Monday, June 9, 2008

Granny Boyd's Chocolate Biscuits

I have yet to make the infamous World Peace Cookies, but I plan to do that this summer. From every description I've ever read, I'll declare them to be the best cookie, ever. Until then,

These chocolate biscuits may be the very best cookies I've ever made.

They are Granny Boyd's Biscuits by Nigella Lawson, which I first saw on Amanda's blog.

I'd like to say they were simple, and they probably are, but I made them more difficult by being an American with a dearth of education in the metric system. I really wish I knew it. I have brain power, I should teach myself, somehow. Because the recipe was given in grams, which measures mass and not just volume, conversion can be tricky. I used a cooking calculator which promised to simply and quickly calculate common baking ingredients from grams to cups, but I don't feel it worked very well.

For instance, a cup full of feathers will weigh significantly less than a cup full of sugar, and for these reasons, I think the Euro method of measuring baking ingredients to be probably much more accurate. You can't simply say "how many American cups is the same as 150 grams?" It depends on what it is. Flour? Butter? Sugar? Herbs? Eggs? Different mass for each.

I had confidence in a particular calculator I found because it listed the conversations BY FOOD PRODUCT. Ah hahh! Butter Converter! Flour Converter! Sugar Converter! Perfect.

I thought.

The recipe is simple enough. Only four ingredients. But when the recipe called for me to form a stiff dough and roll it into balls the size of a walnut, I knew I had a problem. My dough was light and fluffy, almost like mousse. There was no way it was a dough, and certainly was not stiff enough to roll in my hand. It fell off the spoon like whipped mousse, so I kept adding flour in 1/4 cup ingredients and still it was light and fluffy but could hold a ball. Because I'd added so much flour, I lost confidence in the cocoa, and added double the amount of that, too. In the end, I did get a product which I was able to scoop up with a finger and roll into a rather moist ball, and flatten with a fork, but it was so light I was nervous. I thought surely they'd flatten out to a bitter, black pancake and burn.

They didn't. In fact, they retained their shape despite being comprised of nearly 50% butter. Oh they spread just a bit, yes, but by no means did they turn into pancakes.

I made a test batch and ate a few and to my surprise, they were simply exquisite. I need to describe them, but it's difficult. Imagine this: A soft, very very very sandy beach, where the grains of sand are chocolate. The water laps in over the sand, but the water is made of salted butter (well it is sea water after all). You scoop up a finger full of this salted, buttered chocolate sand, and bake it in the sun just long enough to dry the butter. That's what these cookies are like. Salty Chocolate Sand, but no grit. Like fairy dust sand.

The edges crumbled and broke on the plate, from my not being gentle enough, and picking them up while still too warm. Once they were fully cool, I could easily lift one to my mouth to eat, and it just held together long enough to be modest and ladylike. When I put it on my tongue and pressed it to the roof of my mouth, it dissolved into soft sandy chocolate and disappeared.

It was quite simply, an awesome taste and an awesome sensation. Nigella Lawson calls them dark and smokey. I thought they were far too delicate and lady like for that kind of masculine description. If they are smokey at all, it's more like the fog rolling in on that beach I told you about, and dancing on your tongue. That's what they were.

And they were damn, damn good.

Because the gooey, soft batter was too difficult to scoop and place, and the few cookies I did make were so rich, I rolled the batter into wax paper and refrigerated it overnight, in a log. The next day, I simply ran a hot knife through the loaf, and cut off small shards, like little chocolate ice bergs, and baked them in that rough shape. They spread somewhat in the pan, but you can tell some of the angles are still there. Floating in that buttery sea, waiting to dissolve on impact. When I got to the end of the roll, it was soft enough to just slice off like butter, and plop onto the pan. Those turned into more delicate looking cookies, easy to use a fork to mark.

Make them. You won't be sorry.

I'm going to give you the original recipe in the original grams, and then put in my notes as to what happened with my recipe. Any assistance from UK bloggers as to what I did wrong (although with happy results) would be most appreciated.


300g Self-Raising Flour
*My converter gave me 2 cups of flour, but my batter was just fluffy, pudding-like mousse, so after using 2 cups of self rising flour, I added 1/4 cup of softassilk cake flour, at least three times, for a total of 2-3/4 cups of flour.

30g Cocoa Powder
*Converter gave me 1.5 tablespoons of cocoa, but because I added so much more flour than called for, I didn't want to dilute the flavor. I added a full three tablespoons of cocoa.

250g Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
*Converter gave me 1.5 cups of butter or three entire sticks. Was this right?!

125g Caster Sugar
*Converter gave me 2/3 cup of sugar. I used Vanilla Bean Infused Sugar and did not increase it as I didn't want it overly sweet.


Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Sift flour and cocoa powder and set it aside.
Cream butter and sugar till light and pale in color. Mix in sifted flour mixture, and continue working until it forms a dough. Roll into walnut-sized balls and arrange on a buttered baking sheet. Flatten dough balls with the back of a fork and bake for 12-15 minutes at 170 degrees C.

*I baked the cookies at 350 degrees for approximately 12-15 minutes and the texture and baking time was perfect.

Any input on my amounts UK bloggers?


  1. foggy sea air? chocolate buttered sand? delicate and ladylike?

    kate you really have a way with words

    i think from today you are my new favorite blogger!

    can't help you with the measurements, my recipes all start with a packaged cake mix or can of soup!

  2. oh and i made your Syracuse style salt potatoes tonight for my husband, they were very good! thank you!

  3. Oh conversions... eeeks!
    These look worth the brain power though!

  4. hey kate, it's me, pie :)

    did you just use regular flour, or did you find/make self-raising flour as is indicated in the recipe? self-raising flour is a british/european thing, it has baking powder (and i think salt) in it too.

    the cookies sound lovely, i will pass this recipe on to darren, who is the household baker.

  5. Hi Pie! ::waving::

    For the bulk of the flour, I used it as called for. When I began to add more to make up for the too soft texture, I used cake flour. So of the total amount, 3/4 cup was SoftasSilk. I was concerned about it being thick and hard. I need not have worried. I ahve a plate ready for work tomorrow, and I'm seriously, seriously worried that they won't make it. Chilling it overnight and slicing it onto the pan was MUCH MUCH easier than the rolling balls method.

  6. I'm in the UK and i use oz so I have to convert most recipes too!! but for future, our butter comes in 250g blocks, which is roughly 8 oz, which I read as two "american" sticks. Does that make sense? If I'm using a US recipe for 1 stick, i cut a british block in half, and that seems to have worked ok to date......

    SR flour has a raising agent in and you can make your own by just adding a teaspoon of baking powder to the average recipe.

    I read an american cup of flour as about 5 oz, so for this recipe 300g flour is about 10 oz which is about two of your cups, a cup of sugar is 6.5 oz so i guess about 2/3 a cup - i oftern find you can get away with less sugar though..... and then about a tablespoon of cocoa.

    any help?

  7. Yes, thanks! Very kind of you. I didn't increase the sugar -- what little I had was plenty, but I can see from your data that I had too little flour for the butter I used (three American sticks!). Still the best cookie ever!

  8. I want to be on that sandy beach with the salt water lapping at my tongue, I mean feet. Ohh, and the fog rolling in. Quick, wake me up!
    Thanks to b in the U.K. with her conversions, I want to try these. Badly! :)

    World Peace Cookies do rock my world!

  9. Oh do try them. I still want to make the World Peace cookies, but until then, these reign supreme. I'm wondering if I leave out the cocoa and up the vanilla, will they be a soft crumbly vanilla sable? I'm kicking that around.

  10. I made these cookies on my blog, where you can find the converted amounts!
    We use the metric system here in India, so I'm used to converting almost every recipe, and putting it up both ways!

  11. Hola KAte,what a wonderful blog u have and these are fantastic biscuits and i would love to try this recipe for they seem the crunchy crispy kind which i really do love..are they?
    That said cheers to ur lovely blog....