I am a big fan of a tea break. I don’t mean afternoon tea or high tea (although I’m never going to say no to a finger sandwich or a tiny cake), and I don’t mean a mug of tea at my desk or standing up in the kitchen while I do something else. I believe passionately in the restorative powers of just sitting down for 15 minutes with a mug of something hot and a plate of biscuits.
Tea and biscuits have always held an important place in my days. When I was very little, I had a Spot the Dog tea set that, every morning, my mother would fill with warm milk when she made her own morning brew. At college, our librarian insisted on tea breaks in her office to carve up the days of studying — or, in my case, procrastination while waiting for the bar to open. And then, in my previous life as a barrister, there was chambers tea. Chambers tea is something of an institution in England, although normally one found in those sets of chambers which specialize in law that keeps you in the office for most of the day; where at the appointed hour, there is likely to be a good cohort of barristers ready for a cup of tea, a biscuit and a gossip. It’s less common in criminal law, where barristers spend most of their time hoofing it from court to court and slope into chambers at the end of the day to pick up the following day’s briefs. But thankfully, one of my chambers-mates knew the value of a tea break and persevered in spite of our unpredictable schedules. Teas ranging from the bog standard to the hifalutin lined the mantlepiece, ready to be brought out with reverence at 4 p.m.
It is, to my mind, the very best way of taking a break, getting out of your own head, and sitting down with colleagues or friends (or just your mother). And only a monster would embark on a tea break without biscuits.
It is appropriate then that bourbon biscuits were born as a companion to tea — well, sort of. Bourbon biscuits were first produced in 1910 at the Peek Freens biscuit factory in Bermondsey, London, where it was originally called a creola biscuit, before being renamed to bourbon in 1930. The factory was set up by James Peek, a tea importer, when his grown-up sons indicated that they weren’t terribly interested in following him into the tea trade. Looking for a complementary trade for them, he plumped for biscuits — unfortunately the sons weren’t keen and fairly quickly jumped ship. Happily, a ship biscuit producer. George Freen, had recently married Peek’s niece and took the helm. The factory closed in the 1980s but the bourbon lives on in supermarkets up and down Britain — but they’re easy and delicious to make at home too.
Bourbons are one of the simplest of the biscuit canon, but that must be part of their appeal: dark chocolate sandwich biscuits with a chocolate cream filling, they’re more delicious than the sum of their parts. They’re also easy to cut and assemble — and don’t even require any kind of biscuit cutters, thanks to their finger form. The distinctive holes in the biscuit are more practical than aesthetic — they serve the same purpose as docking pastry, allowing steam in the biscuits to escape, keeping the biscuits flat rather than puffed.
Makes: 12 sandwich biscuits
Takes: 30 minutes, including chilling
Bakes: 10 minutes
For the biscuits
3½ oz butter
2¼ oz caster sugar
1 oz dark brown sugar
5⅓ oz plain flour
1¾ oz cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon baking powder
For the filling
3½ oz butter
7 oz icing sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- Cream together the butter and both sugars for the biscuit dough until smooth and pale
- Add the egg to the mixture and combine thoroughly, then sift in the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder and fold in until you have a soft dough
- Turn out the dough between two sheets of baking paper and roll it out to the thickness of a pound coin. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes until the dough is firm, but cuttable
- While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 320°F. Once chilled, peel the top layer of baking paper from the dough, and slice into rectangles about three inches by 1.5 inches. Transfer the rectangles carefully to a lined baking tray, and prick each with a fork or a skewer to create holes. Bake for 8-10 minutes, then leave to cool entirely
- Meanwhile, make the buttercream: beat the butter until smooth, then sift in the icing sugar and cocoa powder, and continue beating until smooth
- Once cool, pair up the baked biscuits. Upturn one of the biscuits and spoon a tablespoon of the buttercream onto it. Spread it across the biscuit, and place the other biscuit on top. Repeat with the remaining biscuits and buttercream
This article was originally published on Spectator Life.