Preparation info

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Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking, savoury and sweet

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2020

  • About

Digestives were developed by two Scottish doctors in the 1830s with the aim of creating a biscuit that could improve digestion, hence the name ‘Digestive’. The most popular Digestives are those made by McVitie’s, which the company began to bake on a large scale in 1892.

Digestives were often called malt cookies and the original patent received was entitled ‘Making Malted Bread’. Cassell’s Universal Cookery Book from 1894 provides a recipe for Malt biscuits. The author suggests that the use of ground caraway seeds is a suitable aromatic for people suffering from flatulence, but he also states that any other spices are a possibility.

Today, Digestives are one of the most-loved British biscuits, along with Shortbread and Rich tea biscuits. They are also sometimes made with a layer of chocolate, which is great when you dip the cookie in your coffee and the chocolate melts. I rather like the ground roasted pecans in this biscuit but, if you are a purist, feel free to substitute them with more oat flour.


  • 40 g ( oz) pecan nuts
  • 150 g ( oz) butter, at room temperature
  • 100 g ( oz) raw (demerara) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 150 g ( oz) oat flour
  • 260 g ( oz) wholemeal plain (all-purpose) flour or spelt flour
  • flour, for dusting


Preheat your oven to 200°C (400°F) and line two baking trays with baking paper.

Spread the pecans on one of the trays and roast for 10 minutes. Allow to cool, then pulse the nuts in a blender until they resemble coarse flour.

Mix the butter and sugar together until creamy (use an electric mixer if you have one), then add the eggs, one by one. Add the baking powder, then add the pecans, salt and flours, a teaspoon at a time. It will take a while for the mixture to come together. It will appear very dry at first, but don’t be tempted to add milk or water.

Use the dough immediately or leave it in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Pat the dough flat on a floured work surface or a sheet of baking paper. Dust the dough with flour to prevent the rolling pin from sticking, then roll out the dough until 5 mm (¼ inch) thick. Use a round cutter to cut out the biscuits. Push the left-over dough back together, roll it out and cut out more biscuits until you have used all the dough.

Place the biscuits on the baking trays and prick all over with a fork. Bake in the middle of your oven for 10-13 minutes. After 13 minutes you will have the darker version that I like best.