Lemon and rye biscuits

Lemon and rye cookies, lemon cordial

I’m totally guilty of taking our lemon tree for granted. Such is its happy disposition – never asking for water all summer yet always looking so waxy green, and providing us constant fruit since sometime before last winter! I think partly I’m resigned to the fact I can never use all of its lemons (lots end up in bags for family and friends), and the ripe fruit also waits patiently on the tree, so most of the time, I have to say I ignore it. (For instance, I noticed I hardly ever post recipes featuring lemons!) Though I do admire the tree from our kitchen window, and of course pick lemons whenever we need. We planted it about 9 years ago along a north-facing wall in our Melbourne backyard, a position it clearly loves.

This Christmas I was so impressed by my brother-in-law’s homemade limoncello, which he’d made by suspending a lemon over vodka inside a big jar, using one of the last lemons from his tree before he and his family had to move house. My goodness, it was like I’d never tasted lemon until then – so many nuances and intensity of lemon flavour magically captured inside the spirit. An inspiring homage to lemon. I made a mental note to self – must do this one day too (and I think a big jar with a lemon suspended over vodka would make a cool gift!) – but I think honouring and making the most of an ingredient is probably what I do best when faced with a precious little of something – or the season’s end of something – not when constantly rolling in it as we are!

It’s eye-opening discovering the historical lengths people have gone to in colder climates to grow citrus, like the orangeries of England, where oranges and other exotics were grown in big pots, and the pots were rolled indoors to these dedicated conservatories for winter. I also recently read about the limonaie of Lake Garda in northern Italy ­– clever structures that existed just as a framework of concrete pillars around a grove of lemon trees in summer, but which were enclosed with glass and wooden panels in winter. A wood heater raised the temperature inside to keep the lemons growing.

Today I got my act together and picked, say, one-hundredth of our current lemon crop (!) and made lemon and rye biscuits, plus some lemon cordial with the remains. And tomorrow I’m going to get the kids to make more icing for yet more biscuits, while I make a big batch of lemony Vietnamese dipping/dressing/everything sauce.

Cutting lemon and rye cookies

Lemon and rye cookies and lemon cordial

Lemon and rye biscuits

These are fairly plain, digestive-style biscuits made entirely of rye flour – with a zesty lemon icing livening things up. They grew from a recipe for Russian rye cookies from Home Baking by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

P.S. If you want to make lemon cordial with the remaining lemons as I did: simply combine 1 parts lemon juice to 11/3 parts sugar, heating and stirring just until the sugar dissolves. Pour into a bottle and store in the refrigerator.

60 g butter, melted
60 g sour cream
1 egg
grated zest of 2 lemons
50 g (¼ cup) brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
225 g (1½ cups) whole rye flour, plus extra for rolling

Icing
60 g (½ cup) icing (confectioners’) sugar
grated zest of 1 lemon
lemon juice

Mix the butter, sour cream and egg together in a bowl, then add the remaining ingredients and combine well, forming a slightly sticky, dark dough.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Take the dough onto a work surface and dust it all over with extra flour. Roll out to a large rectangle approximately 5 mm thick. Either cut out shapes with a cookie cutter, pressing the scraps back together and rolling again – or just cut with a knife into simple squares. Place the biscuits on non-stick trays (or use trays lined with baking paper), leaving just a small gap between biscuits. Bake for around 10 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edges. Leave to cool.

Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in the zest plus enough lemon juice to make a fairly runny icing. Use a teaspoon to add a small dollop of icing onto each biscuit and spread it out. Leave the icing to set before storing the biscuits in an airtight jar.

Makes about 35 biscuits

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