Desdemonas and Othellos

Ready for some political incorrectness, 1950s cookery style?

Welcome into your knowledge base the fact that these biscuits exist. Or did exist. Well, ok, now some exist in my pantry so I have essentially resurrected some ill-advised nomenclature of a biscuit.

These biscuits are called Desdemonas and Othellos. For those of you with no love for, or no interest in, the works of Shakespeare, these are two characters from his play Othello. Although I am yet to read or see the play, I gather that Desdemona is the beautiful wife of Othello, the beautiful male protagonist and hero. What these biscuits refer to, though, is their skin colour. Desdemona is a fair-skinned Venetian whilst Othello is a dark-skinned Christian Moor. Ergo vanilla and chocolate icing.

Desdemona and Othello from a 2007 London performance; http://www.xcel.uk.net/up-coming/othello.htm

I found this recipe in Miss Drake’s Home Cookery (13th edition), published by Robertson & Mullens, Melbourne in the year 1950. 13th edition! It was slotted between some thinner cookbooks collected by my Nana Jean. The book conspicuously lacks photos. As do most of the published cookbooks in Nana’s stash. Compared to the incredibly visual design of modern cookbooks, these are bland and dour. Mechanical, almost. But the recipes are so diverse, as this recipe surely testifies. So many dishes I have never heard of. Apparently 60 years is a long time in food.

The biscuits themselves are quirky characters. They completely lack butter. The moisture comes from the ample quantity of eggs. 5 eggs!

Have you heard of such a recipe? Was it created out of necessity, for some cook who lacked butter but had far too many eggs? Is it a biscuit that originated during the Depression, when rations meant butter was scarce? Oh, so little I know about these biscuits.

What I do know about these biscuits is that they are fiddly. They need to be piped onto a baking tray. Baked in batches. Left to cool before filling with jam. Sandwiched together before icing. All in all, this recipe took me about three hours to recreate. Perhaps I am less patient than my fore-bearers.

I also know that these biscuits look beautiful. Look at them, lying there, all elegant in their lush glossy icing jackets. Oh so impressive. They have a peculiar texture, not to my taste. Spongy and light, not at all crisp or crumbly. They are quite eggy in taste, almost reminiscent of the pastry from cream puffs. Although they are sweet, and tangy with blackberry jam, and very moreish. Quite perfect with milk, or a cup of tea. Indeed, my dismissive opinion was not echoed by other people who tried a Desdemona or Othello. Everybody else adored them.

I will let you be the judge. As should always be the case!

Happy cooking!

Meg.

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Desdemonas & Othellos

a la Miss Drake (1950)

5 oz. flour

3 oz. sugar

5 eggs

jam, to fill (I used blackberry, which I sieved to remove seeds)

1 quantity soft vanilla icing – recipe below

1 quantity soft chocolate icing – recipe below

Beat the whites very stiffly, add the sugar gradually, beating all the time. Fold in the beaten yolks, and lastly sifted flour.

Pipe into rounds through a piping bag, on kitchen paper, on oven tray.

Bake in fairly hot oven 7-10 minutes until a golden brown.

When cold, put together with jam, and ice with soft icing. “Make some brown with chocolate icing and leave some white.”

Soft icing

4 oz. icing sugar

1 tbsp liquid (water, fruit juice, coffee, rose water, etc.). Sift icing sugar. Blend to a soft consistency with the liquid. If using water, heat icing very slightly before spreading on the biscuits. Do not allow it to reach boiling point or the sugar will grain.

Vanilla

Mix in 1 tsp vanilla extract with water to make 1 tbsp liquid.

Chocolate

Sift 1 tsp cocoa powder with the icing sugar before stirring in liquid.

Note: I heated the icing in the microwave at 25% for 10 seconds to soften. Repeated microwaving will leave the icing grainy and difficult to spread.

Jam drop biscuits to conclude the hiatus

Hello friends. My word, it has been far too long. A hiatus as long as mine from posting is quite unheard of in the blogging sphere, so I’ve come to learn. I am coming back to my happy cookery space with my tail between my legs. I’m offering some beautiful, ruby-like jam drop biscuits, if you’d care to stay?

Jam drop biscuits

In my part of the world, winter has given way to spring. The peach tree is in its lacey blossom, the birds are singing earlier and the days are growing incrementally longer. The wind has been kissed with warmth. The sky seems bluer and the air smells cleaner. This is mood-boosting weather, and not one soul here is complaining.

In some sort of Spring-induced joyousness I’ve taken to baking with a passion. Do you do the same? Last week I baked some chocolate-ripple cupcakes studded with dark chocolate chips that I dressed with coils of chocolate-orange frosting and sprinkled liberally with tiny silver cachous. Suitably comfortingly chocolatey and zingy citrusy for the transition to the warmer season.

But more recently I turned to Nana Jean’s handwritten cookbook for inspiration. I needed something transportable, easily shared and celebratory. In other words, I needed these jam drop biscuits.

The biscuits have a gloriously buttery yet light texture. Almost like shortbread biscuits, which I think is very quaint and pleasingly coincidental given that Jean had Scottish heritage. As I am sure you are familiar, each biscuit has a pond of jam sitting in the middle. I’ve turned to the jar of raspberry jam I used in the recreation of this raspberry coconut slice. Any jam will do, but you really need something with a good powerful flavour. Something almost a little acidic, to balance the buttery sweetness of the biscuit itself, you see.

The recipe is very simple. Cream the butter and sugar, mix in the well-beaten eggs, then stir through the sifted dry ingredients. You may be tempted, like I was, to pipe the dough into pretty rosettes before adding the jam. Don’t bother. The dough is far too thick to pipe, and you will only end up with more cleaning up to do! I suppose you could amend the recipe to make it more fluid, but I would be hesitant. The texture of these is truly special. To get the jam to sit nicely in the biscuits I used the floured end of a wooden spoon to make a small depression right in the centre. And, perhaps to appease my now-spurned wish to use my piping bag, I resorted to filling the reservoirs with jam with a small circular piping tip and disposable bag. Wholly unnecessary, of course. If you only have teaspoons then by all means use teaspoons and not a piping bag.

My only complaint about the recipe is how many biscuits it makes! I made a bit over 30 biscuits, which took three batches too cook in my small oven. What a first world problem indeed.

Happy baking comrades. Here’s a promise to many more timely posts!

Meg.

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Jam drop biscuits

½ cup butter, soft

¾ cup sugar

2 eggs, well beaten

2 cups plain flour

½ tsp bicarb soda

1 tsp cream of tartar

¼ cup jam

Preheat oven to 200oC. Sift together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add the eggs and beat well. Stir through dry ingredients.

Make small balls from the dough and place on a baking sheet. Using the back of a wooden spoon, first dip in flour, then create a depression in the centre of each biscuit. Fill with jam using a teaspoon or piping bag. Bake batches for 15 minutes each.

Don’t eat when straight from the oven. The jam will be as hot as Hades and melt the inside of your mouth.

Enjoy!

Orange cream finger-biscuits

These citrus-y and light orange cream finger-biscuits have been resurrected from a newspaper clipping recipe pasted to the inside of Nana Jean’s cookbook. Thank you to one I. M. Lohrey, the author of this beautiful recipe.

Have you ever heard of orange creams before? Here in Australia the first orange creams, dubbed ‘orange slice’ biscuits were sold in 1922 by Arnott’s. The orange slice was featured in a number of Assorted Cream selections during the 1920s and early 1930s, and you can still find the slim cream-filled biscuits in the packets today.

For those unfamiliar with orange creams – and you have my condolences, for they are truly  delicious – they consist of two vanilla biscuits with a layer of sherberty orange cream. They are tangy, and oh so more-ish.

The biscuits I present to you differ from the Arnott’s version. The biscuits aren’t flavoured with vanilla. Instead, they rejoice in sweet simplicity. I would say that vanilla would be cloying when paired with the orange filling, which is thick and fragrant. And the icing is perfectly zesty. I have never encountered an icing recipe like this. It requires you to ‘heat through’ the ingredients on the stove before pouring the mixture, still warm, over the filled biscuits. When the icing sets it cocoons the biscuits in a thin, snug and zingy casing. It feels, and looks, pretty special.

As I mentioned yesterday, citrus fruits are in season year-round. So whether you are from the northern or southern hemisphere, this recipe is ready and raring to go. And from my reading, it seems that the USA is experiencing extreme heat; how awful. If you are an American craving an orangey baked treat, be reassured by the fact that these biscuits only need 10 minutes in the oven.

Oh, and they go very nicely with chai tea.

Here’s to I. M. Lohrey and her exemplary orange cream finger-biscuits!

Meg.

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Orange cream finger-biscuits

Orange cream finger-biscuits

a la I. M. Lohrey

Biscuits:

2 heaped tbsp butter

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

220 g (1/2 lb) plain flour

1 tsp cream of tartar

1/2 tsp bicarb soda (baking soda)

pinch salt

Cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift in the dry ingredients and make into a dough. Roll out about 1/4 inch (bit less than 1 cm) thick and cut into fingers. Bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack before filling.

Filling:

3 tbsp icing sugar

1 large tbsp butter

1/2 orange, juiced

Beat ingredients in a small bowl and use to wedge pairs of biscuits together.

Icing:

1/2 orange, zest and juice

enough icing sugar to make it ‘pourable’

Warm in a saucepan and pour onto fingers. Will set in a few minutes.