Thursday 1 October 2009

High tea walnut, quince and maple syrup biccies

High tea involves doilies, tiered bake plates and fine bone china tea sets. I have none of these but when I made some Walnut and Quince Thumbprint Cookies this week, I thought they would be just the sort of thing that would be welcome at Aparna’s High Tea Treats edition of the Monthly Mingle blog event.

High tea was, of course, a creation of our British foremothers, and while it can be seen on blogs, it mostly comes into our homes these days courtesy of books and television. I know because I have read Enid Blyton, Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. Most recently I have watched Midsomer Murders, George Gently and Foyle’s War. I have enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Monarch of the Glen (though I still would love to see Brideshead Revisited). As a child I was on the floor in convulsions of laughter at the Hyacinth Bouquet-style pretensions in To the Manor Born, The Good Life and George and Mildred.

In Australia, we have continued the high tea tradition. Maggie on Mother and Son would have appreciated it, Flo was always ready to bake her pumpkin scones and the women in my family would have made sponge and scones. For those who didn’t bake, high tea has long been a tradition in Melbourne at the Windsor Hotel.

I never understood the cucumber sandwiches but have long been very appreciative of dainty sweet treats. Traditionally they were full of cream, sugar, butter and eggs. But the treats I made this week were vegan delicacies with no refined sugar. Fresh quinces and walnuts picked from friends’ trees were part of my childhood, so I can’t help but think that my foremothers would have appreciated these biscuits.

There has been much baking in my kitchen this week. Yesterday I visited my friend Nicki G and her gorgeous little baby, Poppy. I wanted to take her some biscuits, partly because I appreciated the nurturing food given to me when Sylvia was first born.

I started my baking with Ricki’s Maple Walnut Cookies. It is on her Diet Dessert and Dogs blog but I loved having it in her Sweet Freedom cookbook and being able to refer to it far easily than when it is on computer. (It is a shame that she says cookies rather than biscuits as I would love to say Ricki’s biccies.) I was delighted to be able to use my barley flour in them. These were dense and chewy with the flax and nuts and had the most prominent maple syrup taste of anything I have baked with it. As with the chocolate peanut butter fudgies, their crisp edges softened a little when kept in a airtight container but they still tasted delicious.

Ricki’s biccies (I can’t resist saying it) were not many and I had a fancy to try thumbprint cookies with some quince paste in them. I found a recipe for The Best Vegan Thumbprint Cookies Ever that was had many similarities to Ricki’s but the maple syrup and walnut were less intense, and oats and spices were included in the mix. Both recipes were wheat free and vegan but not gluten free.

They spread when cooking more than I expected. I always thing thumbprint biscuits are quite plump rather than flat. If I made them again I would be tempted to add a few tablespoons of flax seeds (which I think made Ricki’s biccies hold together better) and be more generous with the quince paste. Having said that, I loved these. They weren’t overly sweet so the sweet, flowery, slightly chewy quince paste made a wonderful contrast. E thought they looked like jam tarts (wishful thinking, I suspect).

I also baked some of my favourite gingerbread biscuits. These are great gifts because they taste good, look impressive and last well. I took a biscuit tin of thumbprint cookies and gingerbread to Nicki’s. She made some great muffins with walnuts, sultanas and baked apple in green cupcake papers. It felt like we had our own little high tea but catching up with all our news and attending to two small babies meant that I didn’t take any photos.

I took some photos at home with my best attempt at being dainty and elegant. I got out my only set of cups and saucers, a silver spoon from Peebles, picked some lavender from the garden to display in a vase, and got out E’s Granny’s elegant lady to oversee the show. I am sure his Granny would not have been impressed with my flower arranging, nor would she have approved of my liquorice tea but I think she might have been most pleased with my plate of baked goods.

Walnut and Quince Thumbprint Cookies
Adapted from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan via Altered Plates
Makes about 30 cookies

cup oats (I used oatmeal)
¾ cup barley flour
½ cup walnuts (or almonds, or your choice of nut or seed)
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup oil
Just under ½ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
100g quince paste (or your choice of jam)

Preheat oven to 180 C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Grind oats in food processor to resemble crumbs (I used quick cooking oatmeal to go easy on my food processor which is not that powerful). Add walnuts and process til nuts are coarsely ground. (If you had fine oatmeal and ground nuts, you could avoid this step altogether.)

Tip into a bowl and add remaining ingredients (except quince paste) and stir to combine in a sticky paste.

Drop teaspoonfuls (about the size of a walnut) on the prepared trays with plenty of room for them to spread. Use a wet hand to shape into round discs. Then dip a quarter teaspoon measure in water and make indentations in the biscuits. Keep a cup or water by you so you can regularly dip the measure in it while you make the indentations. Spoon half teaspoons of quince paste into the indentations (try and get it round or it will be odd shaped in the baked cookies).

Bake for 15 minutes, rotating the trays midway through. Cool on trays or remove the whole sheet of paper from tray onto a baking rack to cool. They will be very fragile when warm. They last a few days but are best on the first day. Handle with care even after cooled.

Maple-Walnut Cookies
From Diet Dessert and Dogs and Sweet Freedom
Winner of the CookThink Recipe Challenge for Maple Syrup
Makes 15 cookies

½ cup (50g) ground walnuts
¼ cup (30g) ground flax seeds
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp (45g) barley flour
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
2 tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
½ tsp vanilla essence
cup maple syrup
¼ tsp. apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a baking tray sheet, or line with baking paper. Mix all ingredients together into a sticky dough. Spoon walnut sized balls of dough onto the prepared tray with room to spread. Wet your hands and shape and slightly flatten cookies. Bake about 10 minutes or till golden brown (mine spread a lot but didn’t brown much.) Cool on trays. Can be frozen.

On the Stereo:
Down in the Valley: Handsome Family


  1. I love your "Ricki's Biccies!" Too perfect!! :-) They sound incredible, too - I can't wait to try them! I love the idea of tahini in cookies! Such a great way to add a bit of protein to a healthful cookie! Your thumbprint cookies are so gorgeous as well - I'm impressed with how perfectly shaped they are! I love all your elegant photos - such a beautiful, graceful tribute to high tea.(Cheers for liquorice tea, too, which is one of my favorites... :-)

  2. Yum! These do look delicious. We've got a super early Jetstar flight to Hobart on Saturday morning and I was thinking about baking some healthy biccies to snack on en route... these look perfect!
    Thanks :)

  3. i just love thumb print cookies - yours look superb!

  4. Wow, you really have baked up a storm! I think quince thumbprints sound perfect for high tea. And even I must admit that "Ricki's biccies" has a certain ring to it. . . ;)

  5. Thanks Astra - d'oh that was my last liquorice tea bag - must buy some more - and I was pleased that these cookies were quite healthy and full of protein

    Thanks Eat it Good - these would be healthy snacks - I would recommend the maple walnut cookies for travelling as the thumbprints were a bit more fragile for travelling. (enjoy your trip)

    Thanks VCG - I don't think I have had thumbprint cookies before - well I probably have but I don't think they don't go by this name in Australia

    Thanks Ricki - it has been good to have plenty of baked goods about for snacking at home and to take to friends lately

  6. I grew up reading famous five by Enid Blyton and always hankered after their large afternoon teas. Your cookies sound the perfect mid afternoon treat

  7. The flavours of this sound great (although I'm partial to anything with maple really). I must admit I'm addicted to afternoon tea. In fact I went to one this afternoon and it was lovely! :)

  8. I don't have any of those things either but that doesn't mean we can't have a good tea party!
    Thanks for joining us at High Tea and bringing your very pretty biscuits (we call them that too).

  9. Thanks Katie - I loved the famous five but I think I remember the food from the faraway tree better - however I think we had famous five picnics

    Thanks Lorraine - I am rather partial to an afternoon tea but do not partake of formal ones very often

    Thanks Aparna - glad you understand 'biscuit' and very happy to share a tea party with you

  10. Very elegant (and much healthier than your average afternoon tea!). Cucumber sandwiches are surprisingly nice - I'd recommend them next time, but keep both bread and cucumber thin and dainty (and I think the bread really does have to be white for that authentic English experience)

  11. those look great! I love tea snacks, even the cucumber sandwiches :)

  12. Thanks Lysy - I have never been much of a cucumber fan and while I will eat it now I still find the idea of it in sandwiches just not right - although they do seem a part of high tea!

    Thanks Rita - I'll have the cake and you can have the sandwiches :-)

  13. I too salvated on those biscuits in those photos. They remind me of those Famous Five Picnics.

    Stephen Isabirye is the author of The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (

  14. These look delicious - and it's a bonus that they are also healthy.

  15. Found you on Twitter! Love the pretty thumbprint cookies:)


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