter.)  If you buy American granulated sugar, you will want to grind it finer to be good caster sugar. I have substituted powdered sugar, too.

Then I add the egg yolk, the extract and whatever goodies I am tucking into the mix.  For this biscuit case you can add 1/4 cup very finely chopped mixed peel or candied orange peel, 1 quarter cup ground almonds, and 2 tsp mixed spice.

If you don’t have candied citrus, you can use chopped orange zest.  If you make your own mixed spice, use my traditional recipe because these are supposed to be decorated with caraway seeds.   I don’t because I have texture fussy people in my house. I added another egg yolk too, to help with binding the gluten-free flours.  I am afraid I am never going to make vegan food, because I refuse to use the chemical substitutions in my food.  Mix this for a good long time to incorporate the flavors into the butter and sugar.

Add the flour. Traditionally this bannock is made with half-white rice flour and half regular flour. I omitted the wheat flour in this recipe and used half finely ground almond flour.

I know you want American equivalents, but I just won’t do it anymore where flour and sugar are concerned.  A cup of flour can hold anywhere from 120g-180g depending on how finely sifted it is and how you scoop it.  That’s why you can follow a recipe exactly and it turns out poorly.  Get yourself a scale and never look back.

The dough will be sticky.  Wrap it up and pop it in the fridge for at least an hour.   You can pat this into a springform pan with the bottom lined with parchment and bake the whole thing for 30-35 minutes at 350.  Let it sit in the pan until it cools, then remove it, cut it in wedges and serve it.

I think the gluten-free version might be too crumbly for cutting into wedges.  So you can  cut it into biscuits. If you don’t want to bother with rolling pins, you can shape this dough into a round log and just slice the cookies off but I like my cutters, quite a lot.

Sprinkle some white rice flour on your rolling surface, roll them out and cut into whatever shape you like.  I rolled these pretty thin, so I only baked them for ten minutes at 350deg F. They could probably have used another five minutes, but the sugar was browning.  Ideally you could roll them out a little thicker and bake them for 15-20 minutes at 300deg F.

Published by Stephany Riley Hoffelt

If you want to read more about me, it's on the website www.domestic-medicine.com

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