I love cookbooks. I have a small library that I’ve collected over the years. Some are Christmas presents and books that I’ve bought from new, including tomes by the likes of Delia Smith (High Priestess of the Temple of Yum), the ubiquitous Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater (my very favourite cookery writer – I can’t wax sufficiently lyrical about his food), Antoinette Savill and Darina Allen and Rosemary Kearney (both really good gluten-free cookbooks). These are books I love going to on a regular basis as they’re jam-packed full of reliably delicious nosh.

But it’s the second-hand books that have come my way that I find the most intriguing. There are books that have been rescued from charity shops, such as Yugoslav Cookbook (obviously dating from pre-1992), written by Olga Novak-Markovič, head chef to President Tito (it was the chapter entitled “Fish, crustacea, shellfish and frogs” that made me fork out £1.50 for it!), those that I have inherited legitimately and those that started off as a fostering arrangement but ended up as a de facto adoption (ahem!). Some of these books date from the 1950s and 1960s and these are the ones that I love reading in bed at night before I go to sleep: Cookery in Colour, edited by Marguerite Patten, donated by my mum, Good Housekeeping’s World Cookery and The Daily Telegraph’s Favourite Recipes, both of which belonged to my husband’s father. I love the measurements given in imperial rather than metric, the Technicolor photographs and the quaintly clipped formal English of the instructions that crackles across the decades, evoking an era of the stiff upper lip and “Make Do and Mend”.

It is this last book that has given me the inspiration for today’s post. It contains a recipe for Prince Charles’s christening cake (!) and others submitted by Daily Telegraph readers, along with their photographs. I have yet to try the “delicious, nutty flavoured Fruit Scone [which] has enhanced Mrs. J. E. Donald’s reputation as a hostess”(!) but, as I was flicking through, the vanilla custard biscuits, originally made with a mix of ‘cooking fat’ and ‘margarine’ caught my eye. I’ve updated them somewhat by using decadent (!) butter, orange extract and a dark chocolate coating and have cooked them for longer at a lower temperature. They’re beautifully short and melt in the mouth.

Gluten-free chocolate-dipped orange custard biscuits (cookies)

The orange flavour in these biscuits is quite subtle so feel free to add more orange extract if you want a more citrussy flavour.

Makes 12-15 biscuits

115g unsalted butter, softened
85g caster sugar
1 tsp orange extract
170g gluten-free self-raising flour
2 heaped tbsp custard powder
100g gluten-free plain chocolate (I used Tesco’s own Continental 74% Plain Chocolate, but this does contain soya)

You will also need a solid baking sheet and a 5-6cm biscuit (cookie) cutter

Preheat the oven to 160°C (fan-assisted). In a medium-sized bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar with a fork. Add the orange extract and stir to combine. Sift the flour and the custard powder into the mixture and mix together. At first it will seem like the mixture will never come together because it’s too dry but it will gradually form a lump with lots of dry loose bits in the bottom. Use your hands to knead it until a satiny smooth ball of dough is formed. Roll out the dough on a lightly-floured surface until about 8mm thick. Cut out rounds about 6cm in diameter (I use a Moroccan tea-glass because I haven’t got a biscuit cutter) and place on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden-brown.*

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 15 minutes on the tray – if you try to remove them immediately, they will crumble. Remove carefully to a cooling rack (I use flat tongs) and allow to cool completely. Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water, ensuring that the water doesn’t touch the base of the bowl. Dip each biscuit into the melted chocolate so that half is covered and place carefully on a sheet of baking parchment. When you have covered all of the biscuits, put them in the refrigerator to set. These biscuits should keep for 4 or 5 days in an airtight tin.

*If your oven is anything like mine, it doesn’t bake evenly and I always seem to get one side of the biscuits really brown. I rotate the biscuits through 90° every five minutes and this seems to ensure an even bake.

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