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Biscuits
Bake a Biscuit

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Biscuits, Ancient and Modern
The biscuits eaten by sailors in the British Navy in the nineteenth century were as hard as floor-tiles - and probably tasted like floor-tiles too! They had to be mashed up in water to form gruel in order to be edible. Today, by contrast, many biscuits are very sweet and have a thick coat of chocolate. This change from hard, unsweet biscuits to softer and much sweeter kinds is reflected in the varieties of biscuits made by Huntley and Palmers in the 130 years that they were active.
Army No 3 Biscuit, 1917
Army No 3 Biscuit, 1917
 
Artwork Catalogue, 1928
Artwork Catalogue, 1928
Changing Varieties
In the 1840s many of the biscuits that Huntley & Palmers made reflected kinds that would have been produced in the home. Soon, however, they had a large Experimental Department to devise new varieties. Many of the kinds still eaten today - Ginger Nuts, for example - are probably not that different from the biscuits of the same name made in the nineteenth century. Others, though, which were created by the Experimental Department had a short lifespan. Fortunately, we often know what they look like, either because they were illustrated in catalogues or because, in a few cases, actual biscuits have survived in display cases - often in surprisingly good condition.
 
What did they taste like?
The catalogues remind us that a large proportion of Huntley & Palmers' output was devoted to 'Unsweetened Kinds' (which most people would today think of as forms of Cream Cracker) and 'Slightly Sweetened Kinds' (which today would be represented by, for example, Arrowroot or Garibaldi biscuits). Before 1945 'Sweet Kinds' often had a layer of crisp icing, but they were still fairly hard and only very rarely had an outer layer of chocolate.
Products catalogue, about 1901-1903
Products catalogue, about 1901-1903
 
Currant Shortcake biscuits, 1930s
Currant Shortcake biscuits, 1930s
An Experiment to try at Home
If you would like to find out what early biscuits tasted like, here are a few of Huntley & Palmers' recipes from the Victorian and Edwardian periods. They might not be as sweet as a modern chocolate biscuit, but they were probably somewhat better for your teeth!
 
Long Jamaica Biscuits (1865)
The factory recipe ingredients are -
26 lbs White Flour
4 lbs Butter
5 lbs Loaf Sugar
5 pints Milk

For home baking scale this down to -
570 grams Plain Flour
100 grams Butter
110 grams Caster Sugar
1/4 pints Milk
Crumble the butter into the flour. Add the other ingredients. Roll out and cut into the shape of your choice. Bake in an oven at Gas 5 (375 fahrenheit) until golden brown. This makes a very plain, pastry-like biscuit. To give it a bit more of a 'Jamaican' flavour you could substitute Muscovado sugar.
Biscuit catalogue, about 1884-1895
Biscuit catalogue, about 1884-1895
 
Paris Assorted sample, probably 1930s
Paris Assorted sample, probably 1930s
Nice (1904)
The factory recipe ingredients are -
120lbs Seconds Flour
48lbs Lawn Sugar
4lbs Best Butter
4lbs White Butter
16lbs Coconut
24 pints New Milk
8oz Vanilla Sugars
1 ½ oz Stuff
6oz Soda
 
For home baking scale this down to -
570grams Plain Flour
250 grams Caster Sugar
40 grams Butter
75 grams Coconut
1/4 pint Milk
1 teaspoon Vanilla Essence
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
Crumble the butter into the flour. Add the other ingredients. Stand for half an hour. This makes a very stiff, dry dough, but roll out and cut into the shape of your choice. Bake in an oven at Gas 5 (375 fahrenheit) until golden brown. This makes a more flavoursome biscuit than the previous recipe!
 
 
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