Sadly, my grandad’s recently been moved into a care home and my parents are in the process of clearing out his house. Among the vast array of things unearthed, they found two big cardboard boxes full of recipe clippings from ancient magazines belonging to my late gran, who passed away in 2008.
Looking through these little relics of cooking times past has been an interesting and touching experience. It might sound silly but rifling through them made me feel closer to her and remembering the way she hoarded anything and everything to stop it from going to waste made me smile. Although hanging on to gargantuan stacks of old envelopes and keeping used individual butter wrappers to use to grease cake tins is a little extreme, I admire the way that she and her frugal generation in general were so much more scrupulous about waste than we are nowadays. As a recycling enthusiast who hates to throw things away unnecessarily, it’s quite inspiring.
Anyway, to get on track to the main point of this post: among Granny Emily’s varied collection of magazine snippets was a recipe from the 1970s for so-called ‘Othello’ biscuits which caught my eye. They’re mostly just oats, butter, sugar and cocoa powder but I love oaty things and thought they sounded tasty so I was keen to give them a go.
The unusual name added to their allure until I then twigged that it is of course a racist nod to the titular character of the Shakespeare play of the same name due to their dark colour – this certainly wouldn’t be an acceptable name for cookies nowadays but things were a lot less politically correct back then! Anyhow, despite their dodgy nomenclature, I’m pleased to say that they’re scrumptious…and quite addictive.
However, considering we are not even halfway through January, I don’t want to ignore the talk in my previous post about trying out healthier recipes. While eating one of these biscuits hardly carries the same calorific consequences as a giant doorstop of cake, I still wanted to have a go at removing, or at least cutting down, the amount of fat and refined sugar used. Therefore, I tweaked the original recipe and came up with a lighter version that contains no refined sugar and only a small amount of fat. Admittedly, they are very slightly drier than their full fat counterparts but the cheeky drizzle of chocolate on the top compensates for this and gives them a delicious edge without adding too much in the way of naughtiness. I also threw in a bit of spice which I think really complements the flavour. They make an ideal snack as they’re quite filling; even I stopped after nomming just one and that’s usually unheard of for me!
This version can easily be made vegan and/or dairy free with a few simple substitutions, which I’ve suggested below.
Original batch pictured on the left and healthier version on the right 🙂
ORIGINAL OTHELLO BISCUITS (this is the original 1970s recipe but I’m unable to give credit as I don’t know which magazine it’s from, sorry!)
INGREDIENTS – makes approx. 10 biscuits
- 4 oz porridge oats
- 2 oz margarine
- 3 oz brown sugar
- 0.5 oz cocoa powder
- 0.5 oz plain flour
- 0.25 tsp baking powder
- 1 dessertspoon cold water
- Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder into a bowl, stir in the oats.
- Add the margarine and, using the fingertips only, rub it in until the fat is evenly distributed.
- Stir in the sugar then add the water and knead the ingredients to a firm dough.
- Here, the original recipe tells you to roll out the dough with a rolling pin and stamp out circles but to be honest it’s far too sticky to do this so I’d suggest pulling off ping pong sized balls of it and flattening them with wet palms before placing them on a rectangular baking tray lined with parchment paper.
- Bake the biscuits on the centre shelf of a fairly cool oven, gas mark 3 or 325 degrees F (160 degrees C), for about 15 minutes until they are firm to touch.
- Transfer them to a wire tray to cool and become crisp.
LOW FAT & REFINED SUGAR FREE OTHELLO BISCUITS
INGREDIENTS – makes approx. 20 biscuits
- 225g/8 oz porridge oats
- 2 tbsp almond (or peanut) butter
- 2 tbsp olive spread (or soya spread to make them vegan/dairy free), softened
- 5 tbsp honey (or maple/agave syrup to make them vegan)
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 0.5 tsp ginger
- 30g/1 oz cocoa powder
- 30g/1 oz plain flour
- 2 tbsp water
- 0.5 tsp baking powder
- 100g/3.5 oz dark chocolate (the higher the cocoa content, the better), chopped
- Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees C (or 150 fan) and line a large rectangular baking tray with parchment paper.
- Place all the ingredients apart from the chocolate into a large mixing bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon and then your fingers until a sticky dough forms. If it’s too dry, add a little more water and if it’s too sticky, add a bit more flour.
- Pull off ping pong sized balls of dough and flatten them with wet hands, then place onto the baking tray.
- Pop in the oven and bake for around 10-15 minutes or until they feel slightly firm to the touch (they’ll crisp up as they cool) and then leave too cool on a wire rack.
- When the biscuits have cooled, place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and microwave on a medium heat in blasts of 1 minute until completely melted, then drizzle over the biscuits using a teaspoon.
- Allow to set before scoffing, preferably with a cuppa.