This is my new favourite cookie, or bikkie, as we say in Australia. After dinner, afternoon tea, any time really.
Not sure exactly why it's so good but it is – nutty, chewy, almost a macaroon but not that soft, citrusy but not too sweet. It's solid, no mere slip of a cookie, and very satisfying. It's a great, great biscuit, one of the best and so I'm sharing it this week.
Like most of the recipes that come from Food is Love grandmother, Rina Mevorach, it’s made with orange juice and oil instead of butter, very useful if you are cooking a kosher meal.
Rina Mevorach lives in Jerusalem and is originally from the Jewish community of Libya. Many of her sweet recipes are butter free. Her rugelach-like biscuits (baked in a roll with dates and nuts, then sliced) use this same oil and orange juice combo in the dough and they are outstanding.
Rina is a funny, earthy woman, and now nearly 90, remains full of vitality and good humour. She left Libya after World War Two, when she fell in love with a British soldier who turned out to be a Jewish boy from Jerusalem.
Since then, she has been cooking these Libyan dishes for her Israeli family, cooked with produce from Jerusalem’s famous food markets, Mahane Yehuda.
Going with Rina to the markets Is like accompanying the Queen. So many people stop and greet her, ask how she is, tell you stories about her … well, she has been shopping there since 1946!!!
She knew the stall holders’ fathers – and their grandfathers. You can read her amazing story on this blog here, the page with her life story in full
ON THE LIST
Luckily for me, Rina has added me to the list of people she bakes for. That means that every so often there’s a knock at the door and her grand-daughter Enelle is standing there with boxes of goodies.
"Savta made this for you!"
How good is that?
Also on the list are family, of course, some of the people in Rina's apartment building, who help her with this or that, and the nurses at the Jerusalem hospital where Rina goes every 2 months for a procedure on her eyes.
Rina takes 3 plastic boxes with biscuits for 3 different nurses. Last time the doctor asked why he didn’t get a delivery too. Turns out he was eating the nurses' bikkies. Now Rina takes a box for the doctor as well. Only in Israel …
Rina doubles the quantities in the recipe below, using a kilo of flour.
For people with fewer deliveries to make, you can also halve the quantities here. However, no need to be too concerned. In my experience these biscuits never last too long, and in fact it’s easy to eat them all at one sitting.
Rina's Best Almond Biscuits
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup oil
- 1 ½ teaspoon almond essence
- Grated rind of 1 lemon and 1 orange
- ¾ c up orange juice
- 2 teaspoons vanilla or 2 sachets vanilla sugar
- 2 cup ground almonds (Rina likes a medium grind so that there are small pieces in the mix)
- 3 ½ cups S-R Four, or plain flour with baking powder, usually 1 heaped teaspoon per cup of flour.
1. Mix wet ingredients and then add flour. You don’t want it to be too soft, so it’s 3 1/2 cups or “as much flour as it takes” as Rina says. “I see with my eye – a dough has to be dry-ish for biscuits.”
2. It has to be dry enough to roll up into a log. When Rina baked them for me, she added more flour, because “You see this needs more – you can’t roll biscuits out of this!”
3. At the end, Rina adds one tablespoon oil “to make it go smoothly."
4. Once you have a log, cut into one inch slices, roll into a biscuit shape. Bake 40 minutes and sprinkle with icing sugar to serve.
Like all the Food is Love grandmothers, Rina is so speedy with her rolling, folding and rolling again, you barely have time to focus the camera!
JERUSALEM TEST KITCHEN
Not sure why I decided to fiddle with the perfect recipe... I added lemon instead of orange juice, which it would have survived, and experimented with different flour. And that, as you could predict, ended in tears! Yes, Reader, I spoiled it.
The moral of the story is that spelt flour, which I really love, is not interchangeable with all purpose wheat flour. You can't simply replace it cup for cup in a cookie recipe, as spelt is softer and more absorbent -- and actually not what you want for biscuits, which are not as soft as cakes.
The dough I made was too soft. I ended up adding more and more flour so that I could handle it, and sending my proportions haywire. Result = blecch.
Luckily I knew that this was the world’s best biscuit and that it was worth trying again.
The second time I branched out in another direction and used glucose powder (DEXTROSE) instead of sugar. I did this because dextrose is the substance which all the anti-sugar websites and experts, like this one and this one agree is a permissible sweetener ie less sweet than sugar, because it is in effect sugar minus the fructose, and therefore less harmful. It's also available from health food shops, and while more expensive than white sugar, its not much more (Less than $ 7.00 AUD per kilo.)
LOW SUGAR VERSION
That sounded good, who doesn't want a healthy dessert, but it turns out that dextrose is not identical to sugar in baked goods.
It comes as white crystals, with a pleasant taste, but it weighs less than sugar and has a different consistency, more like icing sugar, or talcum powder (or cocaine.)
So that also affected the biscuit, making an extremely sticky dough that was hard to handle.
I think I will try one more sugar free experiment before I go back to Rina's simple but perfect white sugar, white flour, citrus-almond cookie.
Best bikkie! Bake immediately!!!! But stick with the recipe :-)
Don't go down too many wild and crazy paths, unless you're prepared for a few mistakes...
MELBOURNE TEST KITCHEN
In her home in Melbourne, Amanda Hampel made these biscuits and loved them almost as much as I do!
“I think this recipe goes straight to the top of the favourites list!!! Seriously – soooo goooooood!!!”
gluten free version
She made half the quantity and some gf changes…. using one third of a cup maple syrup instead of half a cup sugar, and replacing the plain flour with her own gf flour mix including xantham gum.
GF flours are softer and you have to take care – as I learnt to my cost!
After my failure with the spelt flour, I have even more respect for Amanda and her "apotheccary mix", a bit of this and a bit of that and whaddya know it works. What was that cartoon we used to watch as kids? "Six drops of essence of terror" ... That's how I imagine Amanda, surrounded by pots of flour in her kitchen, mixing and matching and producing a great result!
Amanda's GF Version
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup macadamia nut oil
- rind of 1/2 lemon & 1/2 orange
- 1/3 cup orange juice
- 1 tsp ground vanilla
- 1 cup almond meal
- 3/4 cup gf plain flour mix (brown rice flour, corn flour, almond meal and xanthan gum mix)
- 1 cup desiccated coconut
To get the right consistency, Amanda also added some extra almond meal, desiccated coconut and brown rice flour at the end.
“I placed approx a tablespoon scoop onto baking tray and flattened into biscuit shape (more difficult to roll a log with GF mixture) and baked in oven 180C for approx 35 minutes. They started to get quite brown so thought it was time.”
Massive hit, everyone loved them, delicious with everything!