Thursday, 23 June 2016

Huntley and Palmer Biscuit Recipes - Intro

I spent a few hours on Monday at the Museum of English Rural Life, going through old recipe books for Huntley and Palmer. they are a huge company who have left their mark all over Reading...and they made a lot of biscuits!

After having done the Rich Traveller biscuits, I thought it would be really interesting to get some more recipes, and then see if I can re-create them, or use them as inspiration for more modern versions. The recipe books were all hand-written, often with notes, amendments, and often a "Passed by the Board" date, probably to do with any changes to the recipe and ingredients. There were a fe challenges in the task;

1) Weird imperial measurements, in massive quantities! The first recipe I looked at used 280lbs of flour!

2) Unusual ingredients. More specifically 2 ingredients that appeared a lot. "Stuff", and "Seal". I was able to find out a little bit about "Seal" was some product that was sold by a company called WJ Bush...they sold essential essences and oils (effectively food colouring and flavouring). I suspect that it was either a preservative, a colouring (to get the biscuits a more pleasing colour), or the turn-of-the-century equivalent of vanilla flavouring (ie, we put it in everything!).

"Stuff" has been more problematic. The original MERL post suggested it might be a spice mix (and thats what I used in the Rich Traveller biscuits), however it was in an awful lot of recipes, so I now think it might have been something like a preservative, or a flour whitener of some description.

3) Terrible handwriting. To be fair, it probably was considered quite neat, and these books were huge, so writing all the recipes down must have taken a long time.

4) Absolutely no methods. This is the biggest challenge, and knowing ingredients is one thing, however mixing the dough, shaping and baking it is another challenge entirely. For example, commercial refrigeration technology was available before the turn of the century, but was this used...did they chill the dough? Baking powder was not available until the 1930's, so for a light biscuit there is a mixture of soda (I'm assuming bicarbonate of soda) and tartaric acid (cream of tartar). There are also some yeast-based biscuits, often savoury.

 I was able to find illustrations of many of the biscuits, and the final look does provide some insight into the way they were made (for example, the majority are stamped or rolled, there are very few that look like they would have been a "melt" type biscuit).

One thing that was really noticeable, especially when compared to modern biscuits, is how vanishingly rare chocolate was. Coconut features, as does vanilla, almond, carraway seeds, and various fruit essences (no doubt provided by WJ Bush!).

So, the plan is to take these recipes, transform the list of ingredients into something you can buy at the supermarket, and make in a home-baking volume, and see where we get! The posts will probably be in 2 halves...firstly me deciphering the recipe, and then a second half about how the actual bake went.