Tag Archives: biscuits

My Top 5 Adventurous Bakes

I feel terrible.  My blog is supposed to be about baking the adventurous.  What did I end up making for Easter?  A batch of biscuits.  OK, they were from the ‘Fancy Biscuit’ section of Mary Berry’s Baking Bible but they didn’t either look that fancy or taste that great and, according to my dad, their dunkability was also questionable.

easter biscuits

They were hot cross bun flavoured biscuits, and, to be honest, who wants a hot cross bun flavoured biscuit when they could have a a real hot cross bun?

Given that my baking hasn’t been particularly adventurous for a while, I thought I’d have a look at the exciting stuff I’ve made over the last couple of years to see if I could get my baking mojo back.

Here’s my top 5.

  1. My favourite cake was the prinsesstarta  I made from The Great British Bake Off, Big Book of Baking (the recipe is also available on the BBC Food website).  It was set as one of the technical bakes in the 2014 Bake Off series and, Good Lord, technical it was too.  It took three days and involved making custard, jam, green marzipan and fancy fondant icing flowers as well as a cake. How I managed to do it I don’t know, but I did and it really was worth it.

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2. Mary Berry’s Marjolaine was another good one.  Another technical bake from    the  Great British Bake Off (Series 7 this time), and another twelve or so (worthwhile) hours in the kitchen.

 

marjolaine

 

3.  In August last year, I attempted a fraisier from Edd Kimber’s Patisserie Made Simple.      It involved acetate so certainly qualified as adventurous.  I haven’t even opened Patisserie Made Simple for a few months.  It’s definitely time I went back to it.

final fraisier

4. Although it’s a bit less adventurous, I think the coconut cake from James Martin’s Sweet has to be in my top five.  It didn’t take twelve plus hours of kitchen time, but it did taste absolutely lovely.  It would be easy enough to make again once the price of coconut oil comes down.

coconut cake

5.  Deciding on number five has been difficult.  I’ve been scrolling through my pictures remembering the trials and triumphs of the things I’ve made over the past couple of years.  I think I have to go with grasshopper slices from the Hummingbird Bakery’s Home Sweet Home.  The main reason I had for making these was that I was looking for something green because I was baking the jersey colours of the Tour de France (don’t ask).  It was either these or something green tea flavoured.  Green tea, or mint chocolate ganache?  A no-brainer.

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So, there we are.  My top five Let’s Bake the Books adventurous bakes.  Have I got my baking mojo back?  I may have.  I can’t wait for a cup of tea and half an hour with The Books this afternoon, and that’s certainly a start.

Custard Creams and Kids

P1010823 (640x480)“Can we cook something today Mommy?”

“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.

“Some biscuits.”

“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.”

“Custard creams?  Really?  Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

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.

“Er, OK.”

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.

P1010814 (640x480) 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.

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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.

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Here’s the shark.

P1010824 (640x480)The rabbit, unfortunately, met his doom before the photocall.

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.

Biscuits for cheese

Something I’ve been thinking about trying for a while are biscuits for cheese.  Is it possible to beat a plain Jacob’s cream cracker by something homemade, and, if it is, is it worth it?

I found a few recipes for biscuits that were good with cheese; savoury digestives, oat biscuits, biscuits with seeds, cheese flavoured biscuits.  In the end, I went with the plainest, Farthing Biscuits, from the Great British Bake Off, Big Book of Baking.

The biscuits weren’t difficult to make.  I sifted plain and self-raising flour, a teaspoon each of salt and caster sugar into a bowl and added cubed butter and lard.  I added an extra pinch of salt to make up for the fact that the recipe required slightly salted butter and I didn’t have any.  I used my brilliant pastry blender to get to bread-crumb stage.  Here it is again.004I brought the mixture into a dough with iced water.  The recipe was spot on as to the amount I’d need (about 90ml) which is pretty rare.  I made the dough into a ball, wrapped it in clingfilm and put it into the fridge for 15 minutes.  Once rested, I rolled out the dough.  It was supposed to end up a bit thinner than a pound coin.  This took up a lot of worktop space.  My dough almost fell off the edge of the table twice.  Anyway, after shuffling things around a bit I got there and  cut out my biscuits.  The recipe calls for an 8.75cm round-edged cutter.  Mine is only 7.5cm, so, as expected, I ended up with more biscuits than the, “about 22” stated in the recipe.  I managed 34, and cooked them in three batches.

The next stage in making a farthing biscuit is to prick it all over.  The Big Book of Baking says that you can use a biscuit-pricker to do this. Oddly enough, I don’t have one so I made do with a fork.  This was the most challenging part of the recipe.  You need a steady hand and, after a rather large glass (or perhaps two) of Tio Pepe, mine was steady-ish at best (it was Saturday night).

After pricking, the biscuits went onto greased baking trays and into the oven at 160° fan.  The recipe says that they should cook between 15-16 minutes, and that the biscuits should be firm and cooked through but not coloured (although the biscuits in the picture in the Big Book of Baking are definitely biscuit coloured).  My biscuits took about 20 minutes and came out of the oven looking much thicker than in the picture.  Here are some of the finished articles. 003

They may look a bit pale and unexciting but, with a thick smear of butter and a chunk of gorgonzola, they were really good, very light and crumbly and with a slight savoury taste that went well with the cheese.  My dad and aunt disagreed, but that was after they had pinched a couple and started dunking them in their coffee.  They were time-consuming to make though, so on the question of whether making biscuits for cheese is worthwhile, I think the answer has to be yes, but only if you like baking and have a bag or two of time to spare.

 

 

Delia’s Florentines

After the Prinsesstårta last week I wanted to be started and finished in the small window created by Naomi’s afternoon nap and Matthew’s trip to the supermarket (I was baking on a Saturday  because of a night out with Take That – or as Gary Barlow said – what’s left of them, in the week). I plumped for Delia Smith’s Florentines, as something I may have bought for a gift but, pre-Let’s Bake the Books, wouldn’t have attempted myself.

I read the ingredients list carefully to make sure that I wasn’t going to be ambushed by any extra preparation (as has happened in the past).  I needed butter, golden caster sugar, plain flour, double cream, whole almonds (cut into slivers), ready-flaked almonds, candied peel (chopped), glacé cherries (chopped), angelica (finely chopped) and dark chocolate.  Hold on a minute, angelica?  I had to google it.  It’s a herb, a bit like parsley, and when it’s candied it can be used to decorate cakes.  Thank you BBC Good Food.  So, basically, the green shiny bits on Florentine biscuits are made of candied angelica.  As suspected, I couldn’t find any in Tesco.  Marks and Spencer didn’t have any either.  I vaguely remembered cakes decorated with green glacé cherries as a child, and, if all angelica did was to add a bit of green to my biscuits, perhaps they would do.  I couldn’t find any of those either so decided to go ahead without anything green.

I heated butter and sugar in a saucepan until the mixture melted and then added double cream.  I had a bit of a shock when everything fizzed and bubbled up like a Hogwarts’ potions practical gone wrong.  Surely Delia should have warned me.  Anyway, I kept stirring and added the rest of the ingredients except the chocolate as per the recipe.  Once everything was incorporated, I let the mixture cool down a little, then put teaspoonfuls onto a lined baking tray.  It was only when I’d put them in the oven (for 10 minutes at 170° fan) that I realised that I’d forgotten to put the flour in.  I was supposed to heat it along with the sugar and butter at the very beginning.  Perhaps that explained all the fizzing that went on when I added the cream.  I decided to give my poor flourless Florentines their allotted time in the oven before trying again.  I did have some trouble shifting them onto wire racks when I took them out of the oven, but, all in all, they didn’t look too bad.

I had enough ingredients to try a second batch and, after presiding over a three-minute stint on the naughty step (Matthew was back),  I put butter, sugar and flour into a saucepan.  I  managed, as I quite often do, to squeeze the flour bag at precisely the wrong moment, and ended up with twice as much flour as I needed.  I shovelled the extra back into the bag with a teaspoon, trying to avoid the sugar.  If the children complain that the next macaroni cheese I make tastes funny I’ll understand.

So, the recipe says that you have to stir the butter, sugar and flour over a low heat until it has melted.  I wasn’t really sure about this. Does flour melt? Was I supposed to have a completely liquid mixture? I seemed to have been stirring for ages so I put the cream in.  This time I didn’t get any fizzing.  I kept stirring.  Delia says that this is to keep the mixture smooth.  Mine wasn’t completely smooth but it was smoothish, so I added the rest of the ingredients, let it cool, put teaspoonfuls onto baking trays and put them into the oven.

The floured Florentines did keep their shape better than the flourless ones and, when they came out of the oven, they were much easier to handle.

I let them cool, then melted some dark chocolate to cover the base of the biscuits.  They were a bit holey, so I put kitchen roll under the wire racks to catch the drips, and coated the Florentines with chocolate.  I let the chocolate cool before attempting to make a wavy line across them with a fork.  I couldn’t manage it.  I don’t know whether the chocolate was too warm or too cold, but I simply could not make a wavy line.  I made do with a spiral-type pattern which, I think, looked fine.  Here are the final Florentines (with and without flour).  They looked pretty good, even without the angelica.107

Taste-wise, I thought they tasted  slightly burned, especially in the Florentines with flour.  Jon said he thought that they were the best thing I’d made since I started the blog.  That was on Saturday night.  On Sunday he had another one (or two) and said that he’d changed his mind.  “Perhaps the mixture wasn’t consistent”, he said, “either that or I was a bit drunk”. I wonder which.

Garibaldi Biscuits

This week  I needed to make something from the store cupboard that wouldn’t take too long. We were going away, and I hadn’t yet made my pilgrimage to Boots to buy a load of toiletries in small bottles.  I decided to make Garibaldi biscuits from Delia Smith’s Cakes.  The biscuits didn’t look as though they would be too difficult to make (I know I’m supposed to be making tricky and terrifying things, but I came across the recipe and just wondered whether it would be worthwhile baking Garibaldis, or whether they’re best left to McVities).

The biscuit mixture was easy; self-raising flour, salt and butter rubbed together to look like breadcrumbs, breadcrumbs mixed with golden caster sugar, and enough milk to make a firm dough.  I rolled the dough out to form a rectangle that was roughly the 20cm x 30cm required by the recipe and sprinkled currants over one half.  I folded the other half of the dough on top and rolled it again.

Now, I thought I’d been pretty generous with my currants, but, on rolling the dough out for a second time, I found that, not only had I been a bit stingy, but unevenly stingy.  I was going to end up with some currantless Garibaldis – which probably means that they wouldn’t be Garibaldis at all.  Just Baldies perhaps?001

I trimmed the dough and cut it into neat Garibaldi-sized fingers.   The recipe says that it makes 24 biscuits.  I made 5 extra biscuits with the offcuts.  They weren’t particularly neat or Garibaldi-sized.

I put the biscuits onto a tray lined with baking paper, brushed them with egg white and sprinkled granulated sugar over the top. They went into the oven at 180 degrees fan for 15 minutes.  This is how they came out.

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The uneven spread of the currants meant that two of my biscuits turned out to be Baldies, and some weren’t as curranty as they should be but they tasted OK. Buttery and sweet, and the currants (in the biscuits lucky enough to have any) were soft and added a really good fruity taste (and they didn’t stick in my teeth, which is always a bonus).

I couldn’t find any McVities Garibaldis in Tesco, so I bought a packet of Tesco’s Own to compare homemade with shop-bought.  We liked the homemade biscuits better.  My husband said that they were more buttery, and that the Tesco biscuits tasted a bit burned.  It was all about the fruit for me.  I thought that the currants in my biscuits tasted better than Tesco’s.

I’m not sure whether I’ll make these again.  They were tasty, but, to be honest, I think that there are nicer biscuits that can be made just as easily.  If I did make them again, I’d be a lot more generous with the currants so that I don’t end up with any more Baldies.

Linzer Biscuit Love Hearts

To celebrate Valentine’s Day I thought I’d make some heart-shaped Linzer biscuits from the Hummingbird Bakery’s Home Sweet Home recipe book.  Here they are, all 61 of them (the recipe says it makes 25).

007The glut of biscuits had nothing to do with the Hummingbird’s recipe and all to do with lack of preparation (more of which later).

Making the dough for the biscuits was pretty easy.  I creamed sugar and a lot of butter together and thanked God that the KitchenAid was in working order this week. Then I added flour, cinnamon, and ground almonds.  The recipe suggests that, once the dough comes together, you halve it, wrap each half in cling film, and put it in the fridge to rest for half an hour.

Unfortunately, I had more prosaic things to do this week than indulge in several catch up episodes of Home and Away (see my post on Eccles cakes for details of my Aussie soap addiction).  Things like descaling the toilet and unblocking the drains.  No wonder life at the Summer Bay Caravan Park seems so attractive.

Toilet descaled and drain unblocked (and hands thoroughly washed), I took the rested dough from the fridge.  The next step of the recipe is to roll out the two halves of dough to a thickness of 4mm between two pieces of baking paper and, once again, chill them.  Now, I’m not sure how big the pastry boards or the fridges are in the Hummingbird Bakery’s tester kitchen, but it was really difficult to get the thickness (or, more accurately, thinness) required and keep the dough on the board (my boards are 45.5cm x 29cm).  I ended up with overhanging edges that fell off when I moved the dough into the fridge.

Since making the biscuits, I’ve given this problem a little bit of thought, and if I made them again, my solution would be to forget about dividing the dough and, after the first resting period, roll it out between the baking paper but onto a work surface and then put something cold on the top (like the ice packs for the inside a cool bag). Alternatively, I suppose I could live dangerously and forget the second resting period altogether,  but who knows what impact that would have on taste and texture etc.

So, I had my two lots of dough all rolled out and chilled.  This was when my lack of preparation hit.  I discovered that the tin of assorted cutters that I bought for the doughnut cupcakes only contained very small ones.  The recipe requires two heart-shaped cutters, one 8cm at its widest point and, the other, 5cm wide.  The largest heart-shaped cutter I had was just about big enough for the hole in the top of the biscuit.  I made one biscuit bottom and one top by cutting around the shape of the cutter about 2cm from the edge. I quickly decided that that method just wasn’t going to work.  It required a level of precision and delicacy that was simply beyond me.

Cutting by hand just wouldn't work

Cutting by hand just wouldn’t work

I decided to make more, smaller, biscuits using my teeny-weeny cutters. By the time I got to the sixtieth pair of hearts I was just about frazzled, and I’d bent my cutter out of shape so my  bottoms had started to go wonky.  I gathered my unused dough into a ball and put it into the fridge, right at the back. My little boy could use it to make a dinosaur or something.

Given their size, the biscuits took less time to bake than the recipe says. They were cooked in around 8-10 minutes.  They cooled, I put them in a tin overnight and sandwiched the tops and bottoms together with warmed seedless strawberry jam the next day.

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They did look very cute.  So much so that I put them on a cake stand to show them off and they went a bit soft.  Luckily, my children liked them, and my mum and dad were staying for a few days so they didn’t have time to get much softer.

I have a couple of tips for next time:

  • I’ll make sure I have the right equipment before I start to bake.  That way I’ll either be able to go and get the right stuff, or adapt the recipe.
  • No matter how cute the biscuits may be, they’ll go straight into a tin to prevent sogginess.

I think I will make these biscuits again, but only once I have a bigger and less bendy heart.  Happy Valentine’s Day.