Rachel Cooke’s Parmesan Biscuits

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…or to give them their full title: Rachel Cooke’s wonderful Parmesan biscuits, bestowed by the equally wonderful Simon Hopkinson, who is one of my culinary heroes (not only is he both an excellent cook and writer but also, like me, he comes from Lancashire). This recipe is from Hopkinson’s The Vegetarian Option, a book which should be thrown at any restaurant that inflicts unimaginative, second-class food on its vegetarian customers.

I first made these biscuits for my reading group when we were reading Rachel Cooke’s fascinating book Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties. It seemed appropriate to be eating something linked to the book; I also cooked moussaka from a recipe from Plats du Jour by Patience Gray, one of the ten extraordinary woman that she writes about. I thoroughly recommend the book – and these very more-ish biscuits. Makes about 25-30 biscuits

100g cold, unsalted butter, cut into chunks
100g plain flour
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 heaped tsp mustard powder
50g mature cheddar, finely grated
50g Parmesan, finely grated, plus a little extra to finish
1 large egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 180 C/Gas Mark 4. Put the butter and flour into the food processor, together with the salt, cayenne pepper, mustard powder and cheeses. Briefly process together to begin with, and then pulse the mixture as you notice it coming together, a bit like pastry. Finally, once it is starting to clump together, tip it onto a lightly floured surface and briefly knead it together until smooth.Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. I prepared this several hours in advance and it seemed to come to no harm.

Gently roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to about a 2mm thickness. Using a 3-5cm pastry cutter, depending of the size you want (small is good, I think), cut out biscuits and lay them on a greased baking tray about 2cm apart. Bake in two batches if necessary.

Carefully brush the top of each biscuit with beaten egg and sprinkle over a little extra grated Parmesan. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, or until they are a gorgeous, pale golden colour, and the whole house is smelling delicious. Carefully lift off the tray with a palette knife and cool on a rack. Best served while still just warm.

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