Ode to the digestive – part 5, and finally…

Digestives main 1

To finish my 5 days of digestive recipes here’s a recipe to make your own. These are the real deal and seriously delicious. They have similarities to factory made ones but can’t really be compared – I wouldn’t dream of putting a melted marshmallow on top of one of these.

I’m thinking of making these wholesome treats to give to trick or treaters on Halloween. Is that cruel?

Home made digestives
(adapted from a recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his ‘River Cottage everyday’ cookbook)

NOTE: Whilst delicious, in my experience these digestives don’t keep awfully well. They are best eaten on the day of baking but after a day in the tin they start to go soft. For this reason I halve or even quarter the recipe below.

Makes 35-40 (to make this amount you will need two square baking trays and you will need to cook them in two batches, unless you have two ovens).

  • 250g wholemeal flour
  • 250g butter (a whole standard pat) cut into small cubes and softened
  • 250g medium oatmeal
  • 125g soft brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of fine sea salt if you are using unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon if using salted butter
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • About 1 tablespoon of milk

Measure the butter, flour, oatmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Mix the ingredients together with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Now add a little milk, a few drops at a time (you may not need to whole amount) until everything comes together into a slightly sticky dough.

Dust with flour and press into a disc about 25 cm in diameter. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up a bit.

If you are making the dough in advance then you will need to take it out of the fridge for about an hour before you need to roll out as the dough will become very hard. The dough will keep for up to a couple of days in the fridge.

When you are ready to cook preheat the oven to 170oC fan.

Dust the dough, your work surface and rolling pin liberally with flour and roll out carefully dusting with more flour to stop the dough sticking until it is about 3-4 mm thick.

Cut out the biscuits with a 6-7 cm cutter and use a spatula or palette knife to transfer them to baking sheets (either non-stick or lined with greaseproof paper).

Place in the oven and bake for up to 10 minutes checking regularly that they are not browning too much around the edges. You want an even light brown colour on the top and a slightly darker brown around the edges.

Remove from the oven and leave on the baking sheets to firm up before transferring (using a palette knife of spatula) to wire racks to cool completely.

Eat with a nice cup of tea. I challenge you to only eat one, they are very moreish.

Ready to roll out.

Ready to roll out.

Cutting out.

Cutting out.

On the tray ready for the oven.

On the tray ready for the oven.

Tasty stack.

A tasty stack.


Ben’s Bread


Bread seems to be the new BBQ when it comes to men and cooking, perhaps spurred on by that blue eyed philanderer Mr Paul Hollywood, although I personally put it down to the slight aggression that’s needed for an effective knead. My husband just loves making bread and this is his very own recipe, refined after years of practice.

I feel very, very lucky when bread is home baked for me (although this happens a lot less often now our lives are busy with children). I’m sure that we all wake up with an extra spring in our step when we know that there is going to be fresh bread for breakfast. In theory you can fit this recipe into an evening starting at 6 and ending before 10. The only time consuming stage is the first knead and after that it’s mainly about waiting but you do have to be on the ball. We’ve often dozed off on the sofa watching television and forgotten about the bread.

Ben’s bread

Makes a large family size loaf using a bread tin 23.5 x 13.3 x 6.99 cm

  • 450g strong white bread flour
  • 100g wholemeal or rye flour
  • Handful of nuts and seeds (one or a mixture of the following; sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, poppy seeds)
  • 6g dried instant action yeast
  • 10g salt
  • 350g tepid water

Measure all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add the water gradually mixing with your hands until it comes together in a soft dough.

Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead vigorously for at least 10 minutes.

Place the dough back into the bowl, cover with cling film and leave to prove for at least 2 hours (although you can leave for up to 3) by which time the dough should have doubled in size.

Take the dough out of the bowl and whack it down onto the work surface a few times to remove all the air. Then knead for a further 2 minutes before putting into a lightly oiled bread tin.

Cover the tin lightly with a tea towel and leave to prove again for about 45 minutes. The dough needs to rise up above the line of the tin into a dome like shape, but don’t leave it for too long otherwise it runs out of energy and collapses in the oven.

bread rising

This is how the bread should look just before it goes into the oven.

Preheat your oven to 220oC fan. When the bread has proved bake as follows:

  • 220oC for 15 minutes
  • 180oC for 10 minutes
  • Remove bread from the tin and then return to the oven for a further 8 minutes at 180oC
The finished loaf.

The finished loaf.

Home-made pasta

When I was bought my beloved pasta machine Jamie Oliver had just published ‘The Return of the Naked Chef’ which had a whole section on making your own pasta. Keen to learn the art, I bought a copy of his book and was horrified to find that his ‘blinding pasta recipe’ used 4 whole eggs and no less than 8 egg yolks to serve just 4 people. Did the man not realise the price of eggs and how much the recipe would cost his readers to make? Undeterred, I managed to find this more economical recipe in an old Marks and Spencer’s Italian Cookery book published in 1979. It works just fine for me and I have been using it happily for 13 years.

The great thing about home-made pasta is that although it takes a little time to make it takes hardly any time at all to cook – just 1-2 minutes. It may seem like a lot of faffing about, and I’m sure pasta machines often appear on those lists of useless kitchen gadgets, but it’s so rewarding to make your own pasta from scratch and it really is delicious.

This recipe does require a pasta machine to roll out (you probably could do it with a rolling pin but that sounds like really hard work to me). I have an Imperia Pasta Maker with a spaghetti attachment which my sister bought me from Italy (but you can buy them here from John Lewis). It’s very well made and still going strong after lots of use.

Basic pasta recipe

Serves 4

  • 350g flour*
  • 3 eggs
  • A good pinch of salt
  • A dessert spoon of olive oil

*Until very recently I always just used plain flour (the original recipe doesn’t specify) and I was always happy with the results. Recently though I have been splashing out and buying ‘00’ flour as McDougalls now do this for a reasonable price. I think there is a small difference in that the pasta holds its shape better when boiled.

Put all of the above ingredients in a bowl and mix together with your hands until it comes together in a ball.

Lightly flour your work surface and knead the dough for a few minutes until smooth. Kneading pasta dough is much harder work than kneading bread dough. I think most recipes advise kneading for longer than I manage, usually about 3 minutes. Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.

The dough.

The dough.

Now for the fun bit. Clamp your pasta machine to your work surface and set the machine to its thickest setting. Divide your dough into four and working with one ball at a time (keeping the others covered with the cling film so they don’t dry out) start by flattening the ball a little with your hands and then running through the machine. If the dough starts to crack a little (this often happens to me as I don’t knead for long enough) don’t worry, just fold the piece in two and run through the machine again until it softens up a bit, you may need to do this several times. Once smooth keep rolling the piece through the machine changing for thinner and thinner settings until you have the thickness you need for the type of pasta you want to make (see below for advice on this). It helps to dust the sheet lightly with flour each time you roll it through.

Rolling out using child labour.

Rolling out using child labour.

Flouring the pasta sheets.

Flouring the pasta sheets.

I use a clothes drying rack to hold the sheets while I repeat the process with the other three balls.

When I first got my pasta machine I can remember finding the rolling out rather tricky, it felt like I needed a third hand. But it didn’t take long to get the hang of it. My children absolutely love helping to roll out the pasta however it does take three times as long and a fair few arguments about whose turn it is to turn the handle.

Hanging out to dry.

Hanging out to dry.

Edgar with pasta

And again, 2 and a half years later.

Lasagne sheets
Use the thinnest thickness setting when rolling out. You will need to cut and trim the sheets to fit your oven dish. I usually do this once the pasta is cooked as the sheets expand slightly.

Tagliatele – hand cut
For hand cut tagliatele I use the thinnest thickness setting when rolling out with the machine. I then lay the sheets on a floured bread board and cut into strips with a knife about an inch thick but you don’t need to be exact. This gives a rustic feel but it does take a while.

Tagliatele – machine cut
This is quicker than the above method, again use the thinnest thickness setting. Then flour the pasta sheets before passing through the thicker side of the machine’s cutter which makes strips 1/2 cm thick.

For noodles I use the second to last thickness setting when rolling out and then cut with the thinner side of the machine’s cutter.

Once the pasta is cut into the desired shape simply cook in a large pan of boiling water for 1-2 minutes or until cooked. If the pasta has been left to dry out for a while on the rack then it may need longer.

Cooked pasta.

Cooked pasta.

A good tip if you want to precook your pasta for use later is to immerse it in a bowl of iced water immediately after boiling and draining. This is great for fried noddle dishes where the noodles are best added cold. Once completely cool you can also then drain the noodles and toss in a little oil. They will then keep in the fridge for a few days or until you are ready to use.

Accompaniments to home-made pasta

For me the perfect sauce to accompany home-made pasta is a good pesto. See my post ‘Things in jars – pickling and pesto’ for a couple of recipes.

Other good uses are Pad Thai (noodles) and a meaty Ragu (tagliatele). Recipes for these will appear on this blog soon.

Simple shortbread biscuits

I love shortbread but couldn’t make it to save my life until I was passed this super simple recipe by my friend Melanie. These are the easiest biscuits to make as they only involve three ingredients, butter, sugar and flour. They make great impromptu gifts. I buy see-through presentation bags from Lakeland and then tie with a nice piece of ribbon. At Christmas you can use Christmassy cutters – bells, Christmas trees and simple fairies work well (nothing too intricate). Simple rounds with half the biscuit dipped in melted plain chocolate and then set in the fridge also look good.

Makes about 24 (you’ll need two square baking trays, mine are 33 cm square without sides)

  • 250g pack of butter (salted), or just add a good pinch of salt to unsalted butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 360g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 170oC fan.

Melt the butter in the microwave or in a saucepan on the hob. Add the flour and caster sugar and mix to combine with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a ball.

Tip the dough onto a well-floured work surface. Flour a rolling pin and roll the dough out until it is half a cm thick. Then cut out the biscuits with a 6cm round cutter and lift carefully from the work surface onto a baking tray with a pallet knife.

Collect up the remaining dough and form into another ball and repeat the process, rolling and cutting until all the dough is used up.

Bake the biscuits for 10-15 minutes. You want them to be a light golden colour and not dark around the edges so I check frequently after the 10 minute mark. Remove the biscuits from the tray with a pallet knife onto a cooling rack and don’t store them away in a tin until they are completely cool.

When I said ‘super easy’ I may have exaggerated just a little bit. The slightly tricky part of this recipe is that the dough is very sticky so you will need to work quite quickly and use plenty of flour on the work surface and rolling pin. If the biscuits do stick don’t panic, just scrunch the dough up into another ball and start again. Unlike pastry this shouldn’t ruin the result.

The original recipe.

The original recipe.

Mixing the butter, sugar and flour to form a dough ball.

Mixing the butter, sugar and flour to form a dough ball.

Cutting out and transferring to a baking tray with a pallet knife.

Cutting out and transferring to a baking tray with a pallet knife.

On the tray.

On the tray.

The end result cooling on a rack. A little messier than usual (I'd make more effort to be neat if these were for a present rather than to be eaten all up by my family in less than a day.

The end result cooling on a rack.
(A little messy – I’d make more effort to be neat if these were for a present rather than to be eaten all up by my family in less than a day).