ARIANA’S GINGER AND CHILLI BISCUITS
This is probably one of my favourite recipes for biscuits ever and it’s also a story of friendship and contamination, of cooking together and of fading memories made into new ones where you are no longer sure about how things really went but it doesn’t really matter that much since what you have made up of those confusing memories is a story close enough to the truth to hold its purpose anyway.
So, let me tell you the story as I recall it. I am not sure this is really my dear friend Ariana’s recipe. I am not sure it’s mine either. I decided to give the credit to her because whoever was the mind behind this, she could have not done it without the other. Additionally, Ariana brought me back to the kitchen in years where I had all forgotten about it and about how much I loved cooking and for that I will always be grateful. Her passion and enthusiasm for food, her audacity in experimenting were contagious and that is probably how this recipe came about.
I have a secret recipe for pasta frolla that I have been using from years. It was whispered in our ears by a pastry chef in an Italian pastry class I took in my early twenties. The recipe is exceptional and makes all the difference when realising one of those apparently very simple dough that somehow need a master chef to make it really special. Do you know what I mean? So, since I was in possess of the secret, I have been proudly executing its magic over the years, turning it into cakes and biscuits of all sorts but always keeping it strictly to the recipe.
Then Ariana came along and her infectious, adventurous cooking took over the kitchen so my wheat flour got mixed up with almond flour and my plain Italian flavours, pure and slightly flat, got spiced up by fresh grated ginger and a pinch of red chilli, her Albanian palate bringing is some exotic spiced notes from the East. Voilà, a perfect classic dough revived and reinvented to something utterly exciting and incredibly delicious.
My Kenyan kitchen during those years would fill up fast with Ariana, her happy family and lots of food in the making. Big improvised lunches and dinners would pop out of her magic hands in minutes and we would be spoilt to the most delicious dishes, starting from the classics of Italian kitchen to tajines and Lebanese inspired dishes. Bellies would fill up fast and the room would be bursting with laughter and the children chatting and giggling. Whenever I cook them today, I think of those happy times in Kenya, of tables of friends gathered together, of women’s complicity and friendship, of my beautiful garden full of light and flowers, of my dogs running and rolling downhill, of a life that feels so far away now that we have all left for different paths.
If you wish to give it a try, these go perfectly with Carmela’s Masala chai or with any other slightly spiced tea melange or black tea. Store them in an airtight container or a metal box and these biscuits will easily stay fresh for a month… not that you have any chance they are going to last you that long. They are perfect also to give as gifts, packaged in transparent plastic bags tight with a nice ribbon, in case you still have a last minute Christmas present you can’t figure out.
200g of wheat flour
100g of almond flour
3 egg yolks
150g butter (cold and cut in cubes)
125g caster sugar
1 pinch of salt
1 to 2 inches of fresh ginger, grated (the amount varies a little on how strong is the ginger you have in your country and personal taste)
½ a tsp chilli powder (again this can be adjusted to the strength of your powder and your flavour but it should be predominant and it should come out more as an aftertaste that something that jumps straight on your taste buds)
Mix the almond flour with the wheat flour, the salt and the chilli powder. Make a fountain on a tabletop you can work on with the flour mix. Place in the middle, sugar and butter (cut in pieces and still cold), making sure you don’t touch the flour. Now mix the butter and the sugar until you have obtained a paste and there are no pieces of butter that have not been incorporated. Then, again, without touching the flour, add the yolk and the grated ginger to the paste.
Once everything is well mixed, incorporate the flour in the paste. Work quickly. If you take too long the butter will start melting and the paste will be too sticky to be handled. Once ready, shaped it in a ball form and place it in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes. The dough can stay even 48 hours in the fridge without problems. Cover it with cling film so it won’t absorb unwanted smells from the fridge content.
In the meanwhile, heat up the oven at 180 degrees Celcius and remove the dough five minutes before you are ready to work on it. Sprinkle your tabletop with flour and with a rolling pin stretch the dough till it’s about a cm high or slightly less. With a biscuit cutter cut out your biscuit and place them on oven paper ready to be baked.
Bake for about 20 minutes or up to when they are nicely golden coloured. If you use more than an oven tray at the time, make sure you swap the trays after 10 minutes to ensure the biscuits will be evenly cooked.
Store in a metal box or an airtight container to avoid them absorb humidity. If well stored, these biscuits can stay much longer than a month fresh and delicious.