Like me, you may have spent the last ten weeks enjoying the emotional ups and downs of the summer’s best TV programme, The Great British Bake Off. And you may well have seen the lovely section a few weeks ago on Anglesey’s Aberffraw biscuits. Traditional shortbread biscuits with a beach-y twist, I immediately decided that I wanted to make some for our weekly knitting group meeting. The most important ingredient in this recipe, however, is not food, but instead the shell used to make the distinctive markings on the biscuit. You can watch the clip on how the biscuits are still traditionally made on Anglesey here.
As it happened, last weekend we took a trip to Anglesey. After visiting an antiques fair and having a picnic in the sun, we went to the beach at Benllech, on the north coast of the island, to go shell-hunting. I was excited about making Aberffraw biscuits with a shell from Anglesey!
It was a beautiful autumn afternoon, very sunny but cold, and the beach was busy with children exploring rockpools and dogs chasing each other across the sand. We clambered about on the rocks and gathered an admirable selection of shells. Although we didn’t find any of the flat scallop shells that are traditionally used, we did find a few large biscuit-worthy cockle shells.
Once home, I washed the shells and set about with the recipe. On the Bake Off they mentioned that the Aberffraw recipe includes wholemeal flour to add a grainy quality, giving the biscuits a sandy texture evoking the beaches where the scallop shells were first discovered. I also decided to use demerara as well as caster sugar in my bisuits, as it is slightly coarser and would add to the “beachy” feel of the biscuits. I adapted a basic shortbread recipe accordingly, and when it came to making the biscuits, selected the biggest of our shells (about 5.5cm across) and used it as a cutter to stamp out the shell shapes. I then rolled the convex top of the shell (with the most detail on it) across the top of the biscuit, and voilà! I am really pleased with how my Aberffraw biscuits turned out, and especially pleased that my knitting friends recognised them from the Bake Off. They all went back for seconds, and some for thirds – and as we all know, this is the mark of an especially good biscuit.
So enjoy my recipe for Aberffraw biscuits, and if you possibly can, make a trip to Anglesey for your own traditional shell. And if that’s a bit too far for you to trek for your shell, I’m sure any will do. I won’t tell if you don’t…
vanilla sugar, for sprinkling
Makes about 30 biscuits with a 5.5cm shell
– Pre-heat the oven to 160°C/Fan 140°/Gas mark 3.
– Mix together the flours and sugars in a large bowl. Cut the butter into squares and add to the bowl. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the mixture is just beginning to bind together.
– Knead lightly until the mixture forms a smooth dough, adding a little milk if needed.
– Roll out the dough onto a floured surface to about 1cm thickness. Using your shell, stamp out a piece of dough. Turn the shell over and, using a butter knife, gently prise the dough away from the underside of the shell. Then roll the back of the shell across the surface of the biscuit, making a raised shell pattern on the surface.
– Repeat with the rest of the dough and place the biscuits onto baking trays. Sprinkle with vanilla sugar and bake in the centre of the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until a very pale golden brown. Leave to cool on the baking trays for a few minutes, and if you have any left, store in an airtight tin.