However, the biscuits I adapted from French chef Pierre Blot’s 1863 cookbook What to Eat, and how to Cook it are not. They are very similar to a Savoy biscuit, which originated in France back in the 1600s and were made from frothy whisked eggs mixed with sugar and flour. During this era of food history, chemical-leavening agents had not yet been invented, so it was the whipped eggs that made them rise. Similar to a sponge cake, Savoy biscuits call for beating the eggs separately. First the egg yolks are beaten with the sugar, then the flour is added, and at the end, frothy egg whites are folded in, helping create lovely pockets of air bubbles in the batter, resulting in a light, delicate biscuit.
Sometimes a flavoring was added such as cinnamon, lemon, orange, vanilla, or even chocolate, as in this version. Chocolate biscuits were probably less common at this point in the mid-19th century since chocolate was still rather expensive and difficult to process. (In the second part of the 19th century, improvements in cocoa processing created a much smoother, more delicious tasting chocolate, which better translated to baking). However, the French were early experimenters with the flavor now so ubiquitous in today's baked confections. And since Pierre Blot does include the recipe (and even a derivation for icing them with chocolate), he must have made these delicacies, and perhaps even taught them in his cooking school, the New York Cooking Academy.
This is how he describes them in his cookbook, “Many names are given to these biscuits, according to fancy; they are called biscuits en caisse, a la cuiller, a la royale, etc.; these names mean nothing. They may be baked in moulds, in small square paper boxes, buttered, or on slips of paper only; it is very easily done.”
Since I wanted my chocolate biscuits to have a holiday theme, I poured the batter into some mini cupcake pans lined with holly-patterned cupcake papers. Really you could use any little molds or even pour the batter into a pastry bag and pipe it onto oblong finger shapes on baking sheets lined with parchment paper (like ladyfingers). After they cooled, I glazed them with some melted chocolate. The result? Divine!!
Here’s the original recipe:
Pound well two ounces of chocolate, mix it properly with paste E*, put it in a well buttered mould or moulds, and place them in a moderately heated oven; watch carefully till baked, which you easily tell by the color it assumes.
* PASTE E: Beat well together the yolks of six eggs and half a pound of fine, white sugar; whisk to a froth the six whites; mix the whole with six ounces of the best flour (which flour you must have previously dried in an oven, and sifted before using it); when the whole is properly mixed, it makes a light paste, and is ready for immediate use.
Chocolate glaze: Put one ounce of chocolate in a tin sauce pan with a teaspoonful of water, and set on a slow fire; when melted, mix with it two tablespoons of sugar, stir for a while; that is, till it is just thick enough to spread it over the cakes, and not liquid enough to run down the sides. The biscuits may either be dipped in the chocolate or the chocolate may be spread over them with a knife. Serve cold.
My adapted version:
- 6 eggs, separated
- 1 cup superfine sugar (you can just grind some regular granulated sugar in your blender to give it a finer texture)
- 1 ½ cups flour
- 2 ounces grated baking chocolate (I used Ghirardelli bittersweet)
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Beat together the egg yolks and sugar
- Slowly add the flour and grated chocolate and mix well.
- Whisk the egg whites to a stiff froth and gently fold into the batter.
- Spoon into mini cupcake pans or molds lined with baking papers or use a pastry bag to pipe the mixture onto parchment paper lined baking sheets.
- Bake for 15 minutes and then remove to a wire rack.
- Once cool, melt ½ cup of bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli) and dip biscuits into melted chocolate or spread carefully over biscuits. Let cool – the chocolate will harden and form a nice glaze. Enjoy!
Sources: What to Eat, and how to Cook it: Containing Over One Thousand Receipts
By Pierre Blot, 1863; The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson