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

Brandy Snaps

For a long time, I was unaware that brandy snaps could be eaten on their own as opposed to being used a decorations for bigger, grander desserts. While this discovery hasn’t exactly rocked my world, it has given me another recipe in my biscuit arsenal, one that is particularly quick and easy to make! Whilst containing almost identical ingredients to gingerbread, the difference in ratios is what gives brandy snaps their distinctive appearance.

While in the oven, the butter and golden syrup melt, as does the sugar. This makes the brandy snaps  spread out from teaspoon sized blobs to several inches across. The bubbling in the butter causes little holes giving rise to the lacy appearance. As the sugar caramelises in the oven and the butters flows out of the biscuits, they darken. Once removed from the oven, the brandy snaps are far to soft to handle but as they cool, the sugar begins to harden. This is when they should be shaped. Cigars are shaped using an oiled wooden spoon but more exciting shapes can also be made. Laying the soft biscuit over an oiled cup or orange can give a beautiful bowl which can hold a dessert or cutting into triangles or long rectangles and curling can give an ornate garnish to a pudding.

Dating back to the early 1800s, brandy snaps have been around for a long time and haven’t really changed at all! They are traditionally filled with whipped cream however they can also be dipped in chocolate and rolled in nuts to give another dimension. The origin of the name is actually thought to have been derived from the word ‘branded’ referring to the fact that they can appear burnt. Having said that, I can appreciate that you may wish to drink a couple of brandys whilst baking these as they are some of the fiddliest things I have ever created.

One thing to note is that while you want to shape them while they are still hot, they have to cool enough not to break when you handle them (and also not to burn your fingers). Another thing that makes them so useful is if you only want a few to jazz up your dessert, the lack of eggs in the recipe means you can reduce the quantities as much as you want – providing you stick to equal ratios of all ingredients other than the ginger.

I hope you enjoy the recipe and have a chance to try these at home!

 

 

Brandy Snaps

Prep time: 10 minutes          Cook time: 40

Makes: 30 medium sized brandy snaps

100g unsalted butter

100g brown sugar

100g golden syrup

100g plain flour

1tsp ground ginger

(optional: 1tbsp brandy or lemon juice)

 

Vegetable oil and wooden spoons

300ml whipping cream to fill

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (1800C).

Sift the flour and ginger into a bowl and make a well in the middle.

Gently heat the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan until it has all mixed together and the butter is fully melted. DON’T LET THIS BOIL!

Pour the butter and sugar mixture into the well in the flour and mix together.

Add the lemon juice or brandy and mix into the batter – it should be thick and flow very slowly.

Using a half tablespoon (or a heaped teaspoon), dollop four blobs of batter onto each baking sheet – they will spread out a lot so do not put more than 4 on the first couple of sheets. Once you know if you can fit an extra brandy snap on the sheet then you can add one to the next batch.

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Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown – but not too dark as no one wants burnt brandy snaps.

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Minute 0, minute 4 and minute 8.

I tend to use three sheets on a rotation as the lower one doesn’t cook as fast so once I remove the first sheet, I move up the lower one and add the third sheet on the bottom of the oven and work in four or five minute intervals from there.

Lightly brush the handles of some wooden spoons with the vegetable oil.

Let the brandy snaps rest for a minute until they are cool enough to handle and won’t rip when lifted but are still soft and malleable.

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Wrap each one around the handle of the wooden spoon and place (seam side down so they don’t unwrap) onto a surface to cool.

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The brandy snaps should have cooled enough to remove from the wooden spoons without losing their shape when the next batch comes out of the oven.

Keep this rotation going until you have cooked all of the brandy snaps.

 

To fill them, whip the cream and pipe into the brandy snaps from both ends. You can also dip ends of brandy snap into melted chocolate (before filling with cream of course) and roll it in chopped nuts.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. Let me know how these turn out for you, drop me a tag on Instagram @thatcookingthing as I love seeing what you guys create at home. If you fancy something more cakey – check out my recipe for a Yule Log (they don’t have to just be for Christmas)! Alternatively, if you are looking for something a little more savoury, why not make yourself some delicious Curried Parsnip Soup?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a base recipe for one pot pasta which can be adapted to make masses of dishes!

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

Millionaire’s Shortbread

Success in the kitchen. One of the things that you learn very quickly when you have a blog or Instagram is the importance of aesthetics. There are many things I bake which are never mentioned outside my house as they look terrible, didn’t look right or even just tasted plain disgusting. You don’t get anywhere without a decent amount of trial and error.

Of course, over time you learn different food combinations and what works or what doesn’t, but this often comes from making a dish that you regret ever thinking of the moment the first bite touches your lips. While this becomes less common, I do still occasionally make food, get halfway through it and decide it just isn’t palatable. Things like this are never mentioned again and kept secret for fear of people realising that like them, you are just another mere mortal in the kitchen. One thing that they do find out about is when food goes wrong. I have been reduced to tears over something I have made several times.

Once was because I managed to get boiling sugar on my hand which is not a pleasant experience and should be avoided at all costs. Another was because a cake I made stuck in its tin. The cake had multiple layers which needed to set which would have been fine if they hadn’t then stuck to the tin and flowed into the lip at the base rendering the cake almost impossible to remove. In the end, two of my friends managed to help me get the cake out using four knives and fish slice. I learnt a valuable lesson that day. Anything can be covered by a good layer of icing. The battle armour on the cake made it almost impossible to know of the horror that was the outside of the cake where all the layers has mixed into a mess – the cake still tasted fine in the end.

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A decent layer of decorations covers a multitude of sins on this chestnut and chocolate cake

The first time I made millionaire’s shortbread, I messed up. I had no idea what I was doing and tried to boil a tin of condensed milk poured into a pan. Unsurprisingly, it did not set. It was a long time before I tried again and in that interim, I learnt how to make caramel properly which very much helped. My other main kitchen disaster was my first attempt at Macarons. They flowed everywhere inside the tin in the oven and set rock solid through the baking parchment onto the metal below. To this day, I have no idea what happened to them or where I went wrong but it took two days of soaking to remove them and make the tray usable again. Things go wrong and you learn. Many recipes you find have been tried and tweaked and tried and tweaked until the person making it is fully happy with the result. Even then, you will still plan as you get to know how the food cooks and will make minor changes to suite the oven or the temperature outside or even a new tin!

Success in the kitchen comes with time but following written recipes always helps to reduce how long it takes to understand what is going on. I hope that this recipe will stop anyone having the issues I had with making millionaire’s shortbread and will serve you well!

 

 

Millionaire’s Shortbread

This recipe makes about 15-20 shortbreads if you cut them relatively large or over 30 if you cut them small.

Prep time: 45 minutes – Cook time: 15 minutes

 

Shortbread:

250g plain flour

175g butter

75g caster sugar

 

Caramel (this gives a very thick layer of caramel. You can half this for a thinner layer):

300g brown sugar

300g butter

2 tins condensed milk

 

300g chocolate (I used 200g dark and 100g milk)

Optional – White chocolate to decorate

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (1800C)

Line an 11-inch x 11-inch tin with baking parchment – or a tin/tins of equivalent size. If you have a one-piece tin, make sure to line the base and the sides. If your tin has removable sides you only need to line the base.

Rub the butter into the flour – once it looks like breadcrumbs, keep rubbing it in and the mix will start to come together.

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The mix has started to come together but you have to keep going!

Once the butter and flour mix start coming together, add the sugar and stir through with a fork to make sure it is evenly distributed.

Pour the mixture into the tin and spread it out evenly. Compact it down and bake for 15-17 minutes turning the shortbread halfway through the cooking

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Try to compact it down with a square object to avoid the ridge in this photo. The ridge can catch and burn in the oven which is not what you want

Remove from the oven and let cool in the tin.

 

 

To make the caramel, melt the sugar and butter in a large heavy based pan.

Once the sugar has dissolved or the mixture has started to bubble, add the condensed milk.

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Stir together over a high heat and bring the mixture to the boil stirring constantly.

Cook for a couple of minutes until the caramel has started to thicken.

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You can see the caramel sticking to the sides of the pan and when you let a small amount drop back into the mix, it sits on top before sinking back in

Remove from the heat and pour onto the shortbread.

Leave to set in the fridge for an hour

 

Melt the chocolate and pour over the shortbread.

Lightly tap the tin on a table to smooth out the chocolate.

If you want to decorate this, use a fork to scatter lines of white chocolate on top of the dark and then use the tip of a knife or a skewer and swirl it through the chocolate to get a professional finish.

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Leave in the fridge to semi set (so the chocolate isn’t hard but also will hold its shape when cut)

Remove the shortbread from the tin. Mine has removable sides so I didn’t line them along with the base. If you do this, use a hot knife to release the caramel and chocolate from the sides of the tin.

Cut the shortbread into pieces and place into the fridge to fully set – if the chocolate is a bit hard and the caramel is oozing out when you cut it, fill a tin with boiling water and heat the knife in it before each cut. Make sure to not push down too hard and just let the knife melt through the chocolate!

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Arrange the shortbread on a plate before serving to hide the stress of making them

 

I hope you enjoy making it. Let me know how it turns out for you and give me a tag on Instagram @thatcookingthing if you have a go yourself! If you liked this, why not check out my last baking recipe which also has a decent chocolate layer – my boozy tiramisu or if you are in the mood for something a little more savoury, my beef lasagne is perfect to keep you warm as winter approaches.

Have a good one and I’ll see you next week with a recipe for some delicious risotto – including how to tweak it for different dietary requirements. It truly is versatile!

H