Monday, May 4, 2009

Better than no days in the Barossa

It is criminal that we only stayed in the Barossa Valley for two days.

But that's what we get for planning too many things in too little time. And that's what we get for thinking Australia is smaller than it actually is, for making the assumption that a 615-mile trek from Melbourne to Adelaide via the Great Ocean Road can be made quickly. It just can't be made quickly, nor should it be. You want to stop along the way, maybe have a piece of cake and pet a beagle in Port Fairy, maybe take off your shoes and dip your toes in the cold water of the Southern Ocean at Logan's Beach. And you want to arrive in the Barossa with plenty of time to savor one of the world's finest wine making regions. You don't want to rush. But you have a flight from Adelaide from Sydney that you have to catch in a few days and a rental car to return, so rush you do.

However, two days in the Barossa is better than no days in the Barossa. When we traveled there in 2005, Husband and I packed a lot into those two days, too: wine tastings at Penfold's and Peter Lehmann's cellar doors; a memorable meal at Vintners Bar & Grill; a visit to Maggie Beer's iconic restaurant and shop; a peaceful stay at a friendly bed and breakfast called the Blickinstal Barossa Valley Retreat that makes their own jam and provided the most entertaining dog-sheep-alpaca staredown I've ever experienced; a bowl of amazing chips at a shop in the town of Angaston, the best I've had which is saying a lot because I'm no stranger to chips.

(Blurry evidence of The Best Chips on Earth, with mayonnaise and chili sauce.)

Not that chips are necessarily a traditional part of it, but the Barossa has a rich food culture reaching back centuries thanks to Lutherans from Prussia and other parts of central and eastern Europe who settled in the valley seeking religious freedom. The tiny towns situated in the Barossa have a decidedly German -- yet completely Australian -- feel, with a food that is similarly evolved: German culinary tradition with a distinct Australian slant.

Take for example honey biscuits, a traditional cookie usually enjoyed in the Barossa at Christmastime. The honey biscuit's European counterpart would have included much more spice, more like gingerbread. But given the Barossa's remote location those early settlers would have had difficulty procuring a range of spices. So the biscuit evolved into something simpler, a treat that allows the honey flavor to come forward and only subtly hints at spice. How convenient, considering that the Barossa is home to many an apiary.

Though honey biscuits are a Christmas confection, I decided to make them today -- as spring in Ohio begins to make way for summer -- because they are included in the "Summer" chapter of my reference volume on the Barossa's culinary history, Barossa Food, by Angela Heuzenroeder. (Christmas falls during summertime down there on the other side of the earth.) These biscuits are delightful, soft and simple with a prominent honey flavor and occasional flecks of ground clove and cinnamon. And since they aren't part of my own traditional Christmas celebration, I don't regret making them at the beginning of May.

What I regret is spending only two days in the Barossa.


Adapted from Barossa Food, by Angela Heuzenroeder

The name of the game with honey biscuits is: soft. You want them to be soft. Don't be afraid of under baking them; in fact, there is a bakery in the Barossa town of Nuriootpa that deliberately under bakes them. You can cut them out with the cookie cutter of your choice (the photo in the book shows the biscuits in what appears to be the shape of birds and fish), and you can ice them, if you wish, with royal icing or with a softer powdered sugar icing. But the aforementioned bakery in Nuriootpa doesn't ice them, and cuts them in rectangles. And because I quite like Nuriootpa, that's what I did.

Note: this dough must chill overnight, so plan accordingly.

Another note: these are phenomenal with a cup of tea.

1 c. honey
1 c. sugar
1 T. unsalted butter
1/2 c. cold water
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1 large egg, well beaten
1 t. ground cloves
1 t. cinnamon
2 c. self-rising flour
About 3 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

Combine the honey, sugar and butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Add water and baking soda; whisk to combine. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and let cool until lukewarm. The mixture will "separate" as it cools; make sure to whisk together again before proceeding to the next step.

When lukewarm, add the egg, cloves and cinnamon, and whisk to combine. Add the self-rising flour and 3 cups of the all-purpose flour. Stir with a wooden spoon, adding another 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour, if needed, to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out on the counter and knead to bring the mixture together into a homogeneous mass. Place the dough in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

When you are ready to bake the biscuits, preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Divide the dough into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time, roll out the dough on a well-floured surface until it's about 1/4-inch thick. Using a bench scraper or a knife, trim the edges and cut into rectangles about 3 inches by 2 inches. Add more flour as necessary; this dough has a tendency to stick. You can re-roll the scraps.

Place the biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 7 minutes -- no longer!

Let cool for a minute on the baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

If your biscuits turn out crispy, the recipe states that you can store a piece of fresh bread with them "in the biscuit tin" to soften them within a day.

Makes about 8 1/2 dozen rectangular biscuits. Yield will vary based on the choice of cookie cutter.


Laura said...

Ooooh, these look wonderful. How prominent is the honey flavor? I am not the biggest honey fan in the world, but these still look wonderful.

Don't ypu hate it when after a vacation you realizeyou spent too uch time in one place and consequently not enough in another? Or just not enough... I feel that way about the Aran islands in Ireland...

Melanie said...

I'm going to have to try the honey biscuits. We are huge honey and cinammon people in our household!

Dianne said...

Thank you ladies!

Laura, the biscuits are only subtly sweet when you're eating them; the honey flavor really comes through in the after taste. I'm not a huge honey fan, either -- I rarely eat it on its own, drizzled over something or whatnot. But baked into this cookie, it really is quite yummy. And I totally know what you mean about feeling like you spent too much time in one place and not enough in much as I regret not spending more time in the Barossa, I also wish we had planned more than five days in Tasmania on that trip. The answer, I suppose, is a vacation that's at least two months long. Dare to dream.

Melanie, if you're huge honey cinnamon people, you will definitely enjoy these! You could probably up the amount of cinnamon a bit, too, for a little extra cinnamony-ness. As written, the spice is pretty subtle.