Category Archives: Biscuits

Gingernuts

Gingernuts are not anything I’d really buy in the supermarket but, home made, they are not only delicious, but also super-easy.

This year I decided that, each and every month I would make a positive, healthy change.

This is because I have slid into rather bad habits since late 2016, which was a traumatic year for me. So January was all about giving up NOTHING but instilling an exercise routine – which I have done. And February we are giving up all shop bought cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolate etc. (aside from high days and holidays, because my children adore the loathsome Fox’s Party Rings for a birthday..).

But home made we can still have. I’m not ready for any sort of deprivation just yet.

I made these a few weeks ago, for a friend who loves ginger. The original recipe is Delia and I’ve adapted it slightly.  The original is from Delia’s Complete Cookery Course which is from 40 years ago and the original recipe calls for margarine. Delia’s more recent incarnations changed it to butter.

You need

110g self raising flour

Two level teaspoons of ground ginger

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

40g granulated sugar

50g butter, from the fridge, sliced into little pieces

50g golden syrup

1 piece of stem ginger in syrup, drained and chopped (you could also use the syrup in part exchange for the golden syrup)

This is what you do

Heat the oven to 190C.

Put the flour, ginger, bicarb and sugar into a bowl and mix around. Add the butter and rub between fingers to make like fine breadcrumbs. Now add the chopped stem ginger and the golden syrup. Mix together lightly to form a dough.

Break off little pieces (my mixture made about 12), roll gently between your palms, put on a baking parchment lined tray, flatten with a fork or your hand.

Bake for a scant seven minutes. Delia says 10-15 mins and I’m not sure what would have been going on in her oven back in the day, mine are over cooked at eight minutes so watch them carefully. In 15 minutes these would be incinerated.

Take out, cool, eat, yum.

Sonia’s Swiss crescent biscuits

Growing up, my mum made friends with a woman called Sonia, who worked in the dry cleaner’s kinda opposite our flats. The dry cleaning would be wrapped in this lovely navy blue paper, the like of which we seemed to have at home for years afterwards (I guess she gave us some).

We didn’t have a car, growing up, but we used to go out with Sonia and her husband, who drove a red VW Beetle. We would go to the airport and watch the planes take off, in the days when this was still possible. We also went to Windsor castle. I loved our trips out as they were the only car-trips out we had as children. (This isn’t meant to sound sad, we went to Italy a lot and I had a great childhood.)

I have a picture, of us at Windsor castle, me with a right sulk on (I peed on my mum’s lap on the way home, I think I might have done it on purpose, the shame), wearing a very flash red coat and a rabbit fur hat, Sonia and my mum looking really glamorous, but in a totally nonchalant way.

One of the things Sonia used to bring with her were these amazing little hazelnut crescent biscuits. She would have them, layer upon greaseproof-paper layer, in a tin, and as you opened the tin, the smell of them – they were coated with vanilla sugar – would hit you. They were not like any biscuits we could buy, or that my mum made.

Because they were so occasional, they were especially delicious. Sonia also used to bring  a flask of coffee, which I would drink (I was an early caffeine drinker).

When I was seven, my mum and dad opened up a coffee shop on London’s Bayswater Road. I started making cakes and biscuits for my dad’s shop. I started baking. I tried to recreate Sonia’s biscuits but I never could. For some reason I didn’t dare ask her for the recipe, or perhaps I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to make them less special.

Occasionally, these days, I will go to my mum and dad’s house, and Sonia will have been, bringing with her a box of her special biscuits. And just opening the lid of the biscuit tin (she always brings them in a biscuit tin) will transport me back to being a very little girl, sitting in a red VW Beetle, watching planes taking off, treading that fine line between showing my appreciation for her biscuits and eating a fair few, but not toppling over into greed. It’s still a line I struggle with balancing on.

The other day, I saw Sonia and I plucked up the courage to ask her for the recipe. I don’t know why it’s taken me four decades to do so. Amazingly she had it written down (none of that “oh I do it from memory”) and she gave it to me, and, here it is:

250g plain flour

200 butter, unsalted, fridge cold

100g ground hazelnuts (I buy the chopped, toasted version and then grind them, it really makes a difference, but you can use pre-gound hazelnuts or almonds, but it won’t be *quite* as good as if you toast and grind them yourself)

80g icing sugar

5g vanilla sugar (Sonia says you can buy these in little packets but I leave this out and just add a tablespoon of vanilla essence)

Pinch of salt

Caster sugar for after (vanilla sugar if you have it)

In a food processor, pulse the butter and flour until like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, salt and nuts and then pulse until it comes together in clumps. Don’t over mix. It will work out I promise. Of course you can do this all by hand, but I’m lazy.

If you’ve made it in a processor take it out now and, by hand, bring the mixture together. Chill for 20/30 mins.

Preheat oven to 190C

Take small bits and roll into crescent shapes. I weigh each one to make sure I don’t end up with tiny/huge biscuits, roll into sausage shapes and taper the ends, curve into crescents. If you’re interested, I do them so mine weigh about 21g in raw dough.

Put on a parchment lined trays and cook for 10 mins. Cool and then coat in vanilla caster sugar if you have it, (I put a vanilla pod in a jar of normal caster sugar and just keep it there for, like, ever) normal caster sugar if you don’t.

Then don’t eat four whilst you’re writing a blog post, because that will make you feel really, really sick.

Store in a biscuit tin, each layer interleaved with greaseproof paper.

(Sonia calls these traditional Vienna biscuits but as she’s from Switzerland, I call them Sonia’s Swiss crescent biscuits.)

Lovely, nutty tasting (but with no nuts) poppy seed oatcakes

These are wonderfully nutty tasting, and you’ll be convinced there are nuts therein. But there are no nuts. They are very frangible, so don’t roll them too thin, and when cooked don’t be too rough with them. Lovely with some cheese, of course, but I also sometimes have them for breakfast with some almond butter and a smidge of apricot jam on top.

Being full of oats ‘n’ seeds, they are particularly good for you, too.

(Note: I’ve put these under gluten free, oats are naturally gluten free but some have gluten in due to the manufacturing process so look at the packet your oats come in.)

These are from Hugh F-W’s Light and Easy book.

150g medium oatmeal

150g porridge oats (not the jumbo variety, if you have those, give them a quick spin in a food processor)

One tablespoon of ground linseeds

One tablespoon of poppy seeds

One tablespoon of sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or half of each

half a teaspoon of salt

75ml of sunflower or other tasteless oil

You will also need 100-150ml of boiled water

Baking parchment

 

Oven to 180C.

Put all the ingredients, save for the oil and water, into a bowl. Make a well in the middle and now add the oil and mix the ingredients around. Add 100ml of just boiled water and mix to a sticky wet dough, if you need to, add up to 50ml more but try not to if possible. This will seem like an unpromising dough and won’t be like a smooth dough, such as you may be used to.

Now you need two sheets of baking parchment to roll the dough out. Not too thin. Cut into squares – just free form with a knife, you don’t need to be madly exact. Hugh recommends cutting the square in two so you get triangles and I like this shape, too.

Don’t be tempted to use a cookie cutter. But do ball up and re-roll any off cuts. I shaped the last one by hand, in a butter-patting style.

Put on baking parchment lined baking tray and cook for 20-25 mins until just coloured. These give out a lot of steam (cos of the water) so be careful when you open the oven. You don’t want them too cook too much and be too dark, but equally they do need to be cooked so if your oven is temperamental, check after 15 minutes. The surface should be dry – no bubbling bits of steam – but not too coloured. Mine took about 22 minutes in a quite fierce oven. You may need to cook in two batches, I did.

This makes about 20-24, depending, on course, on the size.

 

Tiramisu cheesecake

Tiramisu, for those that don’t yet know, mean’s ‘pull me up’. The English equivalent is ‘pick me up’.

Although I don’t know anyone in Italy who uses tiramisu as anything other than a delicious, indulgent dessert. Zabaglione was used, maybe still is, if you felt a bit under the weather and needed a pick me up. Presumably the warnings about not using raw egg (traditionally an ingredient in zabaglione) hadn’t reached the members of my family who used this as a salve for sick children who were too poorly to go to school.

My dad (from Parma, NE Italy) would sometimes feign illness – something he never does as an adult – as a child in order to stay off school and have zabaglione made for him by his mamma.

Anyway, this is a tiramisu cheesecake. If you don’t like coffee or cheesecake then there is nothing for you in this cheesecake. I think the base is absolutely inspired, but, again, if you don’t like amaretti biscuits (and in truth I don’t, on their own, but somehow they work here) you may not like the slightly bitter hit. But this is a really excellent cheesecake, classy, different, complex. Just don’t be left alone with it. Oh and, once chilled, it’s really the most excellent if you take it out of the fridge for half an hour before eating.

If you plan to make this for an ‘occasion’ – say a special lunch or a dinner – then I really recommend you make it the night before and leave it sitting chilling in the fridge until you serve it. One less job to do, plus with the chilling of the base and the chilling of the cake etc, it does take quite a long time from start to finish. So don’t get caught out.

This was originally from Delicious magazine.

For the base:

275g amaretti biscuits, crushed

75g unsalted butter, melted

For the cheesecake:

700g mascarpone at room temperature. I use a mixture of 500g mascarpone, cream cheese, ricotta, depending on what I have in the fridge. But I wouldn’t go lower than 500g mascarpone

150g caster sugar

3 large eggs, separated

45ml dark rum

30g plain flour

half a teaspoon of vanilla extract

175g plain chocolate, chopped (of course I didn’t chop mine and just broke up the pieces, because I am lazy like that)

1 tablespoon of finely ground espresso coffee powder – I just use something I have in a dusty jar from the supermarket, even though I have a full on, fuck-off coffee machine which freshly grinds my coffee for me. Next time it will maybe be even more awesome if I used freshly ground espresso powder

3 tablepoons of coffee liqueur. I use Kahlua which is lovely, incidentally, in an after dinner espresso, to make it espresso corretto.

Icing sugar for dusting. I was so greedy and impatient, I forgot this bit

Put the biscuit crumbs in a food processor and pulverise. In a bowl, introduce melted butter to the biscuit crumbs and let them do their thing. Press the crumbs into a 23cm spring form tin (I parchment line the base) and as far up the sides as you can get them (I didn’t do them up the sides and it was fine). Chill for 30 mins or even overnight.

When you are ready to make the cheesecake, preheat the oven to 200C; melt the chocolate in a bowl, atop some simmering water and then leave to cool. Put the mascarpone/cheeses into a bowl and beat until nice and smooth, then beat in the sugar, then the egg yolks.

Now divide this mixture into two bowls.

Into one of these bowls stir in the 30g plain flour, the 45ml of dark rum and the half a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Set aside for a moment.

Remember the melted chocolate? Into it, stir the espresso powder and coffee liqueur. Now stir the chocolatey/coffee/coffee liqueur into the second bowl of cheese mixture.

Put the egg whites into a bowl and whisk until soft peak stage, and now fold half the egg whites into each of the bowls – so half into the flour/rum/vanilla cheesey mix and half into the chocolate/coffee/liqueur mix.

Now dollop alternate spoonfuls of the mixture into the cake tin, give a swirl to gently mix and bake for 45mins to 1 hour. I lowered the temperature of my oven for the last 15 minutes or so only because my oven is fierce. Just keep an eye on it after 45 mins. It should be golden brown but still soft in the centre. Not liquid soft but softly soft, like a bit jelly on a plate.

Turn off the oven and leave the door ajar and leave the cheesecake until completely cold. When cold, chill in the fridge for several hours then it’s ready to be taken out and eaten, either fridge-cold or leave it to warm up a bit at room temperature.

Dust with icing sugar and revel in the calorie count. It’s high.

 

Date and ginger biscuits (gluten, refined sugar and dairy free)

I haven’t gone gluten, or dairy free. I am incredibly fortunate that I can, thus far at least, eat what I want. And I do. Last night I stuffed my face with cheesy Wotsits (I love a flourescent food stuff sometimes). Today, for the first time in eight years, I went into a supermarket and bought a loaf of white sliced and we had toasted sandwiches for Sunday lunch.

But generally, I do eat really well and also, I do like to try new things and double-also I like to have a little biscuit or something every day, and it kinda helps, now that I’m no longer 19 years old and seven stones, to think of my health ‘n’ stuff.

(Whilst I’m vaguely on the subject of healthy eating, has anyone else noticed that saying you’re on a ‘whole food plant based’ diet seems to have replaced saying “I’m vegan”? I’m not saying this recipe is vegan btw, because it’s not – it contains eggs – but I’ve noticed this phrase a lot lately..)

So I found these in Hugh F-W’s new book Light and Easy (which thus far I really like although have only tried a few things). They are choc-full of good-for-you ingredients, have no refined sugar, no dairy, no wheat, no gluten and although they absolutely won’t be to everyone’s taste, they are to mine and also my youngest loves them (incredibly). They are not overly spicy or gingery, and make a great little snack when you need a treat. But are also – thanks to the fibre and protein – rather satisfying and sustaining.

You need:

200g pitted dates

15g peeled ginger, roughly chopped

2 eggs

250g ground almonds (this is not a cheap biscuit recipe..)

a quarter of a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

One and a half teaspoons of ground Chinese five-spice

Pinch of salt

Flaked almonds for topping if you so wish

What you do:

Oven to 170C. Baking parchment or magic carpet type sheet onto a baking sheet.

Put the dates and ginger into a food processor. Not a blender, but a processor (it’s sticky and if you put this in a blender I wouldn’t want to be you cleaning up afterwards). Whizz up for a couple of minutes until the mixture is really sticky and everything is evenly chopped up. This is also the time you realise you have bought unpitted dates as the processor will start making an awful sound and then start smoking.

When the mixture is all mixy, then you add the eggs and process again until you get a nice sloppy mixture – takes seconds really. Now add all the other ingredients and pulse for a few times until everything is, how can I put this? Mixed. You will have a very sticky dough. Either drop spoonfuls onto the tray or wet your hands slightly, roll into a ball and then flatten – which is what I do. I make mine about 5cm wide. They don’t really spread out so you can pack them fairly tight – but not touching – onto a baking tray. Top with flaked almonds if you so wish (this is my addition).

I bake mine for 15 minutes and this is plenty. Hugh says 20. They should be golden but not too dark and have a ‘slight give’ in the middle. I can lift my straight off the tray, with my hands, onto a wire rack to cool.

That’s it. Eat and feel virtuous.

Making a tasty biscuit as good as it can be

Since I’ve had children, I do try my best to change cake/biscuit recipes so I take down the amount of sugar and I try to ramp up the amount of wholemeal flour etc. I’ve made my own choccy lollies with high cocoa content chocolate and pumpkin/sunflower seeds. I’ve cut down the sugar, and sneaked wholemeal flour into a famous Nigella Lawson chocolate loaf. But I know how far to push it. My children start to refuse biscuits and cakes if they go the Gwynnie side of worthy.

Hugh F-W’s Ten Minute Cookies have been our standard biscuit recipe for years now. But over these years, I’ve experimented with taking down the sugar and today, I made them with a third of the flour made up of ground up oats (I whizzed them in a very powerful blender with a mill attachment, I’m sure something similar would work, too). Nobody noticed any difference. They were still delicious. A tiny bit chewy. More substantial. I really liked them. If you’ve never made these biscuits before you may want to start with the original, and work your own way down the sugar scale. Or you may want to jump right in. The original recipe plus amendments, is here.

I think these biscuits are as good as they can be, whilst still being a bit bad. And I think that’s a good thing.

Biscuits made with nut butters

My friend Emily, who originally gave me some starter that started (ha ha) my sourdough journey, told me about some spelt and peanut butter cookies that she had made and couldn’t stop eating. Her email made it sound as if she’d eaten four that day or something.

I have Emily down as a) super healthy and b) incredibly controlled where biscuit eating is concerned so the fact that she had eaten so many, and was trying to resist eating more, meant I had to bookmark the recipe. The original one is here, but Emily said she’d adapted them with some rye so this is what I’ve done too in the recipe below.

But when I looked at the recipe, I saw it was all in cups, which are the Devil’s measurements as far as I’m concerned. I have a set of US cups which I bought from Crate and Barrell when I went to San Francisco with my Ma but I’ve never used them because recipes using cups ‘n’ sticks ‘n’ stuff like that drive me to the very edge of insanity.

Then in this month’s Martha Stewart Living there was a recipe for whole-wheat almond butter sandwich cookies which looked amazing. The recipe, like all Martha’s goddam recipes, was in cups ‘n’ sticks. I emailed her team saying “look, why can’t you also provide metric measurements as you sell your magazine in the UK”. And to their credit they did reply.

Telling me that conversion charts were available on Google. Which I guess told me how much they think of their UK readers.

Donna Hay magazine (note: Australian cups are different to US cups, DH magazine is Australian) always provides metric in its recipes. So it can be done. And you’d think that Martha, with all her Harvard interns that she gets over to organise her photo library at home, would be able to provide this.

But no.

Anyway, there were now two recipes – for essential biscuits – asking for cup measurements, so I had to man up. And with the help of about 45 people on Facebook, lots of crying and shouting and, yes, looking things up on Google, I was able to translate these recipes into metric and here I have them laid before you. I’ve also tweaked where necessary because Martha, for example, was asking for a shed-load of cream cheese and, following her recipe meant the cream cheese was far too runny. When I looked at all my other cream cheese frosting recipes (which is what this is, but sandwiched between two bics) they all had butter in, so I put butter in mine and hey-presto, it worked.

The almond sandwich biscuits are tremendously good. And full of nuts which are great for you. You could use other nuts too. I bet hazelnuts would be fabulous. These biscuits can also be eaten on their own, but where’s the fun in that when you can eat two, joined together with a spoonful of cream cheese. You need to make these as you eat them, otherwise they go soft. They’re still delicious mind. But to keep that crunch you need to keep the biscuits in an air tight container, the cream cheese mixture in the fridge, and assemble them before eating.

The spelt/rye/peanut cookies are wonderful too. But different. Easy to make and filling. You don’t get sugar crashes after eating them. And you feel kinda virtuous. I’m actually really craving one as I write and I crave these little salty, savoury sweet biscuits quite often.

Neither are cheap to make though. But they’re not the sort of biscuits you’d ever find in a shop so if you want them, you have to make them

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Wholemeal almond-butter sandwich cookies

I found these made about 30

160g wholemeal plain flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

a big pinch of sea salt

113g of unsalted butter

130g almond (or other nut) butter

220g light brown sugar

1 large egg

85g flaked almonds, toasted and chopped

for the filling:

300g tub of cream cheese (at room temperature)

50g runny honey

40g very soft butter

half a teaspoon of vanilla extract

Method

Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt and put aside. Beat butter with an electric mixer for about a minute on medium. Obviously you can do this by hand too, or get a Harvard graduate to do it for you. Add the nut butter and beat until smooth as Martha’s face. Now beat in the sugar and egg until as well mixed as one of Martha’s parties. Now reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture. Now, by hand, and gentle, mix in the almonds.

The dough is fairly soft at this stage, but you can form it into a long salami shape using baking parchment and a bit of swearing. Aim for about 12″ long. Freeze for about an hour or you can at this stage freeze until needed.

When you’re ready to cook, preheat oven to 180C take out the biscuit dough (if long-frozen let it be at room temperature for about half an hour, if you’ve only frozen it for an hour it’s ready to use straight away). Slice into thin rounds, just under a centimetre.

Bake on parchment lined trays for 8-10 minutes. You want them to be just gently golden. Imagine the sort of tan Martha lets herself get: nothing too extreme. If you were sure you’d want these to be eaten on their own, I’d probably cook them on the lesser side of done to give them a bit of chewiness.

Let them cool completely, then whisk together the filling ingredients, fill and go.

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Spelt/rye nut butter cookies

280g of spelt/rye flour. I used about 200g of spelt to 80g of rye, but use all spelt if you want

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 teaspoon of salt

240g of nut butter of your choice

85g of tahini

165g maple syrup

50g of coconut oil/olive oil

1.5 teaspoons of vanilla extract

Oven to 180C. Mix together the salt, flours and baking powder. In another bowl mix together the rest of the ingredients. Introduce the two and mix gently until you get a dough. Drop spoonfuls onto a lined baking tray, or take bits of the dough off and roll, roughly into a ball and do the same (depends how easy the dough is to work with). Flatten with a fork. Bake for 8-10 mins.

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