I spent 2005 teaching primary school in the tiny town of Garza on the Guanacaste coast of Costa Rica. To develop skills in rural areas, the Government would send a teacher to each small town once a year to teach a new technical skill. Classes were free and open to anyone in the area and in 2005 the course on offer was commercial biscuit baking. Needless to say the kids were thrilled! Over 8 weeks, a group of about 12 of us pumped out thousands of different biscuits. The entire course was taught without equipment, other than the oven, to ensure that all participants could use the skills at home. Every Thursday afternoon we would get together and spend three hours baking biscuits, kilos of butter creamed by hand. If you ever need to be reminded to appreciate modern equipment may I recommend creaming a kilo of butter by hand. It hurts.
This course taught me the fundamentals of biscuit baking: cream your fats first, then add sugars, liquids and finally flours. I learnt about different types of fats and flours and their effect on the baking process. I also became incredibly popular as I carted home a couple of hundred biscuits each Thursday afternoon.
My favourite biscuit from the course were the rosquillas – jam sandwiches topped with ground almonds. They are easy to make, quick to bake and deliciously addictive. It is the jam that makes these biscuits though, so make sure you pull out something special.
Traditionally filled with raspberry jam and topped with ground almonds, it was the beautiful spiced syrian fig jam from Jam Lady Jam that inspired the deviation for this recipe (and my love of cheesy puns that resulted in the name).
75 grams butter*
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/4 teapsoon vanilla essence
3 tablespoons rose water
1 cup plain flour
2 tablespoons ground pistachios
* for a vegan alternative use a vegan butter. Just note that as vegan butter is oil based it makes the pastry a little fiddlier to roll out and tends to split a little more. Still delicious just requires a little more patience!
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
Cream the butter. Add in the sugar and continue to beat. Add in the vanilla essence and 1 tablespoon of the rose water and combine. Pour in the flour and combine using your hands until you have a ball of dough.
Sprinkle some flour onto a flat surface, dust your rolling pin and roll out the dough. As you are going to be using two biscuits as a sandwich you want the dough rolled out quite thin.
Cut out your biscuits. I just use a glass for the outer circle, then use a smaller implement to cut out a small hole from the centre of half the biscuits (I use this weird plastic thing I randomly found in my kitchen drawer – I have no idea what its original use was).
Next, grind up your pistachios. I used beautiful organic locally grown pistachios from the Veg Out St Kilda Farmers’ Market, which I smashed in a motar and pestle. If you don’t have one you can try a blender or even just chop them up roughly with a knife. Don’t worry about getting them to be uniform in size.
Put 2 tablespoons of water and 2 tablespoons of rose water in a small bowl. Brush the topping biscuits (the ones with the holes) with the rose water mixture and sprinkle the ground pistachios on top. Place all the biscuits on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake for 15 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cool on a baking rack.
Once cool, spread a thick layer of jam onto the solid biscuits and top with a holy pistachio biscuit.
The possible combinations are endless. If you can’t find a good fig jam the traditional combination of raspberry jam and ground almonds are a great (leave out the rose water). Alternatively replace the rose water with orange blossom water and use marmalade as filling, topping again with the pistachios, for a citrusy alternative. The only thing to note is if you use a rose or orange blossom water you should eat the biscuits within 24 hours. They don’t go bad, they will keep for a week or so, but the flavoured water in the dough causes the biscuits to soften over time. As they soften, however, the flavour becomes more pronounced, so keep one for a couple of days and see what you prefer…