This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
As is commonly known, Biscuits are multiform, and of various manufacture. Their general name signifies "twice baked" (biscuits, or cocti), whilst they consist chiefly of flour, with water, or milk, and salt, or sugar, being baked in thin, flat cakes. When simply made, and newly baked, they are lightbaked"(bis, and easy of digestion, affording animal warmth, and fat, rather than structural support. "I am fearfully hot, and thirsty," said Alice (Through the Looking-glass), after running with the Red Queen so exceedingly fast that she found herself sitting on the ground breathless, and giddy. "I know what you'd like,"said the Queen good-naturedly, taking a little box out of her pocket; "have a Biscuit! "So Alice took one, and ate it as well as she could, but it was very dry, and she thought she had never been so nearly choked in all her life. "Have another Biscuit,"said the Queen, presently. "No, thank you,"said Alice, "one's quite enough".
In France, and Germany our Sponge Cake, or Savoy Cake, is known as Biscuit. The word Biscuit (bis cuit, twice baked) implied the process by which this form of food was made down to within the nineteenth century.
Baking powders, now much in vogue, are essentially composed of bicarbonate of potash, and cream of tartar (bitartrate of potash) in a proportion to neutralize one another; the combination forms tartrate of potash and soda, (Rochelle salt, mildly purgative). Two teaspoonfuls of such a baking powder mixed in a quart of flour, represent forty-five more grains of the Rochelle salt than are contained in an ordinary Seidlitz powder. Alum instead of cream of tartar is quite objectionable: it would form sulphate of soda, and would make the phosphates of the flour insoluble.
In the early part of the nineteenth century, when Dr. Abernethy, a physician famous for his successful treatment of indigestion, lived in Bloomsbury Square, London, a baker named Hill carried on his business in Southampton Row, which street runs out of that Square. It was customary for the Doctor to pay this baker a morning call for a Captain's Biscuit. On one of such visits the Doctor said, "Hill, I think the biscuits would be better with some sugar in them."Hill followed the Doctor's suggestion; and, when he came again the Doctor, on tasting them, said, "They are all right so far, but put a few caraway seeds in the next batch, so as to break the wind on the stomach; and I will recommend them." Such is the history of the Abernethy Biscuit as received sixty years ago from S. Haddon, a baker who lived at the corner of William and Munster Streets, Regent's Park, and who had previously worked for Hill. Here is the original mixture used by Hill: "Seven pounds of winter wheat flour, eight ounces of granulated sugar, eight ounces of butter, and a few Caraway seeds. Mix, or rub the butter well into the flour, making a bay in the centre; add the sugar, and seeds, mixing all well together; then break until the dough is clear, and smooth.
After having done this, about ten Biscuits to the pound may be cut, moulded, and pinned on a crimping board, then baked in a sound oven, and, when taken out, put in the drying oven for four, or more hours."These were genuine; but the Abernethy Biscuits now usually sold as such are spurious, and somewhat similar to the unleavened bread told about in the Bible, to prepare which the children of Israel baked their broken grain after soaking it in water, not using any substance for making the bread light, or raised. Mr. Solomon Pell, the confidential adviser of Tony Weller, and Sam, about family matters, was found at the Insolvent Court regaling himself, as business was slack, on an Abernethy Biscuit, and a saveloy.
When Lord Roberts first went out to South Africa he took with him a good supply of Bath Oliver Biscuits (excellent against indigestion); and he sent for another supply by Lady Roberts when she rejoined him. This Biscuit owed its name to Dr. Oliver, a famous physician of Bath, the friend of Pope, Warburton, and other eighteenth century notabilities. When on his deathbed (1749) the doctor called for his coachman, and gave him the recipe for such Biscuits, also ten sacks of flour, and a hundred sovereigns. The fortunate fellow started a shop, whereat the Biscuits were made, and sold, in Green Street, Bath; and there they are still made, and sold to the present day. To manufacture these Biscuits: Put two ounces of fresh butter into a saucepan, with a quarter of a pint of milk, and stir over a gentle fire until the butter is melted; add a pinch of salt, and a dessertspoonful of yeast; then mix-in very smoothly three-quarters of a pound of fine flour; knead the mixture well, wrap it in a warmed cloth, put it into a bowl. and place it on a warm hearth for a quarter of an hour. Roll it out eight or nine times, leaving it at last a quarter-of-an-inch thick.
Stamp it into Biscuits with an ordinary cutter; prick them well with a fork, and bake them upon tins in a moderate oven until the Biscuits are lightly browned, say, for about half-an-hour.
For Macaroon Biscuits, see "Almonds." A Bavarian recipe orders, to blanch, and chop fine half a pound of sweet almonds; then beat the whites of three eggs to a stiff froth; add half a pound of white sugar, and next the chopped nuts. Drop the macaroons from a small spoon on to paraffin paper, upon a baking sheet, and bake a delicate brown in a moderately hot oven.