“Er, yes, what would you like to make?” – I braced myself for cornflake cakes. Not that I have anything against making cornflake cakes. I just don’t like eating them.
“OK. What kind of biscuits?” I don’t know why I asked. When it’s biscuits, it’s always Smartie cookies. Not as bad as cornflake cakes, but not something I’d choose myself.
“Custard creams? Really? Are you sure?”
I had meant to make custard creams at a vague point in the future. A compare and contrast bake. I wasn’t overly confident about it. How can you possibly beat a Crawford’s Custard Cream? And a custard cream with children? This had disaster written all over it.
There’s a custard cream recipe in the Hummingbird Bakery’s Home Sweet Home. It’s for biscuits to top their custard cream cupcakes which sound and look delicious. Cupcakes, biscuits and children though. Far too complicated.
The children were keen. They put their aprons on, rolled up their sleeves and promptly disappeared as I started our custard cream preparation.
First, I lined all of our baking trays with baking paper (the recipe is for sixteen complete biscuits but the Hummingbird is reliably generous) and set the oven to 150° fan. I softened some butter in the microwave (it took a minute and a half on 360W) and just about managed to cream it together with caster sugar in the KitchenAid. This has now developed a habit of flinging the mixing bowl off the stand unless you jam it on so hard that getting it off again could break Hercules. Great.
Matthew is a keen egg breaker so he came and helped with the next bit. His method is slightly unusual. He bangs the egg on the side of the bowl to break the shell, then, very carefully, without putting his fingers in the crack, he squeezes the shell until it explodes. Generally, we end up fishing a lot of shell out of our cake mixtures. This time though, we managed to add an egg without any shell at all, or none that we could find. Nice one Matthew.
After adding the egg and giving me strict instructions to let him know when he could come and lick the spatula Matthew disappeared again. I sieved plain flour and cream of tartar into a bowl and mixed it into the butter/sugar/egg mixture. I have used cream of tartar before, but I think it was in a meringue. I Googled it later and found that it can be used in biscuits instead of baking powder. Once the flour and cream of tartar was mixed in, I had a soft dough that didn’t leave very much behind for bowl and spatula licking once I’d tipped it onto the work surface.
The children were back. They got some dough, cutters and a floured board. They squeezed and squished, and I rolled and, together, we made 42 biscuits (using a 4cm cutter), four sharks and two rabbits.
They went into the oven for 15 minutes (this is a bit longer than the time given in the recipe, which says 10-13).
We let the biscuits cool and we, sorry, at this point, it was I again, made the buttercream filling. I made a quarter of the Hummingbird recipe, because I hadn’t made the cupcakes. I could have made less, since I had enough to fill a sandwich cake as well as the biscuits. I mixed sieved icing sugar with softened butter and, when it was combined, I added milk and some vanilla extract. Then came the food colouring. I can never get food colouring right. Usually, I don’t add enough and end up with an anaemic tinge. This time, I got high-viz. Well, it was for a custard cream. Who needs pale and interesting?
The recipe suggests using a piping bag to fill the biscuits. No way. Not with the children around. In my world, a piping bag is usually much more trouble than it’s worth. There’s the mess you make filling it up, the mess it makes when it dribbles filling everywhere other than the place it’s supposed to be, and cleaning it…. add to that the possibility of having to thwart the attempts of a small person to fill up a bucket of water in the bathroom and bring it downstairs. I’ll say it again. No way.
As it was, filling the biscuits with a knife was a bit fiddly, but I was pretty pleased with the end result.
Here’s the shark.
So, did the homemade custard creams beat Crawford’s? On the day that I baked them they were a bit hard and definitely needed a good dunking. They did improve with age though and, when my dad, a self-confessed biscuit addict, tasted them on day four they were good, dunked or not. His (completely unbiased) verdict was that they gave Crawford’s a good run for their money. I’ll take that.