Gluten free digestive biscuits are the lightly sweet, wheaty tasting British tea biscuits that are perfect with your afternoon cup. The chocolate's on the bottom!
What are digestive biscuits?
The most famous “digestive biscuits” are the original tea biscuit made by McVitie's. They're super popular in the U.K., and were first made in the late 1800's.
They were created, like graham crackers were in the U.S., to aid in digestion. I don't think digestives or graham crackers are the thing you're going to turn to when you're looking for help digesting your food, but your mouth, your business.
What these are good for is as a companion for your afternoon tea, an after-school snack, or a late night nibble. The original biscuits are crispy and crunchy, and only lightly sweet. They're used much like graham crackers, too, in making no bake crusts.
McVitie's makes digestives, and something called Hobnobs. There are also other companies that make digestive biscuits, but I don't know if anyone else makes Hobnobs. I've never had them, but I understand them to be like digestives but seem to be oaty and heartier.
McVitie's makes a gluten free variety of Hobnobs, but I don't think they make gluten free digestives, specifically. There are other companies, like Schar, that make a GF variety of digestives.
What makes digestive biscuits so good?
I'm including this question because it was one of the questions that popped up in the search engine when I was looking for information on McVitie's. The answer snippet on the search page was really unsatisfying.
To American tastes, digestive biscuits may taste “only okay.” They're lightly sweet, but their appeal is mostly in the texture, which is crispy and almost a bit mealy (in a good way!).
My American children (teenagers, all) are kind of split on how much they like these biscuits. One of my children shrugs and claims they taste “like nothing,” but he says that about a great many things. ?♀️
My other two children like their texture and lightly sweet taste a lot. Of course, the chocolate coating doesn't hurt.
By the way, I feel obligated to clarify that the chocolate coating is actually the bottom of the biscuit, not the top. On the original store-bought kind, the name “Digestives” is printed on the top.
How to give gluten free baking that wheaty taste
Whenever I'm trying to give gluten free baking that chewy, hearty, wheaty taste, I also use two ingredients that I call my whole grain gluten free flour blend: 75% sweet white sorghum flour + 25% teff flour.
I never bake anything with just that blend, since I find it to be nearly impossible to work with whatever dough I use it in without the addition of a rice-based all purpose gluten free flour blend. In this recipe, just under half of the flour used in the recipe is made up of the whole grain blend.
If you don't have sweet white sorghum flour, you can use an equal amount, by weight, of gluten free oat flour. It's similarly hearty. I imagine that the taste, then, is probably closer to Hobnobs, but I'm American, so, you know…
Ingredients and substitutions
In place of dairy milk powder, you can use coconut milk powder for a dairy-free version. If you're dairy-free, use an unsweetened non-dairy milk in place of cow's milk. And replace the milk chocolate in the glaze with a dairy-free chocolate.
In place of butter, try using vegan butter. Melt brand and Miyoko's Kitchen brand are my favorites. If you use a butter substitute, you may find that the biscuits spread more in the oven, since they will usually have at least some more moisture. Try chilling the cutout before placing them in the oven to reduce spread.
In place of cornstarch, you can use arrowroot powder or even potato starch. You need a tasteless, pure starch.
Sweet white sorghum flour
In place of sorghum flour, you can use gluten free oat flour in an equal amount by weight. It makes a slightly less crunchy biscuit.
Lyle's golden syrup
Lyle's is a mild tasting invert syrup. In its place, you can use light corn syrup, which has no taste, just sweetness. I don't recommend using maple syrup (less sweet, different texture), or honey (right texture, stronger taste), but honey will work. It will just add some unwanted flavor.
Gluten Free Digestive Biscuits
For the biscuits
1 1/4 cups (175 g) all purpose gluten free flour (see Notes), plus more for sprinkling
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if your blend already contains it)
1/4 cup (36 g) cornstarch (see Notes)
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (130 g) sweet white sorghum flour (see Notes)
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (45 g) teff flour
3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon (20 g) milk powder (see Notes)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (109 g) packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons (112 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons (42 g) Lyle’s golden syrup (see Notes)
1/2 cup (4 fluid ounces) milk, at room temperature
For the chocolate glaze
12 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons (42 g) virgin coconut oil
- GF Flour Blend: I originally developed this recipe for use with our gum-free gluten free flour blend along with the addition of some xanthan gum, and I believe that creates the perfect texture. But it still works using a xanthan gum-containing blend like Better Batter, which contains more xanthan gum than our addition.
- Cornstarch: If you use a higher starch all purpose gluten free flour blend, like Cup4Cup, add another 1/4 cup (36 g) of the flour blend in place of the addition of cornstarch.
- Sorghum flour: In place of sorghum flour, you can use gluten free oat flour in an equal amount by weight. It makes a slightly less crunchy biscuit.
- Milk powder: You can use nonfat dry milk, whole milk powder, or even coconut milk powder for a dairy-free version.
- Lyle’s golden syrup: This is a mild tasting invert syrup. In its place, you can use light corn syrup, which has no taste, just sweetness. I don’t recommend using maple syrup (less sweet, different texture), or honey (right texture, stronger taste), but honey will work. It will just add some unwanted flavor.
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line rimmed baking sheets with unbleached parchment paper and set them aside.
In a large bowl, place the flour blend, xanthan gum, cornstarch, sorghum flour, teff flour, milk powder, and salt, and whisk to combine well. Add the brown sugar and mix, breaking up any lumps in the sugar. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the butter, syrup, and milk, mixing to combine after each addition. The dough will be thick and somewhat sticky. If necessary, flour your hands lightly and knead the dough together at the end to form a cohesive disk.
Place the dough on a lightly floured flat surface covered with a piece of parchment paper. Sprinkling lightly with flour as necessary to prevent sticking, roll out the dough about 3/8-inch thick (just slightly thicker than 1/4-inch). Cut out rounds with a floured 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter. Transfer the rounds to the prepared baking sheet by removing the dough surrounding the shapes, then peeling the paper away from the shapes and lifting them carefully onto the baking sheet. Place the rounds about 1-inch apart from one another. Using a toothpick, prick small holes randomly over the surface of each round. Gather and reroll scraps to cut out more rounds until you’ve used up all the dough.
Place the baking sheets, one at a time, in the center of the preheated oven and bake until the biscuits are lightly golden brown on the edges and dry to the touch (about 10 minutes). Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
While the biscuits are cooling, prepare the glaze. Place the chopped chocolate and coconut oil in a small, heat-safe bowl and melt either in the microwave at 60% power in 45-second bursts, stirring in between, or in a double boiler until melted and smooth. Allow the glaze mixture to cool slightly until it has begun to thicken a bit. Dip the bottoms of each cookie in the glaze, and then place chocolate side up on a piece of parchment or waxed paper. Alternatively, spoon the chocolate glaze on the top of the cooled cookies. Allow the chocolate to set briefly, then drag the tines of a fork in a wiggly pattern through the chocolate coating. Allow the cookies to sit at room temperature until the chocolate is set.
Adapted from the book Gluten-Free Classic Snacks: 100 Recipes for the Brand Name Treats You Love, by Nicole Hunn. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2015
Thanks for the recipe. My wife had been ordering digestives (the non-chocolate version) from England and I couldn’t eat them because of the gluten. I grew up in England though it’s almost 50 years since I left and my wife grew up in Canada but with English parents so we both love this type of thing. We have done the recipe three times now minus the chocolate. We found we need to roll out the dough quite a bit thinner than you say in order to get the number of cookies and to bake them for a few more minutes than you say. We also found them too sweet for our taste so we halved the sugar and added a quarter cup of ground flax seed to get the crumbly texture of the true English cookies. We are still experimenting but like them a lot. Thanks again!
Nicole Hunn says
That’s quite a lot of tinkering, Nick. Sugar isn’t just a sweetener, but a tenderizer and a bulking agent. You’re pretty much creating a new recipe of sorts with those changes, as this recipe does not contain flax seeds, which have a very strong taste and definitely alter the chemistry. I’m afraid you’re on your own with all that!
Thanks for the storage tip!
I made these today and they were a hit! Probably my favorite thing I’ve made from the blog so far. ??
I subbed coconut nectar for the Lyle’s syrup. I think it’s less sweet than honey and to my palette it had a pretty neutral taste.
I ended up having a lot of glaze left over. But, I didn’t mind one bit! The leftovers make for DELICIOUS chocolate-covered strawberries and nuts.
Nicole Hunn says
That’s an interesting substitute, Amanda! I would think coconut nectar would be too thin, but maybe I’m misremembering its consistency. So glad you loved them. Sounds like a back-pocket recipe for you. :)
I’m excited to make these tomorrow! I just so happen to have ordered sorghum and teff flours last week, so this recipe was well-timed. :)
I wanted to ask in advance, because it’s something that I always struggle with: Is there a way to store these that they will stay crisp?
Thanks for all you do, Nicole!
Nicole Hunn says
Hi, Amanda, good question, and yes! Generally, if you want to keep baked goods like cookies crisp and crunchy, store them in sealed a glass jar at room temperature. Plastic tends to draw moisture into them, but glass doesn’t. Just be sure you don’t add anything that isn’t crispy to the jar. Hope that helps!
Jodie Keary says
I made these biscuits yesterday and substituted oat flour, which I made from whole oats, for the sweet sorghum and buckwheat for the teff. They are delicious. Taste a lot like graham crackers. It was hard to limit myself to just two.
Nicole Hunn says
Buckwheat is an interesting replacement for teff flour, Jodie. Good idea! So glad to know that it worked and that you enjoyed them.
I can’t wait to make these, they look so good! I also just dropped off my oldest daughter for her freshman year of college. I have been racking my brain to think of a gluten free tray I can send her that won’t taste old by the time she gets it. Definitely interested in your ideas!
Nicole Hunn says
Aw, Karen, I feel for you! I’m thinking cookies are the way to go (cookies always seem like the way to go for me), but I’ll have to be sure to share what I come up with for sure!
Stuart Carter says
Home made golden syrup is super easy to make, if you’re comfortable dealing with sugar syrups. This is my recipe:
Love to make these but all the coconut powder I’ve seen has dairy in it. Is there anything else that can be used Nicola. I’ve got all the ingredients except that. Thanks. ?
Nicole Hunn says
Native Forest brand is dairy-free, Rosemary. It’s even vegan.
Anita S says
Any substitution for the teff flour?
Nicole Hunn says
I explain in the ingredients and substitutions section that I don’t know of any, no, Anita. Sorry!