I have loved English tea biscuits ever since I was a little girl and they were handed to me in Sunday School along with a paper cup of grape juice. These days I prefer them with a large mug of black tea sweetened with honey and whitened with a bit of milk. They are the perfect dunking cookie and are just the thing when you want “a little something” with your afternoon tea.
Until this week I’d only ever had the store-bought version, long rolls of perfectly round biscuits in cellophane wrappers. But after tasting this homemade English tea biscuits recipe, I can’t imagine ever going back.
English tea biscuits, or digestive biscuits, were first developed in Scotland in the early 1800’s by a couple of doctors who wanted to aid the digestion of their patients. The combination of whole wheat flour (to keep things moving) and baking soda (to keep things calm) apparently did the trick.
Nowadays they are lovely as a not-too-sweet treat with a cup of tea, served as part of a cheese-platter, or used in place of graham crackers to form a base for creamy cheesecakes. You can also serve them with an array of sweet accompaniments such as our Mixed Summer Berry Tea Jelly, raw honey, or Spiced Pear Jam.
English Tea Biscuits Recipe
Traditionally, these digestive aid biscuits were made with whole grain flour, vegetable oil, baking soda, sugar, and malt extract. While this recipe has certainly stood the test of time, I’m a firm believer that every baked good tastes better with butter, so I substitute it for the vegetable oil. If you want to be a purist, by all means, stick to vegetable oil.
Whole wheat flour is a must for these biscuits. It provides the grainy texture and unique flavor that is the hallmark of a proper digestive biscuit. Malt extract is another important ingredient, but I can’t find malt extract in my part of the world. Instead, I substitute with either vanilla or maple extract, and they are both perfectly scrumptious. As mentioned above, real butter gives these biscuits a new depth of richness with beautiful layers of crispy goodness. For me, substituting butter for the vegetable oil is a much more delicious option.
If you have a food processor, this dough will be ready for shaping and baking in just a few minutes. Start with the flour and baking soda, pulsing just enough to combine. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the powdered sugar and pulse a few times to mix. Turn out the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and add the milk and extract of your choosing. Stir well with a wooden spoon until the dough forms, then press dough into a mound and turn out onto a floured surface. Cover with a piece of parchment paper and roll until about 1/8th of an inch thick.
The traditional shape of tea biscuits is round. You can make them with smooth edges or scalloped, whatever takes your fancy. Place the biscuits onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, then prick the top of each one all over with the tines of a fork. This gives the biscuits their instantly recognizable look.
Some cookies are best slightly-undercooked, but that is not the case with this English tea biscuits recipe. They are at their best nicely browned so they cool to a nice, crispy biscuit. Once they’re cooled, store them in an airtight container or well-wrapped in the freezer until you’re ready to use. Serve them with one of our beautiful breakfast teas such as our House Blend vanilla black tea, Heritage Blend Scottish Breakfast maple black tea, or Fog Cutter lemon peel black tea.
English Tea Biscuits
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup butter, cut in pieces
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar (1/2 cup if you prefer less sweet)
- 1/4 cup cold milk
- 1 teaspoon malt extract (vanilla or maple are other good options)
Preheat to 350F. Cover baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
Place flour and baking powder into bowl of food processor and pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles crumbs. Add powdered sugar and pulse to mix.
Pour dry ingredients into medium mixing bowl, add milk and malt extract, and stir until dough forms.
Turn mixture out onto floured surface and knead just until dough is smooth and holds together well.
Roll out dough to about 1/8 inch thick and cut into circles. Place cookies on baking sheets and prick them all over with a fork.
Bake until nicely browned, about 15-20 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool on pan until cool and crisp.