Pressed Biscuits

Biscuits have always been – and are still – my nemesis in the kitchen. I have always struggled to get them fully cooked and crispy but not burnt or soft and chewy like giant cookies but neither raw nor overcooked. These pressed biscuits are small enough that you can basically guarantee that you will not end up with a raw centre (unless you underbake them which I have been known to do when I’m desperately trying not to brown the biscuits too much).

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This is the biscuit press!

The biscuit press that I use was my grandma’s and it still works brilliantly. They are absolutely worth investing in because they are not that expensive and, although you may not use them every week, when you need them these presses are invaluable – you can churn out hundreds of identical biscuits with very little effort. Most presses have a single or double setting on them. This basically dictates the size of the finished biscuits but it is worth having a play with yours to get used to it as if the dough is too soft, the double setting on the press can end up with blurry, smudged looking biscuits. It’s a classic example of just getting to know your equipment for the best results.

My biscuit recipe is a classic sugar cookie dough. This is probably the simplest form of biscuit you can make as there are no added flavours or ingredients that could affect the final outcome, it is just flour, butter, sugar, egg and vanilla… (also salt). Lots of recipes use different proportions of these ingredients to get the same style of biscuit so don’t be worried if your personal recipe is slightly different – the changes are usually very minor. Some recipes also use a raising agent however I feel that, if you beat your butter and sugar enough, there is plenty of air whipped into the mixture allowing the biscuits to rise a little and spread in the oven – ensuring that all the different sections are connected – but not so much that all definition from the biscuit press shape is lost. There is also a mindset that you should use icing sugar for this style of biscuit. It would make sense as Viennese whirls use icing sugar for their sweetness but the dough for this recipe has to be considerably tougher than that used for the whirls if only because it has to snap when you lift up the press, it cannot stretch into trails, you want the strands of biscuit to break cleanly leaving a beautiful, pressed result.

For flavoured biscuits, you can replace the vanilla with any sort of other extract or you could replace a couple of tablespoons of flour with cocoa, matcha, or some instant coffee powder for a colourful flavoured biscuit. You can even combine complementary flavours of dough in the press to get a beautiful, marbled result.

 

Pressed Biscuits (Spritz biscuits)

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Makes three to five sheets of biscuits depending on the size

 

335g butter

225g sugar

450g flour (for chocolate biscuits, replace 40g flour with cocoa)

1 egg

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180°C)

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

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Beat in the egg, vanilla and salt.

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Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined – if you overwork the mixture, the biscuits will be tough.

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Set up your biscuit press according to its instructions.

Select the piped shaped you want at the end and fill the press with one quarter of the dough.

Press the dough through onto a baking sheet to cover it in mini biscuits. It may take a bit of practice with your machine to work out which setting gives the best results. I have found on mine that for some shapes, a single click is enough but for others, you really need the double.

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Bake the biscuits for ten minutes.

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These are chocolate, not a burnt version of the last picture!

Allow to cool for a minute to harden up and then transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool completely.

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These biscuits will stay fresh for a few days if you keep them in an airtight box so don’t feel the need to eat them immediately…. or do eat them, no judgement here. I would not blame you!

 

If you are a fan of biscuits and fancy trying something a little bit more intricate than these, why not have a go at making my checkerboard biscuits? They look really cool and are a fantastic mix of vanilla and chocolate flavours.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a vegetarian treat.

H

Italian Meringue Macarons

I feel as though I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with macarons. I love to eat them (homemade or not) but hate the effort required to make them. Seriously, have you ever sieved ground almonds for anything else? It’s a nightmare. In addition to that, I feel really guilty if I think about buying them because I know that I could make them for far less than they cost in the shops especially the good ones, I mean come on, £18.00 for eight macarons… are you having a laugh @Ladurée?

Last time I talked about macarons on thatcookingthing, I was rather vague and only gave a little detail about all of the different parts of the macaron which make it what it is. This time, I want to focus on one specific element – the meringue. There are two methods of making macarons – one using French meringue and the other using Italian. I assume that you could also use Swiss meringue but having never seen a Swiss meringue based recipe, I feel like they are either not very successful or not very nice (because Swiss meringue is super easy to make so would be brilliant for this kind of thing). French meringue is the “classic meringue” you think of. Caster sugar is beaten into whipped egg whites to create a glossy, sugary mix which is thick and voluminous. Italian meringue is slightly more tricky as a sugar thermometer is needed. Sugar syrup at 118°C is poured into whipped egg whites to make a super thick meringue which is incredibly stable.

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French Meringue Macarons – not my most successful!!

French meringue is very delicate – this is the method I used for my last macaron recipe; however it is easy to over mix the batter when you are folding in the dry ingredients. The final result is a bit denser than the macarons made using the Italian method and is also less sweet as the ratio of sugar to almonds is smaller. The feet formed on French macarons tend to be more irregular and bulging outwards than on their Italian counterparts. As it uses a far more stable meringue, the Italian method tends to be used more often in professional bakeries as it is easier to get the same results consistently. These macarons tend to rise more vertically than the French ones and the feet formed are more regular and taller with small bubbles in them. I have found that Italian macarons always require resting to form a skin before baking whereas French ones can often get away with being piped and baked immediately.

Personally, I prefer the French method. I think the end result is more to my taste, it’s less sweet than the Italian method and it is also far simpler. As a result of the stability of Italian meringue, the folding section of the recipe takes far longer as you have to beat the air out of the mixture until it reaches the right consistency – this is not easy when the meringue is famous for not deflating. Despite what I said about them earlier, Ladurée, one of the most famous macaron patisseries, use the French method over the Italian one so I can’t hate them too much. Pierre Hermé (the other famous macaron makers) on the other hand use the Italian method – and are also slightly more expensive so it’s a double fault for them!

Have a go at the recipe below and let me know what you think. It would be fascinating to find out whether people prefer the Italian or the French method.

Good luck.

 

 

 

Italian Meringue Macarons

Work time: 1 hour

Rest time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

 

 

260g ground almonds

260g icing sugar

200ml egg whites (split into two 100ml measures)

¼ tsp cream of tartar

200g caster sugar

1/3 cup water

Optional: 2 tbsp instant coffee or 2 tbsp cocoa

 

Filling:

300ml double cream

300g dark chocolate

25g brown sugar

25g butter

 

Tip the almonds and icing sugar into the bowl of a food processor and blend for 30 seconds to help grind them to a finer powder.

Sieve the ground almond and icing sugar mix into a bowl. If there are a couple of tablespoons of ground almond bits left in the sieve, discard them.

If you wish to add the coffee or cocoa, sieve it in now.

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Tip in 100ml egg white and mix together thoroughly. Cover and set to one side.

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To make the meringue: tip the caster sugar and water into a heavy based saucepan.

Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar.

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Use a sugar thermometer and keep cooking until the sugar reaches the soft ball stage (116-118°C).

 

When the sugar has reached 110°C start to whisk the remaining 100ml egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the cream of tartar once the mix is foamy. You want the egg whites to reach soft peaks by the time the sugar is up to temperature.

Once the sugar reaches 118°C, remove it from the heat. With the beaters running on high, gently stream the sugar syrup down the side the of bowl (trying to avoid pouring it directly onto the whisk).

Leave the beaters running until the outside the bowl feels cool again and the meringue is super thick and glossy.

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Take one third of the meringue and stir it into the ground almond mixture until completely combined. This will slacken up the mixture making the next step easier.

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Fold the rest of the meringue through the almond mixture.

Continue to fold and beat the mixture until it flows in thick ribbons off the spatula. You should be able to draw a figure of eight with the mixture as it flows off the spatula. This figure of eight will slowly sink into the rest of the batter over fifteen seconds or so.

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Line five or six baking trays.

Load the mixture into a piping bag and pipe small circles about 3cm in diameter leaving a couple of centimetres between them.

Lift the tray and smack it down on the surface a couple of times. Rotate the tray by 180° and repeat. This will pop any air bubbles stuck in the mixture. I also use a small pin to pop any remaining large bubbles that I can see as these will cause your macarons to crack if you are not careful.

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Set the macarons to one side for twenty minutes to allow the top to form a slight skin.

 

While the macarons are resting, preheat the oven to gas mark 2 (150°C).

Bake the macarons for twenty minutes. Test for doneness by gently nudging the top of the macaron, if it sticks a little bit – this is good!

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Remove the macarons from the oven and leave on the tray to cool for five minutes – this will help finish cooking the base.

Gently remove the macarons from the tray and place them, shell side down, on a wire rack to cool.

 

 

To make the filling:

Chop the chocolate and put it into a large bowl.

Heat the cream, butter and sugar until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is about to boil.

Pour the hot cream over the chocolate.

Leave for two minutes for the chocolate to melt and then whisk together.

Leave to cool, stirring regularly until it reaches a thick, piping consistency.

 

To assemble:

Pair up the shells by size.

Pipe a large dollop of ganache into the centre of one of each pair and then gently press the other macaron on top. I find that lightly twisting the macaron helps prevent breakages.

Place the macarons in an airtight box in the fridge overnight.

Eat the next day – or even the day after that! They get better with age for the first few days.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. These are delicious with a cup of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, by themselves etc. (you can eat them any time really, you don’t need an excuse).

If you want to try something a bit easier, why not try making standard meringue first and then moving on to these? I have recipes for both Swiss and French meringue knocking around the place on here.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a lovely warming soup recipe (because it is that time of the year again)!

 

Chocolate Ring Biscuits

Whenever someone brings in a Fox’s biscuit selection (other biscuit selections are available), the first ones to go are the chocolatey ring biscuits. The other biscuits are nice but there is something about shortbread with an obscenely thick layer of chocolate that just can’t be beaten for most people. The recipe below is my take on these biscuits. The chocolate layer isn’t quite as thick but you are welcome to double up to a kilo of chocolate and double dip the biscuits if you want them to be ultra-chocolatey.

As the chocolate is being used to coat the outside of the biscuit, and thus will be handled when the biscuit is eaten, it is important to make sure that it is well tempered. Tempering is a process where you control the crystal structure which forms when the cocoa butter in chocolate cools. This is why compound chocolate doesn’t need tempering… there is no cocoa butter in it, they use other fats instead! But real chocolate, with cocoa butter, has a far nicer taste and mouth feel, so to get the best results we must temper the chocolate. This involves melting the chocolate, cooling to a specific temperature and then warming it slightly before it is used.

Cocoa butter has six crystal stages which are arranged by the temperature at which they form: I, II, III, IV, V and VI. This ability to exist in multiple different crystalline structures, as exhibited by cocoa butter, is known as polymorphism and this polymorphic property is what can make or break your chocolate work. When you buy chocolate it has already been tempered and it is packed solid with type V crystals – the tempering not only gives the chocolate a satisfying snap when you break it but also is what keeps it solid at room temperature. Crystal types IV and lower melt well below 27°C, well below body temperature meaning that your chocolate will be soft at room temperature or immediately melt all over the hands of anyone who tries to touch in. In contrast, type V crystals melt just below body temperature (33°C) meaning that your fingertips will not melt it when you pick up the chocolate as they are slightly cooler than your internal temperature but when you put the chocolate in your mouth, it will begin to melt.

The issue is that when you melt chocolate so it can be used for covering the biscuits, you destroy the temper, that is to say that the heating melts the type V crystals which the manufacturer formed in the chocolate. Because of this, you must make sure to heat the chocolate well above the type VI melting point (36-37°C) so that there are no “bad” crystals and you can start the process of forming the chocolate from an unadulterated mixture. While the type VI crystals are solid at room temperature, their melting point is too close to body temperature so they don’t melt in the mouth as nicely as type V. The addition of unmelted chocolate cools the mixture as the unmelted chocolate not only must be warmed to the same temperature as its surroundings but will take in latent heat so that it can also melt. This rapid cooling, whilst also agitating the mixture by stirring, prevents the formation of type VI crystals. The reason we continue to slowly cool the chocolate down to around 28°C is to make sure that it is close to the type V crystal formation temperature. It is then warmed just a little bit to melt any type IV crystals that could have formed, slackening the mixture in the process, and making the chocolate perfect for dipping.

You will notice when you temper chocolate that as you approach the correct temperature, the chocolate becomes a lot more viscous. This is a good indicator that you are almost ready to dip. It will also mean that you get a thicker layer of chocolate on your biscuit and that is always a good thing.

Chocolate Ring Biscuits

Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 18 mins

Dipping time: over an hour

Makes around 35-40 biscuits

Ingredients

11 oz. (310g) plain flour

1/4 tsp salt

7oz. (200g) butter

4 oz. (110g) sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp vanilla extract

To cover:

500g dark or milk chocolate (you will need to temper this if it is real chocolate).

50g white chocolate for decorations.

To make the biscuits:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180°C).

Place the butter and flour into a food processor and blend until the mixture resembles sand (this is like rubbing the butter into the flour – which also works – but is more effective as you don’t introduce heat from your hands).

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Add the sugar and salt and blend again until fully combined.

Pour in the vanilla extract and add the egg yolks. Blend again until everything appears homogenous.

The mixture should feel slightly sticky.

Pour the contents of the blender onto a surface. Use you hands to squeeze all of the bits together and continue to compress until the dough comes together but try to avoid kneading the dough too much so you don’t get too much gluten forming – a little is fine as you need the gluten to hold the biscuits together when you dip them.

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Lightly flour the dough and roll out to ¼ inch (about 1/2cm) thickness.

Use a two-inch cutter to cut as many rounds out of the dough as you can.

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You can bake the biscuits as they are at the moment (circles) but you will get fewer than 40.

To make the rings, use a cutter just smaller than half an inch (about a centimetre) to cut a circle in the centre of each of the larger circles. I found that the cap from a bottle of whisky was best for this as I didn’t have a proper sized cutter.

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Place the rings on a tray lined with baking parchment – leave about an inch between each biscuit.

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Place the rings on a tray lined with baking parchment – leave about an inch between each biscuit.
Let the biscuits rest in the fridge for ten minutes to firm up.

Bake for 18 minutes – or until the biscuits start turning golden around the edge.

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When the biscuits are cooked, transfer them to a wire rack to cool and leave until completely cold.

If you are using compound chocolate, ignore the tempering instructions. Just skip to the dipping stage.

Tempering the chocolate

Chop up two thirds of the chocolate and place it into a large bowl.

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Roughly chop the remaining chocolate and place in a smaller bowl and off to one side for later.

Fill the base of a saucepan with water and place the big bowl of chocolate over the top.

Heat the water until it is just simmering – don’t let it properly boil – whilst occasionally stirring the chocolate in the bowl until it melts. Don’t stir to vigorously (it’s just unnecessary).

Continue to heat the chocolate until it has reached 55°C for dark chocolate or 45°C for milk chocolate. If you do not have a thermometer, dip your finger in and the chocolate should be uncomfortably warm. If you do have a thermometer, you can still dip your finger for an excuse to eat some of the melted chocolate – I would. PSA: remember to wash your finger between dips

Remove the bowl of melted chocolate from the heat.

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Tip the contents of the smaller bowl (the unmelted chocolate) into the melted chocolate and gently stir. This will bring the temperature of the chocolate down whilst also introducing the desired V crystals into the mixture. These V crystals from the unmelted chocolate will help seed the formation of more of them in the melted chocolate as it cools.

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Continue to stir the chocolate until it reaches about 29°C for dark chocolate or 27°C for milk chocolate. This will feel cool to the touch. If you dip a spoon in the chocolate and place it in the fridge, the chocolate should harden very quickly to a semi-shiny state on the back of the spoon.

Place the chocolate back over the heat until it reaches 31°C for dark or 29°C for milk. If you don’t have a thermometer, heat it gently for about 45 seconds to a minute. This will slacken the chocolate a little making it easier to work with.

Remove the chocolate from the heat again.

The Dipping

Set up a dipping station with the biscuits on one side of the bowl of chocolate and a lined baking sheet on the other.

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Use a fork to place a biscuit into the chocolate and make sure it is just covered.

Lift the biscuit out and gently tap the fork on the side of the bowl a few times to let the chocolate drip off.

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Place the biscuit on baking parchment and repeat with the rest.

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For the white chocolate decoration, melt the white chocolate in the microwave in fifteen second bursts stirring between each heating.

Pour the chocolate into a piping bag, make a tiny hole in the end and pipe lines of chocolate across the entire batch of biscuits. This will ensure that the biscuits have the same design but each one is unique.

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I hope you enjoy the recipe. If you fancy trying some classic shortbread or alternatively, going the other way and making yourself some millionaire’s shortbread, you should definitely check out my recipes for them.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a super duper spicy recipe.

H

Pfeffernüsse

Pfeffernüsse and gingerbread are very similar biscuits. Both are sweetened with a mixture of sugar and honey/syrup, flavoured with warm spices and often use the same technique to make the dough. The difference, as you may have guessed from the name, is the primary flavour. Whilst pure gingerbread uses only ground ginger, pfeffernüsse use a full quintet of spices. This selection of warming spices gives the pfeffernüsse a most incredible depth of flavour that is hard to find anywhere else in baking.

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Cloves, allspice, peppercorns, nutmeg and cinnamon in their unground state.

As you may have guessed from the name, the predominant flavour of pfeffernüsse is black pepper. Unlike chilli peppers, the spicy flavour that comes from peppercorns is caused by piperine (not capsaicin). This is why the ‘burn’ caused by eating peppery food feels different. Where capsaicin is aggressive, painful and can be felt through the entire digestive tract, piperine is far milder. A measure of piperine has only 1% of the ‘burn’ that would be experienced with an equal weight of capsaicin and causes a less aggressive, more warming, reaction. Black pepper is the spiciest of all the peppers and comes from the unripe fruit of the plant; green pepper is also unripe but picked at a different stage in the growing process; white pepper is created from the ripened berries of the plant; and pink peppercorns are from an entirely different plant altogether. Pink peppercorns are actually from the same family as cashews and can cause allergic reactions in people with a nut allergy!

The lack of much leavening agent in pfeffernüsse results in a harder texture than standard biscuits (although not nearly as hard as amaretti or biscotti). The butter and syrup soften in the oven and the small amount of bicarbonate of soda expands causing the pfeffernüsse to spread a little, resulting in their domed hemispherical appearance. Before they can spread too much the flour cooks, setting the biscuits in their final shape. The cracks on the surface occur as the outside sets but the inside is still flowing, causing the cooked outside of the biscuit to split open. These cracks are never anything to be worried about. With a sprinkle of icing sugar, they can look artistic or with a thick glaze, they are completely covered up. I often find that if I make my glaze too thin, it can sink into the crevasses of the biscuit so do not be afraid if a second coat is required to get a fully smooth, shiny appearance.

I first came across these in Germany but you don’t need to wait to visit to enjoy these delicious treats. They are easy to make and addictive to eat so have a go and let me know what you think.

 

 

Pfeffernüsse

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Glaze time: 15 minutes

 

Ingredients:

125g butter

270g plain flour

60ml golden syrup

1 egg

150g light brown sugar

½ tsp vanilla extract

¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda

¾ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cloves

¼ tsp ground pepper (the fresher, the better – I use a mortar and pestle to pulverize a mixture or black and pink peppercorns for this but fresh black pepper works fine by itself)

½ tsp ground allspice

¼ tsp grated nutmeg (like the pepper, fresher nutmeg works better)

 

To glaze:

450g icing sugar

60-80ml milk

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3.5 (175°C).

Line two or three baking trays with baking parchment.

Gently stir together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, and spices.

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Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.

Beat in the golden syrup.

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Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat again until fully combined.

With the mixer beating slowly, add the flour and spices and mix until just combined.

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Once the mixture has come together, take a heaped teaspoon and roll it into a tight ball between your palms.

Place the balls about 3cm apart on the baking trays.

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Bake for around 15 minutes until the pfeffernüsse are golden, firm(ish) to the touch and have begun to crack on top.

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Leave to cool.

 

To glaze the biscuits, sieve the icing sugar into a bowl and make a well in the middle.

Add 60ml of milk and slowly mix together to create a smooth, thick icing. If not all of the icing sugar will mix in, slowly add extra milk until everything has combined.

Dunk the top of each biscuit into the icing leaving the base clean. Place the biscuits onto a wire rack to allow the excess icing to drip off.

If you want, you can sprinkle some coarsely ground pink peppercorns over the top to give the biscuits some colour but they look just as beautiful without.

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These keep for a good week or so and actually taste better the day after they are made once the flavours have been allowed to mature!

If you like spiced biscuits, you should definitely check out my gingerbread recipe or if you are looking for a dessert that will suit your Veganuary needs, why not check out my vegan apple pie?

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a hearty winter dinner.

H

Shortbread

January is an odd month. Many people spend it trying to be extra healthy after the indulgence of Christmas and New Year. Dry January and Veganuary are becoming increasingly popular as people try to cut back on unhealthy foods so it is a little sad that the National Shortbread Day is on the 6th of January when lots of people won’t appreciate it.

The first recipes for shortbread date from the 12th century; however the version which we eat today was actually invented in the 16th century and is accredited to Mary Queen of Scots Before her, shortbread was real bread which was covered in spices and sugar before being twice baked – Queen Mary replaced the yeast with butter which stopped the bread from leavening and turned it into a biscuit. The original flavouring in shortbread was caraway seeds – I am incredibly thankful that this is no longer the case – however now you can find vanilla, chocolate, orange and ginger shortbreads amongst many others.

One of the most distinctive things about shortbread is its texture. It is super crumbly as a result of minimal kneading. As the dough isn’t worked very much, gluten can’t build up so the shortbread stays very fragile. The addition of semolina or rice flour helps increase the crumbliness whereas cornstarch makes the biscuits denser and therefore harder. Adding semolina also a good way to prevent yourself from picking at the uncooked dough as it gives it a gritty texture which disappears during cooking but, whilst raw, is really quite unpleasant.

There are several classic shapes of shortbread: the classic shortbread finger (as given below), individual round biscuits (these are rolled to about half an inch thick and then cut) and the classic wedge. These are the easiest to make without any sort of tin as it involves pressing the shortbread into a large circle, baking it and then cutting the biscuits when they are removed from the oven but are still soft. The recipe below gives enough dough to make two large circles eight inches in diameter. The high butter content causes shortbread to spread in the oven which is fine if you are making circular biscuits – just make sure you leave enough room between them – but if you are making fingers, this can be very detrimental to the shape. The best way to get perfect shortbread fingers is to cut the dough but leave it as a block, do not separate the pieces. This prevents them spreading and when you remove the shortbread from the oven, you can just recut along the lines left over and neaten out the edges.

Although it started in Scotland, shortbread has spread around the world and for good reason – it is delicious! I hope you enjoy making it as much as I did and that it becomes favourite for you to bake and eat.

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Shortbread

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Makes about 20 fingers

 

225g (8oz.) unsalted butter

112g (4oz.) caster sugar

225g (8oz.) plain flour

112g (4oz.) semolina (or fine rice flour)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C (gas mark 4).

Cream the butter in a bowl.

Add the sugar and the vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.

Pour in half of the flour and half of the semolina and mix on low until they start to combine.

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The mixture of flour and semolina gives a fantastic texture.

Add the rest of the flour and semolina and slowly beat until all of the ingredients are just combined. You do not want to overwork the shortbread.

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Pour the dough onto a sheet of baking parchment and press out with your hands into a rectangle measuring 11”x6” (25x 15 cm).

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Cut the shortbread into 1”x3” (2.5×4.5 cm) rectangles. The easiest way to do this is one long cut lengthwise down the middle and then measure out one inch blocks along the edge of the dough before cutting. DO NOT SEPARATE THE SHORTBREAD!

Take a fork or a skewer and prick the dough all the way to the base with a pattern of your choosing.

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DO NOT SEPARATE THE SHORTBREAD LIKE I HAVE DONE HERE

Slide the baking paper onto an oven tray and place in the oven and bake for around 20-25 minutes until the shortbread turns a pale golden colour. Do not let it brown any more than this.

Take the shortbread out of the oven and slide the baking paper off the tray onto a cutting board.

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This is why you do not separate the shortbread fingers – they will lose their shape in the oven!

Cut along the lines of the biscuits as they will have sealed up during baking. By cutting the biscuits before you bake them, you will leave a mark in the final product which can then be recut to ensure straight edges and perfect shortbread.

Separate the biscuits and move them onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

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These are delicious by themselves but are a real treat when dunked into a cup of tea. You could also jazz these up by dipping the ends into melted chocolate to make the biscuits really special. They make an excellent gift too. Just take a large sheet of clear plastic and place the biscuits in the middle. Gather up the ends and tie them off with a ribbon to make a beautiful present at Christmas.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you liked this, you should check out how to make macarons. They are a little more technically challenging but if you can master them, there is nothing you can’t do in the kitchen. If you are looking for something a little bit more savoury, why not treat yourself to some delicious onion soup? It’s easy to make and is packed full of flavour.

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a fab on the go lunch

H

Chequerboard Biscuits

Biscuits are my Achilles heel when it comes to baking. They always seem to come out too soft or absolutely rock solid. Luckily, this recipe turns out well almost every time; you just have to be patient when letting the dough rest in the fridge – something I struggle with.

Having been around since the Roman era in one form or another, I feel that it is safe to say that biscuits are one of the oldest types of confectionary out there. Because they kept so well without going off, biscuits were very popular on long distance travels both by horse and on ships. These biscuits were made of just water and flour (sometimes with a little salt) and would be baked several times to ensure they were completely dry – the name biscuit arising from the Latin words bis and coquere meaning twice cooked. Often, they would have to be dunked in brine or tea to make them soft enough to eat! This level of dryness always strikes me as impressive because biscuits soften as they get older so the method of storage would have had to be pretty airtight to prevent the food spoiling over a long voyage which is quite an achievement over 2000 years ago.

One of the most interesting things about biscuits is how they age. This is also one of the main differences between a biscuit and a cake: stale cake goes hard but stale biscuits go soft. This distinction was one of the major factors in the McVitie’s vs HMRC case in 1991 in which the nature of the Jaffa cake was discussed in court to determine whether it was a cake or a biscuit. The argument arose because chocolate covered biscuits are charged at 20% VAT while chocolate covered cakes are not. After a lengthy case – in which McVitie’s baked a giant Jaffa cake to try and prove their point – the court ruled in their favour meaning, for tax purposes, Jaffa cakes are considered cakes.

The premise for chequerboard biscuits can be applied to many different designs. This gives you the chance to get creative. Pinwheels, where you place two rolled out colours of dough on top of each other and roll them up, are a classic. I even made music notes a few years ago. The trick is building the design out of one colour before packing around it in another colour and then slicing the dough to reveal the pattern on each biscuit.

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Good luck!

 

 

Chequerboard Biscuits

Makes: around 30

Prep time: 45 mins

Rest Time: 2hr 30 mins

Cook time: 10 mins

 

 

Vanilla Biscuit Dough:

250g butter (room temperature)

125g icing sugar

250g flour

1 egg (separated)

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

 

Chocolate Biscuit Dough:

250g butter (room temperature)

125g icing sugar

50g cocoa

200g flour

1 egg (separated)

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

 

 

To make the vanilla dough:

Beat the butter until it is soft and pale.

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Add the icing sugar and the salt and beat until the mix is light and fluffy.

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Mix through the vanilla extract and the egg yolk. Reserve the white for later when you are going to assemble the biscuits.

Add the flour in two additions and beat until just combined.

Form into a ball, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for an hour or until firm.

 

To make the chocolate dough:

Repeat the instructions above but add the cocoa at the same time as the vanilla and egg to ensure it is fully combined.

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Once the doughs have hardened, roll each one out into a rectangle 12 x 6 inches (30 x 15 cm) and leave them for another half hour in the fridge.

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Remove the dough from the ridge and divide each one up lengthwise into 9 even strips.

To assemble the biscuits, place a strip of cholate dough onto a piece of cling film.

Brush one side of it with the reserved egg white to help the different pieces stick together.

Align a piece of vanilla dough with the chocolate one and press them lightly together (we will press harder later to fully stick the biscuits together but you don’t want to deform the dough at this point).

Brush the vanilla dough with egg white and add another strip of chocolate next to this.

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Once the base layer is complete, brush the top with egg white and repeat with more strips of dough, alternating the colours, until you get a three by three block.

Tightly wrap this in cling film and then use a flat tray to lightly press down on the top to seal the dough strips together. Rotate the dough onto a different side and repeat. This will also help get sharp edges.

 

Repeat the above steps with the remaining dough (five strips of vanilla and four of chocolate) to get another log with alternating colours to the first.

Place both of these into the fridge for an hour to firm up fully before slicing.

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3 (1600C).

Line two baking trays with parchment paper.

Remove one log from the fridge and slice it into quarter inch pieces (around 7 mm).

Place these onto a baking tray leaving about an inch and a half (around 4 cm) between them for the biscuits to spread in the oven.

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Bake for ten minutes.

Remove the biscuits from the oven. They will still be soft so slide the parchment off the baking tray and leave the biscuits to cool for five minutes to firm up a little before moving them onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

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If you only have two baking trays like I do, slice up the dough and place it onto baking parchment on the counter top so when the tray comes out of the oven, you can slide the baked biscuits off it, run the tray under cold water to cool it down, slide the raw biscuits onto it and then bung it back into the oven.

 

If the chequerboard design doesn’t turn out well or everything falls apart as sometimes can happen, you can always squish the two doughs together and make marbled biscuits. Just make sure to squeeze them into a long round log and cool it before you start to slice the biscuits so you don’t deform them!

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy something of the more cakey variety, check out how to make a delicious, moist carrot cake or if you want a meal instead of a sweet treat, why not make yourself a luxurious smoked salmon risotto.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe involving hot water crust pastry.

H

 

 

Gingerbread House

Last week I promised I would return with a Christmassy treat. I hope that with this recipe I will have delivered!

Gingerbread has been eaten for centuries and has wormed its way into the traditions of many countries. In England we have gingerbread men and houses, in Germany, they eat Lebkuchen and in Sweden gingerbread has been used to help with indigestion since the 1400s.

Gingerbread is thought to have originated just before 1000CE however it wasn’t recorded in trade until some time in the 17th century as production had been controlled by the Gingerbread Guild for the previous 200 years. The biscuits would be served in monasteries and sold in apothecaries and were popular owing to the belief that the ginger had health giving properties. Since then, it has been proven that ginger is good at soothing the stomach and reducing nausea as well as having anti-inflammatory properties.

The first documented case of gingerbread men was from Tudor England when Elizabeth I would present her guests with a likeness of themselves made out of gingerbread. About 250 years later, gingerbread houses started appearing in Germany after the publication of Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm. These were made out of something closer to a ginger biscuit or gingernut than the traditional Lebkuchen as it was too soft to hold the weight – though the decorated gingerbreads are still called Lebkuchen to this day. The gingerbread houses are sometimes made with pepper instead of ginger to create Pfefferkuchenhaus.

Gingerbread houses can take any form from a traditional cottage to a castle. They are normally stuck together with royal icing or caramel though in some cases you can use chocolate. However this is risky as chocolate is very temperature limited and will soften and melt if it gets too hot. Royal icing is very similar to a meringue as it is primarily made from egg whites and sugar however instead of being baked in the oven, it dries in the open air to form a hard surface that can then be decorated upon. Combined with the hard biscuit forming the walls and ceiling, gingerbread houses can be very, very sturdy constructions.

My recipe for a gingerbread house gives enough dough so that the offcuts can be kneaded together and rolled out into other shapes. I had a go at making myself some gingerbread Christmas trees and also iced the cut-outs from the windows so none of it would go to waste. If you are using royal icing, I recommend decorating the sides of the house before you stick it together and let them dry for an hour so you can touch them without smudging the decoration. This is simply because if you decorate them when flat, you don’t have to fight against gravity!

Decorating the house can be a great thing to do with friends and family and the outcome is delicious! You can even use chocolate and sweeties on the outside for added effect. The house makes a stunning centre piece to a table and is a complete showstopper.

 

 

Gingerbread House

Prep time: 30 minutes              Cook time: 25 minutes

Decoration time: Anything from 20 minutes upwards

 

Gingerbread:

900g flour

3 tbsp ground ginger – this is quite a fiery recipe, for a slightly less intense hit, use 2 tbsp

1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda

300g dark brown sugar (muscovado)

325g Unsalted butter

¾ cup golden syrup

 

Royal Icing

3 egg whites

450g icing sugar (sifted)

1 tsp lemon juice

¼ tsp glycerine

 

Make your templates. The ones I used for this were: 8×5 inches for the sides, 8×4 inches for the roof and the front and back were a 5×6 rectangle with a triangle on top 5 inches long and 2 inches tall. You can either make your own or cut out the ones from my template below.

Gingerbread house template

Preheat your oven to gas mark 6 (2000C).

Mix the flour, ginger and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl – make sure the bowl is big enough to hold the other ingredients too as they will be added later.

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Put the butter, syrup and sugar into a heavy based saucepan and melt it together.

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Once the butter mixture has all come together (the sugar doesn’t need to have completely dissolved), pour it into a well in the centre of the flour mix and stir until it starts coming together.

Once the dough has mostly come together in the bowl, use your hands to knead it into a ball and mix in the last bits of flour round the outside.

Divide the mix into thirds and roll out to about 6/7mm thick.

Cut out two shapes of each template but do not remove the outside gingerbread. This means that the edges of the biscuit will burn but this is then removed leaving the gingerbread for the house perfectly cooked! You can remove any dough which is more than a centimetre from the edge of the house.

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Make sure to leave a centimetre or so around the edge of the house to prevent it from burning.

Cut out windows and doors as you see fit – again, leave them in, just cut the shape into the house.

Bake each one for 11-12 minutes until golden (its fine if the edges start to catch as these will be removed)! I would offset the baking of each tray by six minutes. As explained in the next  step.

Once the gingerbread is removed from the oven, it will be very soft. Remove the baking sheet from the tray it is on and lie it on a table. The gingerbread will have spread a little in the oven and filled in all the cuts however they will still be visible.

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The gingerbread has spread however the lines for the windows and edges are still visible.

Working quickly before the gingerbread hardens, cut along the lines with a sharp knife and separate the different pieces. Recut out the windows and door and remove these pieces.

Once it has hardened a little more on the sheet, transfer the gingerbread to a cooling tray to completely harden and cool down – this will take about an hour to make sure it is ready to be used in the house.

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Remember to hold back the pieces that made the doors as you want to put them back on the house once it is decorated.

 

For the icing, place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk with electric beaters for around 8 minutes until the icing is thick and glossy and holds its shape when the beaters are removed – it can sag a little bit but shouldn’t return to a flat layer, you should still be able to see detail.

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The bowl on the right has been beaten for an extra minute which makes all the difference.

Use your pieces of gingerbread to make sure your house will fit together properly and work out which pieces overlap with each other.

Once you know where everything is going, pip a thick line of royal icing down the edges of one of the walls. Use this to stick it together with the two pieces it touches. Hold them in place for 30 seconds of so and if you can, place something up against the wall to keep it in place. Wipe off the excess icing on the outside

Pipe lines of icing down the remaining wall and stick it to the rest of the house. Wipe of the excess and add another line on the inside the strengthen the connections

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Let the house sit for five minutes to give the icing a chance to dry a little before you add the roof.

Use a thick line of icing around the top of the house and add one of the roof pieces.

Pipe along the last exposed edge before you add the final piece of gingerbread (its ok if they overlap a little, we can cover this with icing)!

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Don’t worry if it looks a little scruffy, a good layer of icing will cover a multitude of sins!

Pipe designs on the sides and the roof and let set for at least an hour if not more before serving. I left mine overnight as it lets the icing harden and the gingerbread soften just a little.

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You can even use an electric light to illuminate it from the inside to make the house glow.

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I hope you enjoyed this recipe! If you fancy some more Christmassy flavours, check out my Chocolate and Orange Bread and Butter Pudding or for a lovely main course, have a go at making some Sticky Salmon!

Have a great week and I will be back next Monday with a simple take on a beef wellington!

H