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This style of biscuit was originally developed by Scottish doctors to aid digestion. They were high in bicarbonate of soda for this purpose. This recipe reduces the bicarbonate of soda, but keeps some to maintain the mealy texture.
The biscuit barely has sweetness, with just a small amount of brown sugar. This makes it the perfect foil for the sweet poached quince. The quinces can be replaced with quince paste if you are time-poor, or can’t be bothered, or just really love Maggie Beer.
I am quite a purist when it comes to cheese and a cheese course. But this dish provides one of the few occasions where I choose to add anything to the cheese. The sweetness of the quince and the texture and flavour of the digestive lifts the dish to somewhere around the old-fashioned savoury course.
I would go with an aged cheddar, punchy and sharp. A manchego could also work, but would be more subtle. At a push, you could also try Gruyere de comté.
The cheese course in a restaurant context has evolved and passed through some trends along the way. Cheese is usually served naked, or with one simple accompaniment. The exception to this – and it’s perhaps the greatest cheese course in the world – is served at St John in Clerkenwell, London. Fergus Henderson has revived the Eccles cake – a very old-fashioned cake, named after the town of Eccles.
The cake is a pastry filled with spiced and sweetened currants and raisins. It is served with a crumbling of creamy Lancashire cheese on the side. The cake resembles a small pasty, pieces of which are broken off and eaten with the cheese. There is a nice balance of sweet and sour. Traditionally it was made with a lard pastry, which would have taken it to another place altogether.
Makes about 15 biscuits
– 190g oatmeal
– 190g wholemeal flour
– 170g cold butter, diced or grated
– ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
– 70g soft brown sugar
– ½ tsp salt
– 3 tbsp milk
Pulse the oatmeal in a food processor until it resembles a fine crumb. Mix the flour and oatmeal in a large mixing bowl, then rub the butter into the mixture until it forms a breadcrumb-like consistency.
Stir in the bicarb soda, brown sugar and salt, then add just enough milk to bring it together into a coherent dough that will hold together well. Wrap in cling wrap and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes
Preheat the oven to 170ºC. Roll the dough out between two sheets of cling wrap, or on a very lightly floured work surface, until about four millimetres thick, then cut out your biscuits. Space them out on baking trays lined with greaseproof paper.
Bake for 15 minutes until golden, and transfer to a baking rack to cool.
When you wish to serve the biscuits, slice the poached quince into slivers. Place a slice of cheese on each biscuit and top with a slice of quince.
– 150g castor sugar
– 750ml water
– 2 large quinces
– ½ lemon
– 2 bay leaves
– 1 sprig thyme
Put the sugar and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Turn the heat right down. Peel the quinces, cut them into quarters lengthways and cut out the core
Put the quince pieces into the sugar syrup along with the lemon half, bay leaves and thyme.
Place a circle of baking paper over the poaching fruit and cook over a low heat, testing for tenderness with the tip of a skewer.
When the quinces are thoroughly tender but still holding their shape, remove from the heat. Store the quinces in the poaching liquid in the fridge until you are ready to serve.
2014 Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr kabinett riesling, Mosel Valley, Germany ($40)
– Mark Williamson, wine buyer, Cumulus Inc and Cumulus Up
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 13, 2016 as "Oat biscuits and poached quince". Subscribe here.