Dutch-process cocoa powder refers to a treatment invented in the 19th century by a Dutch chemist and chocolatier to neutralise the acids and astringent notes in cocoa in order to smooth out its flavour. It also darkens the colour of the powder – perfect for our spooky biscuits!
120g unsalted butter
30g unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp honey
110g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 1 orange (optional)
180g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
For the glaze
100g dark chocolate, chopped
30g unsalted butter
60ml orange juice (or water or milk)
150g icing sugar, sifted
1. Melt 45g of the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, then remove from heat and add the cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and honey. Whisk to combine, then set aside to cool.
2. Place the remaining 75g butter in the bowl of a cake mixer, and beat with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until smooth. Add the sugar and orange zest (if using), and beat for another minute, until light and smooth. Add the cocoa mixture, and continue to mix on medium speed until combined, stopping every so often to scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Sift the flour and salt, then, with the mixer turned to low speed, add to the bowl. Mix until the dough begins to come together, then remove the bowl from the mixer and knead the dough gently by pressing it against the sides of the bowl.
3. Divide the dough into two – it will be soft but should not be sticky – and wrap one piece in cling film for the time being. Place the other piece of dough between two large sheets of baking paper and gently roll out to an even thickness of about 4mm. Peel back the paper from both sides every so often to check it is not getting too sticky or wrinkly; smooth out the paper if it is, and roll again. When it is an even thickness, slide the sheet of dough, including both sheets of paper, onto a baking tray and place in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes to firm up. Repeat with the other piece of dough.
4. Preheat the oven to 170C fan-forced (190C conventional). Slide the first sheet of chilled, firm dough, still between the sheets of baking paper, onto a clean bench. Peel off the top layer of paper and use it to line the baking tray.
5. Using cookie cutters, stamp out shapes, then use a spatula to transfer them to the lined baking tray, spacing them a few centimetres apart. Gather the dough offcuts, cover with a piece of cling film and reserve.
6. Place the tray in the oven and bake for 12-13 minutes. The centre of the biscuits will still be slightly soft but will firm up as they cool. Leave on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
7. While the biscuits are baking, repeat the process with the second sheet of dough. Gather the scraps and press into the first lot of offcuts, then re-roll and make more biscuits.
8. For the chocolate glaze, place chocolate pieces in a medium bowl set over a pan of simmering water, making sure that the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Add the butter and orange juice (or milk, or water) and stir gently over low heat until the chocolate has melted. Remove the bowl from the heat and add the sifted icing sugar. Beat well until smooth, then spread over a thin layer on each biscuit and allow to set before serving.