Tag Archives: biscuits

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.)

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Baked blackberry and lemon curd cheesecake

I was going to write about iced coffee today, but the weather is so grey and miserable this appealed more.

This came from those recipe cards Waitrose has hanging up, usually near the exit. I don’t know who writes the recipes for Waitrose, but they are an unsung hero – some of my very best bakes have come from unauthored recipes from Waitrose. This is a lovely, lovely recipe that makes a great cake: not too fancy, but fancy enough to make it no ordinary cheesecake. It’s also pretty easy to make because a lot of it is assembly, not technique. Try it this weekend after Sunday lunch and let me know how you get on with it.

The recipe is here, but I adapt it slightly and this is how I cook it:

200g pack essential Waitrose All Butter Biscuits, crushed (OBVIOUSLY you can use different ones but I have found these work well)
60g butter, melted
300g soft cheese
300ml Isigny Creme Fraiche
150g caster sugar
1 tsp of vanilla extract
2 eggs
225g -ish of blackberries
Lemon curd (I really, really recommend Duchy Originals) – as much as you need to coat the biscuit base with a thin layer, I’d say about six tablespoons.
Icing sugar for dusting (I always forget to do this).

First you crush the biscuits anyway you see fit. I do them with a rolling pin, rolled over a sealed plastic bag. Melt the butter, introduce the two and spread this across a parchment base-lined 23cm spring form tin. Chill in the fridge for an hour or two, less is fine.

To make the filling, heat up the oven to 190C. Mix together the soft cheese, creme fraiche, caster sugar and vanilla extract – either by hand or in a food mixer with a whisk attachment. Add the eggs and beat well until everything is incorporated. Set aside for a momentino.

Get out the tin with the biscuit base, dollop lemon curd across the base, you want it pretty much covered by a thin layer. Now put the blackberries over the top. I used frozen ones that had been picked from our garden last year, and it was nice to see them again.

Now drop the cheese mixture over the top, level out, and cook for  40–45 minutes. It’ll be brown around the edges and set in the middle. (The photo above makes it look like it’s REALLY brown, that’s cos of the effects of the film I use, it’s not that brown.) Take it out, leave it to cool and then leave it in the fridge for a few hours. Overnight if possible because this is even better the next day.Because of this it makes a great dessert to serve when you have people coming round as it’s one less thing to worry about on the day. It will easily keep for a few days in the fridge.

How to make your own salted caramel wagon wheels

What I want to know is, when did this blog become almost exclusively about food? I used to write about coffee machines, and fridges ‘n’ stuff. I think it’s partly to do with laziness, greed and also that as I get more serious in my day job, I want to write about things that comfort and soothe.

This is my excuse for writing about Wagon Wheels a week before Christmas when I have at least twenty-three other things to be doing.

I never liked original Wagon Wheels. So this wasn’t about trying to recreate something I loved, but in more, ahem, nutritious format. This is entirely about being seduced by a picture in a Donna Hay magazine in which she makes them. I hesitated before posting the recipe. These are, by no stretch of the imagination, good for you. They use Fluff – jarred, spreadable marshmallow – which contains corn syrup which is really really bad for you. So you must ASSURE me that you will only make these once a year.

These biscuits are, however, really fun. They are not difficult to make, and can be made in stages. The trickiest bit, I found, was the dipping them in chocolate. There is no easy way to do this and you end up making a great big mess. I made the biscuits differently to how Donna recommended – she uses three tiers and smaller biscuits. In an attempt to recreate a more authentic WW look I went for two tiers and larger.

Big mistake. They end up being quite a biscuit. I’d say probably 500 calories a piece. Which isn’t good. I definitely wouldn’t serve these if Gwyneth were coming round to tea. When I first made them I stored them in the fridge which was a mistake as they go kinda crispy and I didn’t like them so much (so perhaps not a mistake after all). After a few hours out of the fridge and stored in a biscuit jar, they were just perfect. Strangely addictive. People I gave them to started making weird, primal noises. They started telling me they loved me.

Be warned.

Don’t go fooling yourself you will only take one bite of these and not eat the whole thing. So make them small. And make them when you have lots of people coming round so you’re not left alone with them. I made a few changes: I substituted salted caramel for jam as I had a jar of caramel that my friend Helen had made for me and everyone preferred them to the jam version (I made a few with jam to try).

And I used about 2/3rds 34% cocoa chocolate and to 1/3rd 70% cocoa chocolate to coat them instead of doing half of them with white chocolate and half with plain as Donna Hay suggested. I actually think I’d slip into a diabetic coma if I made these with white chocolate.

Anyway, enough chat, here is the recipe as I did them, and the low down.

170g unsalted, softened butter

160g icing sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

2 teaspoons of honey

1 egg

335g plain flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

A jar of Fluff – marshmallow spread in a jar

Either a jar of blackberry jam/jelly or salted caramel (I say jelly as that’s all I could fine, not because I’ve gone American)

About 200g high cocoa content milk chocolate (I used Green and Blacks, which is 34%)

100g 70% cocoa chocolate (I always use Waitrose Continental)

Put the butter, sugar and vanilla extract in an electric mixer (I used the whisk attachment) and beat for 5-7 minutes. Imagine doing this by hand?! Scrape down the sides and then add the honey and egg and beat again for a bit until combined.

Now add the flour, bicarb and baking powder and beat on a low speed until combined – just a minute or so. Flatten the dough into a disc. It will be very soft. Put in cling film and put it in the fridge for about an hour (longer is fine). It should be firm before you start to roll it out.

Now, preheat the oven to 180C and line a baking tray with baking parchment. Roll the dough out bit by bit between two pieces of baking parchment until about 5mm thick. This is a very soft dough so after a few rollings out it will be hard to handle so put it back in the fridge if need be.

Cut circles of 5cm. I did larger but as I said, I think that was a mistake as I ended up with a really calorific biscuit!

Place on baking trays – they don’t spread out much so you can go quite close together but not too close. About 1cm is fine.

Bake for just a scant 4-5 minutes, until the edges are just tinged with a golden brownness. Take out of the oven and leave to cool completely. You will need to cook these in batches.

When the biscuits are completely cool it’s just a case of assembling them, then dipping. So, spread one biscuit with the salted caramel, one with fluff and sandwich together. Don’t be too mean with the filling but don’t go mad either. When they are all sandwiched together put in the fridge to firm up for a bit whilst you melt the chocolate in a bowl, atop a saucepan of boiling water.

When melted, dip the biscuits in the chocolate. If there’s an easy, non-messy way to do this, I haven’t discovered it yet. I tried painting the biscuits with chocolate and that worked but left brush marks. After several goes I discovered the best thing to do was coat the edges then dip quickly one side then another. If you end up with bald patches where your fingers were then you can remedy by just spreading a bit over with the back of a spoon. Leave to drip for a few seconds over the chocolate bowl, then leave to set on a rack. Be careful though. If you do like I did one time and put it straight in the fridge, the chocolate will set around the bars of the cooling rack and you will end up with half a wagon wheel when you prise it off.

This is no bad thing in a way, as you immediately lower the calorific value, but it makes a mess. So be aware this can happen.

Do leave them to set in the fridge at some point, then you can store them in a biscuit jar in a cool place, preferably at someone else’s house.

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Hugh’s ten minute cookies

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I don’t know why I haven’t posted this recipe before. Its is the most made biscuit recipe in our house and the most loved. I prefer these biscuits with nuts added, too (macadamia, hazelnuts or almonds, lightly toasted, lend themselves particularly nicely, I think) but although my children go mad for nuts as a separate snack, they prefer these biscuits with just chocolate chunks added.

I do confess, here, to having packets of ready made chocolate chunks in the cupboard, because chopping chocolate is one of my least favourite things. But if you like really big chunks of chocolate, or are really precious about the sort of chocolate you use (as I am for presque everything else) then best to choppahoppa the chocolate yourself. However, I get a rather perverse pleasure from snipping open a packet of chocolate chunks and just chucking them in.

The added bonus these cookies have is that you don’t have to wait for the butter to soften to room temperature – you melt it – before you can start mixing, so these really are super quick to make. They’re still biscuits. Not broccoli, but at least you know they’ve not got hydrogenated fats in them or other crap.

I’ve adapted Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s original recipe by upping the chocolate needed (he originally asked for 100g, but I like a chunk or a chip in at least every second bite) and I add at least half wholemeal plain flour. I’ve made these with all wholemeal flour and you really can’t notice, it just lends a certain, lovely, nuttiness. But in order not to get too worthy, the best approach is probably half and half, which is what the recipe asks for here.

So this is what you need:

125g unsalted butter

100g granulated or caster sugar *

75g soft, light, brown sugar *

1 egg

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

150g of plain flour in total. I use 75g white and 75g wholemeal

(I have also made these with 50g white, 50g wholemeal and 50g ground oats and they were delicious)

half a teaspoons of baking powder

A pinch of sea salt

150g chocolate (I use half white, half plain)

[If so wish, 100g toasted macadamia/hazels/almonds]

Preheat the oven to 190C (I use fan on 175 I have to say)

Gently melt the butter. You really do want to be gentle and take it off just as soon as it’s melted. If gets too hot then let it cool slightly before using it. Otherwise the chocolate will melt before you even get the mixture into the oven.

Put the butter into a mixing bowl and to it, add the two types of sugar. Mix together. Now add the egg and teaspoons of vanilla essence. Now mix in the flour, baking powder and salt. When all well blended gently stir through the chocolate chips (and nuts if using).

Onto lined with baking paper biscuit trays, put a tablespoon of mixture per biscuit. I sometimes make these giant, and sometimes make them small. So see how you feel. Leave good space in between. I get about six onto my baking tray when I go large with these. I couldn’t possibly tell you how many these make exactly, since I vary the sizes and often a number of them get eaten before they’re completely cooled, but I’d say about 14-18. As a rough guide.

Bake for 7-9 minutes. If you like them crispy then bake for longer. I like mine chewy so take them out after seven and leave them to cool on the tray for a bit (or slide carefully – baking sheet and all – onto a cooling rack).

That’s it. Now all I need is a really nice cookie jar.

* I like to experiment with cutting down the amount of sugar in things. Sometimes you just can’t though because something magical goes on with certain proportions of sugar/butter/flour. But. I have made these with just 100g of sugar – 50g granulated/caster and 50g of soft brown – and they are delicious and, I think, plenty sweet enough. The consistency changes slightly though. Give it a go and see what you think.

note:  you don’t have to bake these all at once. The mixture will keep for a good few days in the fridge and you can put spoonfuls onto a baking tray and have fresh cookies on the table in minutes. That way you can have freshly baked over more days.

I add a substantial amount of nuts to this mixture for when I make them for grown ups. Roasted, chopped, almonds and hazelnuts work best. I also put the mixture in the fridge as this gives me thicker, squidgier biscuits which I like.

I now have a nice cookie jar.

Chewy scoop biscuits

 These have just come out of the oven. They are crispy, salty, sugary, chocolately. But not sickly, because that would be wrong.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I keep all my torn out recipes in Muji PP Portfolio books. I have about 12 of them covering different subjects like ‘Everyday’, ‘Pasta’, ‘Fish’ and of course one just for biscuits…

I had cut this recipe out of the Waitrose magazine some time ago and recently refound it. It was the word ‘chewy’ that got me, even though these biscuits aren’t, actually chewy (or I have not found them to be so).

Not that that matters, because they’re delicious, easy to make and – best of all, for me – you can make the dough, shape them and then freeze them so when you fancy home made biscuits you’re only a quarter of an hour away from them. It also means you can cook just a few at a time (important for greedy types such as me).

Anyway, here is the recipe. I didn’t have hazelnuts so I used walnuts. The three types of chocolate is really important, as is the salt (obviously all the ingredients are important. But what I mean is something that seems unimportant, like the salt, is actually crucial in my view).

I didn’t use an ice cream scoop, just shaped them with  my hands into walnut sized balls. My biscuits, as you can see, aren’t flat like those in the magazine.

I found 12 mins was plenty, but my oven is fierce.

If you want to freeze them – and I recommend you do as this dough makes loads, you just shape them and them freeze them spaced out on a tray or plate or something. When frozen, then you can bung them all into a freezer bag (if you bung them all in to begin with they will all freeze stuck together, and you don’t really want that), to pull out and cook – from frozen – whensoever you wish. If cooking from frozen, give them 15 mins.