I like to give myself every chance of success and when I know that I have the correct amount of ingredients in my bowl that is already a good start. Biscuits and pastries are much less forgiving than, say, a slow-cooked stew, so cooking times are also crucial. Here the rules and guidelines really matter and because I think this is such a marvellous recipe, I would really like it to work properly for you so that it might become a most useful part of your repertoire. This biscuit punches above its weight in terms of texture and flavour. It is a classic example of the value of using butter and, where possible, the value of eating a buttery biscuit or pastry on the day it is made. If you make this biscuit with salted butter it will taste like an Irish or English delight, if you use unsalted butter, it tastes more of France or Italy. There may be better biscuit recipes than this but there are few that are so straightforward, and reward so generously for such a small amount of effort.

Ingredients

  • 170g plain white flour
  • 3cm piece of vanilla pod
  • 110g butter, diced
  • 55g caster sugar

Method

  • A vanilla pod or bean with its pungent and aromatic aroma is an essential ingredient in the sweet kitchen and, indeed, sometimes finds its way into the savoury kitchen as well.
  • If possible, buy ones which are flecked with a white crystal coating which contain vanillin, known as frosted vanilla - these are the generally the most highly-flavoured beans.
  • Avoid beans that feel dry to the touch to the point of being brittle. Store the beans in an airtight container or in a jar of caster sugar from which you will obtain your own homemade vanilla-flavoured sugar.
  • Preheat oven to 180c/350f/gas 4.
  • Put the flour in a bowl. Split open the vanilla pod with a knife and then with the back of the knife, scrape the tiny little seeds into the flour. Mix this thoroughly to disperse the dry vanilla through the flour.
  • Add the butter and sugar and rub them into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Keep rubbing and it will come together into a mass. Knead lightly to form smooth dough. Do not be tempted to add any liquid.
  • If you have measured the ingredients accurately it will work. If at this point it feels a little soft, chill for 15 minutes.
  • Roll out on a floured surface to a thickness of 3mm. Cut out the shapes of choice with pastry cutters and transfer to a baking tray, leaving about 1cm space between each biscuit as they will expand slightly in the cooking.
  • Gather up the trimmings, lightly shake off the excess flour and roll and shape again. Bake in the preheated for about 15 minutes oven until golden.
  • Immediately remove from the baking sheet with a palate knife or slice and place on a wire rack to cool. If you leave them on the oven tray they will continue to cook, causing them to stick and burn.
  • The biscuits can be simply served with a light dusting of caster or icing sugar.