Biscuits Fit For a Bishop

by Andrew Auld, The Loaf Bakery Cafe Deli

Tomorrow I will be departing early to make a special personal delivery of 2300 hand-made biscuits to Ely Cathedral, specially commissioned for the installation of the new Bishop, Stephen Conway. This large project has been occupying my thoughts for over two months now and has involved sourcing moulds from the Czech Republic, cutters from USA and a recipe from Holland.

It all started when a university friend, Bridget, who works in the Diocesan Office in Ely got in touch after getting my Christmas email newsletter. She wanted to let me know that the Deacon of the church we attended when at Durham Uni was about to be installed as the new Bishop of Ely. Then, very tentatively, she asked if I would be interested in baking biscuits to celebrate the occasion. Also tentatively, I said I would - what sort of numbers, what sort of biscuits?

Quickly we started discussing St Nicholas biscuits, a tradition of the low countries and some central European countries. St Nicholas is often depicted as a Bishop, which made his image appropriate. A bit of research started to lead me to Speculaas biscuits, a Dutch and Belgian Christmas speciality. This shop in Antwerp gives you some idea of the sort of thing and they often use St Nicholas as a design as he is closely associated with Christmas in central and northern Europe.

The next question was where to find a mould suitable for the job. My research took me to the wonderful online resource, The Saint Nicholas Centre. A vague speculative email enquiry produced the most full and generously helpful email reply from Carol Myers pointing me in all sorts of useful directions for moulds, cutters and recipes. Very soon, I was in touch with the lovely Oldrich Kvapil in the Czech Republic, one of the few remaining reverse relief mould carvers around. Olda was also extremely helpful and, once I had provided a link to this image, he was off and carving. Imagine my delight when, a mere 10 days after ordering it, this arrived:

St Nicholas
Olda Kvapil's molds
St Nicholas
Mold carved for The Loaf

It is perfect and quite beautiful. Such a privilege to be making use of wonderfully skillful hand trades like this wood carving. I would be using this mould to make just under 300 biscuits for the children attending a children's service on 5 March.

Next I had to source a cutter for the 2000 biscuits (yes that does say two thousand!) for those attending the main installation service in Ely Cathedral. Again, Carol of the Saint Nicholas Centre proved invaluable and quickly despatched a cutter in the shape of a bishop's Mitre.

Finally, a suitable recipe . . . once more Carol came up trumps, and I could start test baking biscuits and working out how to get the best results. With only two weeks until delivery, time was pressing!

After a couple of dry runs and a tweak or two to the recipe, I was ready to get on with the production of 280 St Nicholas biscuits and 2000 mitre biscuits.

Stage one was to roll the dough and rough-press the mould into the dough while it was on the table. I then cut around each biscuit by hand and lifted it back onto the mould to press in the detail.

St Nicholas
Dough being shaped
St Nicholas
Pressed in mold for detail

I then left the biscuits on trays overnight to set and dry out a little before baking.

St Nicholas
Molded cookies on sheets
St Nicholas
Trays of cookies set before baking
St Nicholas
Baked molded cookies

Once baked, though we have lost some detail, I am very pleased with the result.

St Nicholas
Molded speculaas cookies packed and ready to go

Next to the mitre biscuits...time to draught in some help from Becky!

My a-level maths skills finally kicked in when we worked out the ideal tessellation for mitre-shaped biscuits!

St Nicholas
Dough rolled out and cut for miter cookies
St Nicholas
Interlocking miter cookie shapes

And they baked just beautifully! 2000 biscuits is a lot of rolling and cutting though!!!

St Nicholas
Miter cookies packed and ready for delivery

So job done. All that is left to do is for me to deliver the biscuits in one piece to Ely Cathedral tomorrow morning and hopefully the good folk of Ely will enjoy them!

Thank you so much to Carol, Olda, Becky, Bishop Stephen and, of course, Bridget for the order and for advice during the research.

From The Loaf, Crich, Derbyshire, England, December 2010. Permission pending.

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