Roald Dahl died in the winter of 1990. During the last year of his life he worked with his wife Felicity, known always as Liccy, in writing a family cookbook. This is a book that charts the comings and goings of family and friends, a variety of their cooks, shopping guidance, judicious cooking and the accompanying eating and drinking (Dahl had an enviable cellar, stuffed to bursting with his favourite Clarets, many from the fabled ’82 vintage). Above all it records an engaging life around a sizeable dining room table.

I was pleased to lay my hands on a copy of the book and have since tried a number of the recipes. As you may expect, many are accompanied by anecdote and mischief. The story surrounding one recipe unexpectedly burrowed its way into my life, and much later I got around to baking it. The tale begins with Roald and Liccy in the Netherlands, visiting a bookshop in Arnhem to undertake a book signing. His own evocative words are testimony to that day :

“A short distance from the bookshop there is a patisserie called Hagdorn at 14 Grote Oord and while I was signing away, the proprietor sent in to me a present, a small box of his own special biscuits called Arnhemse Meisjes (Arnhem Girls). While my right hand kept signing away, my left hand idly opened the box and fished out one of the biscuits. It was flat and thin and oval, and crystals of sugar were embdded in the top of it. I took a nibble. I took another nibble. I savoured it slowly. I took a big bite and chewed it. The taste and texture were unbelievable. This I told myself, is the best biscuit I’ve ever eaten in my life. I ate another and another, and each one I ate only strengthened my opinion. They were simply marvelous. I cannot quite tell you why, but everything about them, the crispness, the flavour, the way they melted away down your throat made it so that you could not stop eating them.”

 How could anyone resist baking a biscuit with such a pedigree?

In parallel to the lure of this recipe, my son Matthew had recently succeeded in encouraging a delightful resident of the Netherlands, Charlotte, to marry him. Thus the biscuits managed to chime with something of a conjugal resonance. As a result of their forthcoming plans, we have spent a little more time in the Netherlands expanding our knowledge of the golden age of Dutch painting (thank you, as always, Vermeer) and adding van der Weyden, Memling, Massijs and Pourbus to our list of ‘Desert Island Disc’ artists. In addition we have discovered that some of the most exciting restaurant food of the Netherlands appears to arrive faultlessly from the far east and that Dutch beer can creep up on you when least expected. We have been exposed to the joys of Bitterballen, a beef croquette that suddenly manages to turn every Dutch pub into a Tapas bar and Stroopwaffel, a biscuit-come-cake which feels like it may require a stand-by cardiologist during consumption.

The Netherlands has welcomed us and as Hagdorn has disappointingly shut up shop, my reciprocal Elysian gift was the baking of some Arnhem Girls, which, I am pleased to report, went entirely according to Roald’s translated recipe and Patisserie Hagdorn’s original plan.

Arnhem Biscuits from Roald Dahl’s Cookbook (1991) Felicity and Roald Dahl

Roald writes, “We have retained the original measurements of the Dutch recipe. The dough is best left overnight for ease of handling”

Makes about 35 – 40 biscuits

190 gms plain flour

100 gms milk

4 drops of lemon juice

5 gms fresh yeast

105 gms unsalted butter (divided equally into 5 pieces of 21 gms each)

A pinch of salt if using iunsalted butter

Rock sugar is used instead of a floured surface. (I used sugar cubes that I lightly crushed with a rolling pin)

Mix together the flour, milk, lemon juice and yeast, adding a pinch of salt if necessary

With an electric beater on high speed beat 1 piece of butter into the mixture for about 2 minutes

Continue in the same way for the remaining butter pieces

Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate over night

Pre heat the oven to 140°C/275°F/Gas Mark 1 and line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper

Dredge your rolling surface with crushed sugar cubes (rock) sugar, then roll out the dough over the sugar, sprinkling it with some more crushed sugar and continue to roll until very thin

With a biscuit cutter, cutout the dough (Ovals are the traditional shape)

Place the biscuits on the lined baking sheets and sprinkle with more crushed sugar

Bake for 30-45 minutes or until crisp and lightly golden

Wine thoughts

 Although many will relish these biscuits with their morning coffee (I did), a wine that would fit nicely might be a soporific afternoon glass of Madeira. Miss out the Sercial and Verdhelo, which are dry versions, and head for Bual the demi-sec style, or more fittingly perhaps; a Malmsey (or Malvasia). Sweet and delightfully fragrant, Malmsey has a traditional full-bodied, rich style with a clean, refreshing finish. So deliciously more-ish, it’s best left until later if you happen to be signing copies of your most recent novel.