My teenage Anglophilia started with music—The Smiths, New Order, The Wedding Present—and quickly spread to sweets, particularly the Brits’ delightful array of candy and cookies, or biscuits. As I was about to order some sugary imports during the pandemic, I realized I had the time to try making some of my favorite UK biscuits at home rather than pay inflated transatlantic shipping prices. Here’s the first entry in my very own Great Biscuit Fake Off.
Chocolate Hobnobs, manufactured by British biscuit giant McVitie’s, was voted the nation’s favorite biscuit in a 2014 poll by the packaging firm KernPack—and that’s no small achievement considering how many goddamn biscuits the British consume. It’s also no surprise, considering how delicious they are. The base is a not-too-sweet, slightly crunchy oat-and-whole-wheat disc. The chocolate coating is thin (but not too thin) and available in light or dark varieties. You can also get a Hobnob without any chocolate coating at all, but why would you want to?
There’s something almost healthy-tasting about a Hobnob, which is perhaps no surprise given that it’s descended from another very popular British biscuit, the digestive—so named because its Scottish inventors originally used baking soda in the recipe, which they believed aided in digestion. Hobnobs, however, are coarse and dense, while most digestives are smooth and more airy. One is like a nice hearty wheat bread while the other is like a plain white: each has its time and place.
Because chocolate Hobnobs are my favorite of the British biscuits, I spent a not unreasonable amount of time getting my own version just right. There are dozens of recipes for knockoff Hobnobs online with vastly different ingredients and techniques. Mine is a hodgepodge of those, based on trial and error, though it’s most influenced by the blog Butter Baking.
One thing I learned: This is a durable cookie, and certain substitutions won’t return a markedly inferior result. For example, my version calls for whole wheat flour, but they’re almost as tasty (though less hearty) when made with all-purpose. If you don’t have unsalted butter, salted is fine, though you may want to reduce the amount of actual salt in the recipe. But one thing that, unless you’re a Brit, you almost certainly don’t have on hand is Lyle’s Golden Syrup. There’s no real American equivalent to this ingredient, which is basically just sugar syrup, but you can make your own or buy it on Amazon or at bigger grocery stores. (A little bottle is good for many, many batches of Hobnobs.)
While I was working out my own recipe for Hobnobs, I made many batches, and none of them were bad. My homemade biscuits are far less uniform-looking than the store-bought version—you might even say uglier—but they have a fresh chewiness and deep caramel note that the others lack. In other words, they’re way better.
If you’d rather try a package of Hobnobs before attempting to make your own, they’re also easy to find at bigger U.S. grocery stores or online via Amazon or specialty sellers like English Tea Store. And if you live in the UK, chances are some Hobnobs can be found within a block of where you’re sitting.
Makes 16-20 cookies, depending on size
1 stick (8 Tbsp.) plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (salted is fine, too), divided and room temperature
⅓ cup brown sugar, packed
2 Tbsp. Lyle’s Golden Syrup
⅔ cup rolled oats (Bob’s Red Mill Extra Thick are great for these)
⅔ cup + 1 Tbsp. whole wheat flour (all-purpose works fine, too, but anything more delicate won’t hold together)
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt (a bit less if you’re using salted butter)
¾ cup chocolate, whatever variety suits your taste (I use Guittard semi-sweet 46% chocolate chips)
Thoroughly combine the stick of butter and the brown sugar, preferably with a stand mixer. Then mix in the Lyle’s Golden Syrup.
Dump everything else except the chocolate right on top and mix at a slow speed until it’s well combined. Your dough will not seem super cohesive at this point, but that’s okay.
With clean hands, push the dough together into a ball and wrap with plastic wrap. It might not look very appetizing at this stage, but don’t fret. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes until it’s slightly more cohesive. If you leave it in the fridge much longer, you’ll have to let it sit on the counter for a few minutes before shaping the cookies.
When the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Using your fingers, grab about a teaspoon of dough and press it into a flat circle about 1½” in diameter and ¼” thick. (Don’t worry about being too precise here.) The cookies will spread and flatten as they bake. Continue until all the dough is gone.
Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the edge of the thinnest cookie starts to really darken. This is also a matter of taste and texture; I like them more well-done. If you’re more inclined toward chewy than crunchy, you can take them out at the 10-minute mark.
Leave the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack. They will tend to fall apart when they’re right out of the oven, but they will harden up pretty quickly. After 10-15 minutes, they’ll be ready for some chocolate.
Combine the chocolate with the remaining two tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. (You can use a microwave or a double-boiler, but the chocolate tastes and sets better coming from a saucepan.)
Once the chocolate is spreadable—but not too watery—scoop about a half-teaspoon onto each cookie, spreading it with the back of the spoon. If you want to get fancy and try to recreate the Hobnob design, go for it, but it doesn’t make them taste any better. Experiment with different amounts of chocolate per cookie to find your bliss. Once the chocolate cools, they’re ready for your mouth. They keep nicely for several days in an airtight container.
Next time: You won’t believe how easy it is to make your own delicious shortbread. Three ingredients!