Nigel Slater bakes irresistible biscuits

I have always carried around in my head the idea of a perfect day. This could just be it. The trestle tables at the markets have the new season's nuts – chestnuts with their hedgehog coats the colour of moss, freshly gathered walnuts and cobnuts by the boxful, there are apples to suit any taste. Add to that the sumptuousness of the autumn garden in its cobweb festooned cloak of burgundy and bronze, the mellow autumn sunshine and all around the scent of sweet rot, and yes, this could possibly be the best day of the year.

The cobnuts, still in their crisp brown husks, are basically big juicy hazelnuts, offering a milky flavoured nut when they are green, then from mid September onwards a more familiar hazelnut flavour. This autumn I have been eating the green ones with a fresh downy goat's cheese trickled with honey; the darker ones tossed into salads with coarse slices of rough-skinned russet apples and a dressing of classic vinaigrette mixed with a little cream.

I have a tray or two of hazelnut biscuits in the oven. One of chocolate chip and another of rough textured hazelnut cookies that I usually take out of the oven before they appear fully cooked, so the very heart of the biscuits remain slightly chewy.

Biscuit making takes me out of my comfort zone, but when better to do something unfamiliar than on a day when you are just that bit too comfortable. Not that I am intimidated by a bit of biscuit baking, rather it is something I rarely get the chance to do. Sitting down to coffee and a plate of homemade biscuits seems such an absurdly luxurious thing in these days when we have so much to do. I mean, who has the time?

I found lovely butter in Cornwall, buttercup yellow and good enough to eat on bread alone. Slightly salty too, so particularly good for biscuit baking. I find a pinch of salt works wonders in a flapjack. I like the butterscotch sugars too – the muscovados and demeraras, the soft browns and those dark with molasses. I add sweetness to biscuits in liquid form too, as amber coloured honeys and copper hued maple syrups. It is this that sends wafts of bonhomie through the house.

For some time now I have been trying to make a decent muesli style biscuit. Something crunchy with nuts and oats but with the same stickiness as a flapjack. Previously I have only managed recipes that crumble into thousands of pieces like a dish of granola or taste like a hamster's cage. At last, this week I got it just right, a biscuit that is tender enough to crumble a little, but well-behaved enough to put in a lunch box. Basically an oat bar studded with everything from sour cherries to pumpkin seeds, scented with treacly maple syrup.

So, a day that smells of baking biscuits, of warm sugar and nuts and spices, all set against a backdrop of crisp leaves and golden autumn sun. Yes, this just could be the day I have been waiting for.

TOASTED HAZELNUT BISCUITS

Thick, pale, rough-textured cookies that are best eaten slightly warm. I take them out while they seem slightly undercooked so they retain a slightly soft centre until they cool. Makes about 8-10.

170g butter

50g golden caster sugar

50g muscovado sugar

60g skinned hazelnuts

40g ground almonds

200g plain flour

icing sugar

a few extra hazelnuts, chopped

Set the oven at 160C/gas 3. Cream the butter and sugar together till light and fluffy (I recommend the food mixer with a beater attachment). Toast the hazelnuts in a dry pan until golden then reduce them to a coarse powder and mix them with the ground almonds. Stir the nuts and the flour into the butter and sugar mixture. Stir until thoroughly mixed. I sometimes knead the mixture a little to mix it fully.

Take generously heaped tablespoons of the mixture and roll them into large unruly balls. You should get about 8-10. Place them on a non-stick baking sheet. Scatter the chopped hazelnuts over them.

Bake for 25 minutes till the biscuits are barely coloured. The insides should be slightly soft. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes before attempting to lift them from the tray with a palette knife. Eat the biscuits slightly warm, or certainly within 24 hours.

HAZELNUT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

I have never known anyone turn down a freshly baked choc-chip cookie. Makes 20.

75g skinned hazelnuts

180g butter at room temperature

90g golden caster sugar

90g light muscovado sugar

2 eggs

100g plain chocolate

180g plain flour

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Set the oven at 180C/gas 4. Toast the hazelnuts till they are golden brown. This is easiest done under a hot grill with a watchful eye, but you can do it in a non-stick pan if you prefer.

Cut the butter into small pieces and put into a food mixer fitted with a beater attachment. Add the sugars and cream to a light and fluffy texture – you may have to scrape the mixture down from the sides a couple of times with a rubber spatula. You can, of course, do everything with a hand-held electric mixer or even a wooden spoon if you prefer to do it that way.

Break the eggs and beat them into the mixture. Chop the chocolate into small chunks, the size of small gravel and add it, together with the sieved flour and bicarbonate of soda, slowly and at quite a low speed, to the dough.

Take a large, heaped 15ml tablespoon of the dough and put it on a non-stick baking sheet (or use baking parchment if you prefer). Flatten it lightly. Continue with the rest of the mixture, putting the dollops of mixture well apart from each other.

Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes until they have spread and are golden in colour. Let them cool for a few minutes before lifting them off and transferring them to a cooling rack.

FIG AND PUMPKIN SEED BARS

Makes 12.

60g walnut halves

70g soft-dried figs

40g sour cherries

30g pumpkin seeds

200g porridge or rolled oats

35g ground almonds

100g butter

100ml maple syrup

90g caster sugar

You will also need a non-stick baking tin, about 24cm square.

Set the oven at 160C/gas mark 3. Roughly chop the walnuts, figs, cherries and pumpkin seeds. This is done in seconds in a food processor, or longer by hand. The rougher the mix, the more crumbly the biscuits.

Tip in the porridge oats and the almonds. Melt the butter in a saucepan, pour in the maple syrup and add the caster sugar. When it gets to a rolling boil, tip in the dry ingredients, stir and tip into the baking tin. Press the mixture down firmly then bake for 20-25 minutes.

Press the bars down firmly as they cool. Cut into 12 bars while warm and leave to cool.★

nigel.slater@observer.co.uk

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.