Bake

Shrewsbury Biscuits

December  2, 2019
5 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop stylist: Brooke Deonarine.
Author Notes

One of my favorite holiday traditions took place not during the holidays, but right after. In fact, far away from home and family.

It was back when I attended an all-girls liberal arts college in Bombay, living in a dorm. Each January, after the holidays, we’d return to our dorm rooms with more luggage than we’d left with—suitcases and duffels filled with leftover festive treats our moms would send back to share. What you brought back told stories of where you were from, where you had been, and how your family celebrated (or didn’t). There’d be a rum-drenched Christmas cake (that would naturally get devoured first), sugar syrup-soaked kulkuls from my Goan roommate, rainbow-colored coconut barfi (from my home), even the odd fish pickle (nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas).

On the nights that followed, sitting many to a bed, we’d swap food—and accounts of fleeting romances. Crumbs would be everywhere, hands greasy, homesickness lifted. It felt like the holiday after the holidays.

One year, a friend came back with several boxes of a kind of biscuit I’d never heard of before. They were bought, she said, from Kayani Bakery, a family-owned institution in Pune, a city not three hours east of Bombay. The biscuit was blonder than most, with a slightly darker rim, and stamped “SHREWSBURY.” It was a sweet and buttery shortbread: light, crisp, crumbling in my mouth. Never, since being a kid and devouring boxes of Scottish-made Walkers shortbread in fun Christmas shapes, had I enjoyed a biscuit as much. (My friends in America would call it a cookie. Either way, it’s delicious.)

Over the next few years, the Shrewsbury biscuit made several appearances in our dorm rooms, keeping us company as we navigated the twisty paths of pre-adulthood. Anyone who returned to college from Pune was ordered, not always politely, to bring back a box.

Much later, I finally got the opportunity to go straight to the source. I waited excitedly for my turn in line outside a modest-looking bakery. It was at least half-a-century old, with a big sign that read: “Kayani Bakery,” and underneath it, “We have no other branches.” Inside, old glass cases held all sorts of biscuits, from savory khari and cashew, to elaichi (cardamom) butter and ... the iconic Shrewsbury. I bought several boxes as gifts, but may have opened up a few myself as soon as I got to my hotel room.

The biscuit, I later found out, was an adaptation of a classic English recipe, and named after Shrewsbury, a town in the county of Shropshire. Interestingly, in all my time in the United Kingdom, I had never come across it. One of the earliest mentions of the biscuit was in a Renaissance-era cookbook called The Compleat Cook of 1658, where it is noted that it’s made from dough that contains sugar, flour, eggs, butter, and lemon zest. There are other recipes, in which people swap out lemon with orange zest, and add rose water. The version I make, now that I live exactly 7,849 miles away from Kayani Bakery, is an amalgamation of several recipes available online, and has both lemon zest and lots of caraway seeds, but is less sugary than most.

In a few weeks, I’m going back to India for the holidays, and an old friend will come to visit from Pune. I don’t need to tell her what I’d like her to bring, because she’ll know. We’ll open the box on my bed, and swap stories from our distanced lives between bites of buttery goodness. Life, at that moment, will pick up right where we left off. Shrewsbury and all. —Arati Menon

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: Food52's Holiday Cookie Chronicles. —The Editors

  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 18 minutes
  • Makes About 15 cookies
Ingredients
  • 2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 1/2 pound, 227g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons toasted caraway seeds
  • zest of 1 small orange OR 1 large lemon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons rose water (optional)
  • 3/4 cup (85g) powdered sugar
  • 1 large egg
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 325°F (170°C).
  2. In a mixing bowl, mix the flour and butter well (I use a hand mixer), until well combined.
  3. Fold in the caraway seeds, orange or lemon zest, rose water (optional), and powdered sugar.
  4. Fold in the egg and mix until smooth and incorporated.
  5. Make golf-size balls of dough and place on a cookie sheet at least 3 inches (7.5cm) apart.
  6. If you’re working in a hot kitchen, and the dough appears too sticky, chill the tray for 30 minutes before popping in the oven.
  7. Flatten the tops of the balls (don’t flatten too much as they spread out when baking) and create texture on top (Kayani uses a lovely stamp, but I settle for my mom's preferred method—the fork!).
  8. Bake for about 18 minutes or until edges of the cookies just about begin to show brown. Let cool on a wire rack before serving.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • John Lambert
    John Lambert
  • SandraH
    SandraH
  • Arati Menon
    Arati Menon
  • Neha Vedpathak
    Neha Vedpathak
Arati Menon

Recipe by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.

15 Reviews

Neha V. February 10, 2021
I was looking for a simple short break cookie recipe to make for this Valentine's day and on a whim typed Shrewsbury biscuits in the search bar, half expecting to find no results and to my surprise and delight found your recipe and the sweet note from the Author. I grew up in Pune and I am (like the other reader) very much in love with and nostalgic for the famous Kayani Bakery - its a taste and a marker of my childhood. So thank you for sharing your story and the recipe here. Its so true that food memories only get stronger and richer with time. I am very much going to make them soon. Will report back :)
 
Anusha J. December 23, 2020
Arati, I made these the other day and they were fabulous! Thank you for the recipe. But I was looking up other recipes online for Shrewsbury biscuits and noticed that your version calls for way more butter than most others - almost double the butter. The proportion I noticed has been 1:1:3 for sugar: butter: flour. If I'm going to be eating these often (as I have fallen hard for these as my new tea-time snack), have you tried variations with possibly less butter? What would ideally happen? Would be good to know before I start experimenting :)
 
Jessamin November 8, 2020
Made these tonight and would 100% make them again. I am not a good baker, but they came out wonderfully. After reading the comments carefully, I decided to make these half-size (half golfballs?) and, even though it melted the dough, I rolled each ball in my hand until it was a pretty much perfect sphere. I think this made a big difference, because although they spread a bit, they actually looked like the picture. I used a fork for texture and did the lemon, which I think I'll stick with next time!
 
Author Comment
Arati M. November 8, 2020
So happy to read this! Glad they came out well!
 
C F. August 25, 2020
These are surprisingly addicting. I used zest from a medium sized orange and the rose water. Together with the caraway seeds, those flavors add an exotic touch to the shortbread. Definitely find the rose water if you can. I'll be making these again!
 
Author Comment
Arati M. August 25, 2020
So glad you enjoyed them!
 
Reshma A. April 16, 2020
I grew up in Pune and these were my absolute favorite!! There is nothing else in the world like a Shrewsbury biscuit. While my sister was shopping at Babe for trendy clothes in Camp (the part of Pune where Kayani bakery is), I would be in line across the street for as many Shrewsbury’s I could get my hands on. When I moved to the States, my grandmother would make it a point to send me packages of these biscuits as often as possible. Can’t wait to try my hand at these and thanks for taking me back!
 
Author Comment
Arati M. April 16, 2020
Hi Reshma, it's so lovely to read your note with your personal memories of Kayani and their legendary Shrewsbury Biscuits. I'd love for you to try your hand at making these—they're really quite simple. We may never know Kayani's proprietary recipe, but it's certainly inspired by theirs (and other versions). As this blogpost (http://rouhini.blogspot.com/2012/08/shrewsbury-biscuits.html) mentions: Kayani's version uses neither eggs nor caraway. They're delicious, nevertheless. Enjoy.
 
John L. March 16, 2020
Your biscuits have become a favorite among my wife and her tea party ladies (and my astute and insightful biscuit-loving son). My wife was afraid the toasted caraway seeds would "take over" the flavor (but they did not)!
I've made a few batches and last week made two batches and in one I substituted orange zest for lemon zest. The results:
My wife prefers lemon over orange;
Our son said they were both outstanding, and doesn't have a preference as long as I keep baking the biscuits;
Our local town clerk says they're both great, but definitely prefer the orange; and
I have not YET heard back from a "ladies tea party" and her family, so stay tuned.
But my "golf-ball-sized" biscuits spread more widely and thinner than your pictures.
Do you think that, because I use measuring cups instead of a food scale, that my 1.75 Cups is too little flour (as Rosa implies)??
Notes: I chill the dough for about 30 minutes and don't mind that they are not perfectly round. I figure that is mostly your food stylist's and photographer's concern, but mine are not as thick as yours. That said, I and my audience thank you!
 
Author Comment
Arati M. March 17, 2020
Hi John! Your note makes me so happy, I totally needed to read this! I almost want you to make me a batch of these; you seem to have a flair for it!! :) So, to your question: do try using a food scale and let me know if 220 grams helps. Having said that, they are totally not a perfect round when I make them either, and definitely spread. I like that about them—the imperfections... (And do tell your wife that I agree with her: I prefer the lemon over the orange.)
 
SandraH December 15, 2019
What a lovely story! My family loves shortbread and my daughters and I all make the same recipe which was their grandmother’s shortbread (my mom). The taste of it makes us feel close to her. My mom’s recipe uses cornstarch besides all purpose flour and is hand mixed only. I may need to try this Shrewsbury biscuit too!
 
Author Comment
Arati M. December 15, 2019
Hi Sandra. I love that this reminds you of your mom—and all the wonderful ways in which she showed her love through her baking! I hope you will try this; I think you could totally go with hand mixing it, too. Enjoy.
 
Rosa J. December 8, 2019
I have just made these using the metric proportions, and was surprised by the stickiness of the dough, which was more like chocolate chip cookie dough. I chilled the cookies, which were very difficult to shape, but they still turned into greasy puddles in the oven. I then realized that the metric proportions are off - 1 3/4 cups flour is at least 210 grams, not 188 grams. Unfortunately, this seems to make a big difference. It's too late for my batch of cookies, but I hope that others can benefit from a correction to the recipe.
 
Rosa J. December 8, 2019
A note: they still tasted good and I will try this recipe again using the US measurements!
 
Author Comment
Arati M. December 8, 2019
Hi Rosa. Thank you for your note. I'm sorry to hear about the confusion around the metric conversions. I've looked into it, and it appears the measurements (in grams) were added in after. I have reverted to the original measurements now (that I use). I'm very glad to hear they still tasted good. Just a note, though, the dough will still be sticky, so feel free to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes, as recommended, and don't forget to leave 3 inches between the balls, because they spread. Also, don't worry if the cookies are not perfectly round; that's part of the fun. I hope you will try them again.