To be perfectly honest I’m not much of a sweet person (no comments please). Give me a bowl of hummus and some salty, herb-flecked flatbread crackers over a piece of cake any day – or a bowl of Doritoes and a glass of white wine when it’s been one of those days… But, I LOVE these biscuits. Anyone craving something sweet, crispy and delicate should find these lace thin ‘tortas de aceite’ an easily made treat. I have had similar biscuits from Spain but, although the flavour was amazing, they tended to be a bit drier and thicker, probably because they need to survive a ride in a delivery lorry. In Spain the sweet tortas are traditionally flavoured with anise seeds but as they are less available here in Scotland I’ve used complementary fennel seeds and ground seeds from star anise. This deficiency in my otherwise well-stocked, and frankly obscene, spice and herbs cupboard(s) is being rectified. As I write, I am hoping my online Steenberg purchase of anise seeds – along with dried rose petals and other oddments – is being packaged up for posting.
Most supermarket and bakery biscuits are a concoction of heavily refined flours, oils and sugars, things many of us are trying to avoid. Although by no means a diet option these tortas have a modest healthy streak, and contain almost no saturated fat. To wit, spelt flour gives 25% more protein than traditional wheat (more filling, good for controlling blood sugar, reduces cravings), and the healthy-in-moderation olive oil gives a wonderful crispness usually only achieved by using butter or butter and lard. These biscuits are so easy to make, and store so well, that you may find it just as easy to whip up a batch of these as to drive to the store when you need a hit of something sweet and, well, biscuity. The only trick is to roll the dough out as thinly as possible -shape doesn’t matter (well, at least not to me – I like the rustic/unskilled look). A walnut-sized ball of dough will give quite a large biscuit – tea plate sized – so you might want to go for a large marble-sized ball. I favour the big ‘uns. They taste brilliant with a cup of green tea or even lapsang souchong. A version of these are for sale in a well-known British supermarket that starts with a ‘W’ – 6 biscuits for £3.99!
Sugared Spelt and Olive Oil Biscuits – ‘Tortas de Aceite’
What You Need:
185g/1 & 1/2 c refined spelt flour OR all unbleached plain flour
4 tsps white sesame seeds
3 tbsp unrefined brown sugar (pinch out any lumps)
½ tsp ground star anise (or 15 seeds from a few whole star anise pods – ground) OR 1 tsp anise seeds, lightly crushed
3/4 tsp whole fennel seeds – coarsely crushed
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp fine sea salt
80 ml/4 and 1/2 tbsp best extra virgin olive oil
70 ml/ 4 tbsp ice cold water
To glaze: 1 small egg white, beaten till foamy + granulated or demerara sugar for sprinkling generously.
What You Do: Beat all the biscuit ingredients together until they come together in a shiny mass. Pinch walnut (or smaller) sized pieces and roll individually between cling film or baking paper (I prefer cling film so I can see what I’m doing) as thinly as possible.
Peel the top sheet from the biscuit and upend onto a lined baking sheet, carefully peeling away the bottom sheet once the topside is on the tray. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, promise. I usually get about five on each sheet so you will need to do a number of batches. Brush each uncooked biscuit with foamy egg white and sprinkle generously with sugar. Bake in a 200C/400F oven for 6-8 minutes or until starting to get golden and crusty looking. You may need to turn your trays to get even browning. Allow the biscuits to cool for a minute before using a fish slice/spatula to transfer to a cooling rack. Continue with the rest of the dough. These keep well in an airtight container. Makes approximately 15, 15 cm/6 in tortas. ¡Buena suerta!