Today, the forces of chaos which govern my scrambled egg existence, conspired together to prompt me to sort out my Grandmother’s recipe for Honey Biscuits. I am an Australian of German descent on my mother’s side, and my grandmother’s Honey Biscuits were as much a part of Christmas as my mother’s traditional English-style Christmas cake and my Christmas pudding. The biscuits were round with half a blanched almond stuck in the middle like the star perched on top of the Christmas tree. They lived inside big glass jars from another time zone, which always seemed strangely magical (even when they were empty).
These Honey Biscuits were very special, but they were also my grandmother’s thing. I’ve never seen my mother make them, although she’s always been an accomplished cook and was famous for her Sponge cakes, which were typically served with lashings of passionfruit icing and a thick layer of whipped cream.
Not having the recipe until after my grandmother passed away, I found an alternative in a German cookbook my grandparents had given me. These were very nice, definitely German, and were reminiscent of the Honey Biscuits, but were definitely NOT THE SAME!!
I don’t know if that really matters. Or, whether it’s just the spirit of the thing that counts. Moreover, I guess you’ve got to ask at some point whether you really want to keep on eating food from 200 years ago every Christmas just to satisfy tradition. Or, do you try something new? Indeed, do you make Christmas food that you and your current day family actually likes, and is more in keeping with your usual fare?
Being a lover of history, ceremonies and traditions, I’m all in favour of going retro one day a year and having the same old same old. Without the carving of the Christmas ham and the lighting of the Christmas pudding along with my aunt’s Mango and Avocado Salad with cashew nuts, it just wouldn’t be the same. Actually, you can add scorched almonds and shortbread to the list. However, what I really love about Christmas lunch is catching up with the extended family after another year and seeing how everyone’s changed. Or, indeed, how some have stayed the same. I come from a large family too, so that makes for added excitement, a swag of personalities and stories. Moreover, there’s always one of two who enjoy too much Christmas cheer.
However, this year our Christmas will be rather different, as we will be hosting Christmas Day at our place with only my Mum, Dad and possibly brother coming over. This has sent us into quite a tailspin and we’re currently in the throws of carving up an old piano and trying to vacate the loungeroom to get the new floating floor down in time. It’s a nightmare, but at least I now have a pile of cookbooks ready to exit the house.
It was sorting through these cookbooks, which took me back to my grandmother’s Honey Biscuit recipe. You see I found a recipe book from Hahndorf, the German-Australian village in South Australia which my grandfather and three generations before him called home…”Recipes From My Grossmutter”. I also found “The Barossa Cookbook”, which was published at the end of WWII. The Barossa Valley is best known as a wine-producing region, and it’s not far from Hahndorf. So, when it came to sorting out this recipe, I thought this cookbook was almost a sure fire bet. After all, it’s one of those community cookbooks where people contribute their favourite recipes, and their names are printed down below.
Fortunately, although I’ve never made my grandmother’s Honey Biscuits, I do have her recipe and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen her make them. However, while this sounds like I’ve got it sorted, the handwritten recipe didn’t inspire me with confidence. Had she left something out? It was also written in pounds and ounces, which always does my head in, and is almost a sure fire recipe for catastrophe.
My Grandmother’s Recipe for Honey Biscuits
1/2 lb Honey
1 lb Sugar
4 teas bicarb soda
a little acid
a few drops of lemon essence
Flour – flour enough to roll out.
After she lists the ingredients, she seemingly inserts herself into the process, and it soon becomes clear that my grandmother is leaving the main road and making her own way cross-country. There’s what the recipe says, and then there’s HER WAY which she introduces as “I use”. She then proceeds to halve the recipe, which seems fair enough, as I reckon the full amount would keep the entire Von Trapp family in biscuits from one Christmas to the next.
However, it’s the next bit which really captures my attention: “I beat the egg whites till stiff, add sugar and beat for awhile then add the yolks and beat again.”
Why does she separate the eggs and beat up the egg whites by themselves? This is what you do for making sponge cakes. However, as I glanced through the other recipes for Honey Biscuits in the Barossa Cookbook, nobody else mentions that. So, why did she do it? Was this her special secret for producing feather-light Honey Biscuits? Or, was she just making more work for herself?
I don’t know, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to post her recipe on the blog. I need help. Do any of you know why this is so? If so, please explain.
The other thing I’d like to address is what constitutes your authentic German-Australian Honey Biscuit, and how does it compare to the German original? Or, is there a German equivalent?
I thought the Honey Biscuits were a form of Lebkuchen. However, Lebkuchen is more of a spiced biscuit based on ground nuts, where the Honey Biscuits are only lightly spiced, use flour and are as the name suggests, honey flavoured. Apparently, the Honey Biscuit is an adaptation to the Australian context, where German immigrants couldn’t access spices easily back in the day, and in a sense developed their own baking dialect in the same way they came to speak: “Barossa Deutch” (Barossa German). That said, there are variations of Honey Biscuit which are a lot more spicy, and more in keeping with their authentic, German roots.
So, there is this sense of recipes migrating from the mother country and being translated and adapted to the new one, with Australian-Germans putting their own stamp on this old tradition. On top of this, you have people like my grandmother who did their own thing, experimented and adapted. For me, this is very much in keeping with the same pioneering spirit, which saw my ancestors embark on ships for an unknown country on the other side of the world and take a chance.
So, which version of the Honey Biscuit is the real McCoy? Which should I bake and carry forward to my own children?
I wasn’t sure. However, an inspiring solution hit me in the face this morning, after I’d had time to sleep on it. That just like Refrigerator Biscuits where you can make variations from the one basic dough, you can also make a batch of Honey Biscuits where some taste more like honey, and others are more richly spiced. After all, nothing is set in stone – even traditions. They can always be taken forward and adapted with themes and variations.
Have you ever tried making Honey Biscuits and how does your recipe compare to my grandmother’s recipe? Meanwhile, in addition to baking the Honey Biscuits, I’m going to have a go at making authentic German Lebkuchen from a recipe over at Daring Gourmet. She even making her own candied peel and spice mix, so it could be a bit much on top of getting the house ready for Christmas, but isn’t Advent the season of insanity where we always do, spend and eat too much? It’s too late for me to challenge that this year, but January is only round the corner along with an end to 2020. I know for many, that will be the be st Christmas present of all!!
Here’s the link to the “Authentic German Lebkuchen Recipe” if you’re feeling daring.. This recipe is based around ground nuts, has no flour, and seems heavily spiced: https://www.daringgourmet.com/traditional-nuernberger-elisenlebkuchen-german-lebkuchen/
I am trying to figure out the huge amount of sugar! I could cope with the pounds and ounces, but can’t figure out the flour!
The amount of sugar is huge, isn’t it! When it comes to the flour, I think it’s one of those intuitive things where you’re meant to know what the dough is meant to look like and you adjust the flour accordingly. I did read on one recipe that they find the amount of flour changes every time they bake them.
It’s interesting too when you think of intuitive cooking versus slavishly following a recipe. Of course, you’d hope the recipe is tried and tested so that when you stick to it, it works out. However, it doesn’t always work out that way and the more you bake, the better you get at covering your mistakes or variations in batches etc.
Meanwhile, I think I’m going to need to take a half batch and see what happens. Wish me luck!
Alas, this is not a recipe from my own German heritage but sounds tasty and the kind of creation that makes for holiday tradition. Love the food splatters on the recipe which tells me this recipe was frequently used. Chers and happy holidays! 🎄🎅🏻
Argh…make that *cheers, not Chers. 🙄
I bet they are delicious!!
Hi Rowena, I have the same book – Recipes from my Grossmutter! My mother-in-law gave it to me. My mum always makes honey biscuits for Christmas – it’s one of our traditions. Her recipe is: 500g sugar, 500g honey, 1/2 cup water, 1 1/2 tbs margarine, 3 eggs, 1 1/2 tsp carb-soda, 1 kg flour & 1/2 tsp ground cloves. Yes, it makes a lot of biscuits! It is mixed up and let stand overnight. I don’t know where Mum got her recipe from but its the same one she has used for many years, but she doesn’t separate the eggs. The sugar, honey and water is cooked in a saucepan, and then the other ingredients are added when it has cooled. And she usually just makes round ones – sometimes with an almond on top. Looking forward to seeing the results. Happy baking!
I’d like to help you in deciphering your Grandmother’s recipe but I specialize in eating, not making. However, should you need a taste tester, please send a dozen or so my way. 😀
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I think they’d be stale by the time they get over your way. The post seems to be pretty slow.
How are things going with Covid where you are? I hope you and the family are well. While our infection rates are almost negligible at the moment, many Australians have family and friends overseas and so we’re not immune in that sense and a friend lost a loved one to covid recently in America. Of course, it’s not the same but I’m not sure that the tight restrictions we’ve had here have been in place overseas and they’ve brought their own troubles.
What are you planning to do for Christmas? My parents are coming here and we’re madly trying to get the house in order and have replaced the loungeroom carpet with a floating floor which has become a skating rink for the dogs. Rosie in particular is not impressed. Zac is currently asleep under my lap top with no complaints.
Anyway, I’d better head off.
Thanks so much for getting back to me Karen and sharing your mother’s recipe. Your mum’s recipe looks pretty close and being metric I’ll give it a go. I can see myself getting in trouble with the metric conversion. The small amount of spice is also in keeping with the Australian version which is more of a honey biscuit than a spice biscuit.
Meanwhile, my Christmas baking has gone on hold while we’ve been ripping up the old carpet in the loungeroom and replacing it with a floating floor so the place will spruce up for Christmas Day as my parents are coming up. After moving the furniture out, we noticed one of the walls needs a paint, which will means painting the room. We’re also having quite purge of stuff, especially books, which seem to waft in here by the dozen and pile up largely unread. Time to get more realistic about my reading capacity and move them on. Hopefully, we’ll be able to invite more people over and have our home back.
How are things going at your end? I hope you and the family are going well.
Best wishes & blessings,
Food splatters make a cookbook/recipe, don’t they! A pristine cookbook hasn’t been used or the cook is much more restrained and neat than yours truly. Happy holidays to you as well!
Totally agree. It’s goes with “never trust a skinny cook.” 😆
Ours will be a hunker down Christmas. No visitors and we’re not going out. I scrooged out and am not even putting up any holiday lights. Humbug! No tree either – like the lights, the taking down isn’t worth the putting up. Anyway, we focus far more on celebrating News Year than Christmas. Max won’t care so long as he gets some extra treats, which he will.
Good luck with the honey biscuits. My parents are coming up for Christmas, from Adelaide. I think they’ll be bringing home baked honey biscuits too! So relieved the border has been opened – looked like it wasn’t going to happen at all. Sounds like you’re having a busy time. Funny how you decide to do one thing and then the job just gets bigger. I think book purging is a continuous thing – the more we pass on, the more find their way in, but we do have to be realistic about our time limits and other responsibilities that can get in the way of reading. We’re all good, looking forward to a family Christmas and the end of 2020. Wishing your family a Merry Christmas.