Lemon Biscuits (1861) ★★★★

Its funny, when I pick a recipe to make for this blog, I usually go by ingredients. Flour? Sugar? Butter? Eggs? Lemon? "This will be easy," I think to myself. And then I start the recipe. And read the instructions. And I end up thinking, "what the heck is going on here?!"

This recipe is weird. Why does it call for blending the butter with the flour, like a pastry? And after adding the eggs it looked so dry and crumbly, I was getting really worried. So I did a brief Google search and saw that some other people have tried this recipe without success....oh no.
But then I went back to my bowl and it had basically magically transformed into something that resembled a dough! Yay! I kneaded it a bit, dropped it onto a cookie sheet, put it in the oven, and crossed my fingers.


Original Recipe:

1743—INGREDIENTS.—1-1/4 lb. of flour, 3/4 lb. of loaf sugar, 6 oz. of fresh butter, 4 eggs, 1 oz. of lemon-peel, 2 dessertspoonfuls of lemon-juice.
Mode.—Rub the flour into the butter; stir in the pounded sugar and very finely-minced lemon-peel, and when these ingredients are thoroughly mixed, add the eggs, which should be previously well whisked, and the lemon-juice. Beat the mixture well for a minute or two, then drop it from a spoon on to a buttered tin, about 2 inches apart, as the cakes will spread when they get warm; place the tin in the oven, and bake the cakes of a pale brown from 15 to 20 minutes.
Time.—15 to 20 minutes. Average cost, 1s. 6d.
Seasonable at any time.

The Verdict:

Now, seeing as though we're looking at a British cookbook here, "biscuits" really means cookies. But there's no kind of leavening in the recipe at all. Mrs. Beeton states to drop the dough with a spoon, so I got some pretty lumpy cookies. Almost like coconut macaroons in look. They also didn't spread very much at all, despite what her recipe says.

These lemon biscuits are really quite beautiful. They bake up a very light color, and look like fluffy clouds. Taste-wise, they are just as delicate. The lemon flavour is light, but still present. I think I would personally prefer a touch more punch of lemon flavour, because the strongest flavour is just the sweetness from the sugar. Nevertheless, I would happily eat these cookies by choice, because they are good. I loved them best just out of them oven, when they're warm and soft and fluffy. Once they cool they become a bit dryer and denser.

Also! This makes a LOT of cookies! I got about 47 cookies. I would recommend halving the recipe, but I'm including the whole recipe below. Lastly, Mrs. Beeton's recipe calls for one ounce of "very finely-minced lemon-peel." I just assumed she meant lemon zest, but even zesting two lemons didn't weigh anything on my scale. I'm thinking she might have been referring to more of a candied peel. However, the lemon zest I used seemed to work just fine. And zesting requires no mincing!

Modernized Recipe:

(Adapted from The Book of Household Management)

1 1/2 pounds  (20 ounces) FLOUR
3/4 pound (12 ounces) SUGAR
4 EGGS, beaten
1 ounce LEMON PEEL, or the ZEST of two LEMONS
2 teaspoons LEMON JUICE

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. Rub the butter into the flour as if to make a pastry dough. It should resemble wet sand.
3. Add the sugar and lemon peel to the flour and mix well. Add the beaten eggs and lemon juice and stir together until it forms a sticky dough (I used my hands to make sure everything was completely incorporated - you don't want chunks of egg). If the dough is still crumbly and isn't coming together, let it sit for a bit, to absorb the eggs.
4. Drop the dough by teaspoons onto the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for about 10-15 minutes (mine took 13).

Anje graduated with a Honours Bachelors degree in History with a minor in Museum Studies. She currently lives and works in Japan's least populous prefecture as an assistant English teacher.


  1. I think this recipe is very like the pusher biscuits my mother-in-law used to make. Light and pale. Isobella Beeton collected other people's recipes and published them. She did not always test them first. From my mother, grandmother and other family friends I have learned that when sharing recipes it was common in Britain to change the recipe or leave out an ingredient. This ensured that only the original person mastered the recipe and so they remained supreme. "Drop spoonfuls" could mean make little balls and transfer them by spoon to the pastry sheet.

  2. By letting the crumbly dough rest for a few minutes you gave it the time it needed for the flour to absorb the liquid and form into more of a soft dough, by letting the dough rest a little longer you probably could have avoided kneading the dough. It may be that letting the dough rest 15-30 minutes was left out of the recipe - cooks of the old school did leave out info just to mess people up. Glad to see you had success with these - they look beautiful and tastey

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