It may be cold and blustery outside, but I’m noticing signs of spring here, with snowdrops and even daffodils emerging. This combined with the fast approaching, St David’s Day on 1 March put me in mind of Wales’ national bake, Welsh cakes. My wholemeal spelt Welsh cakes are super easy to make. They’re crisp on the outside, soft and buttery on the inside and incredibly moreish. This wonder food from the west is the perfect antidote to the Beast from the East.
Easter is fast approaching and as it gets ever nearer, my thoughts turn to chocolate, although to be fair, my thoughts are rarely far from this exquisite food of the gods. Over the years I’ve made many Easter chocolate cakes, some more child friendly than others. These ones, containing rather a lot of rum are definitely of the adult variety.
Gingerbread is almost synonymous with Christmas and making some to hang on the tree is something I aspire to each year. This year, I’ve actually done it. Not that we have a tree to hang any on, but I’m hoping that the friends we are giving them to will.
Reading through a review copy of What to Bake & How to Bake It, I noticed a recipe for iced gingerbread cookies that used treacle as a variation. I find the word treacle very hard to resist – something to do with childhood memories of my mother’s treacle pudding, I imagine. Decision made: I would knock up some gingerbread. I followed the recipe almost exactly, adding only a little chocolate (of course) and a few additional spices. A pinch of black pepper for additional warmth was needed I thought as well as some allspice for Vanesther’s Spice Trail and some nutmeg.
What to Bake and How to Bake It by Jane Hornby (published by Phaidon Press at £19.95), is a rather beautiful book. It’s quite a large hardback and has a turquoise textured paper cover that makes me want to stroke it. Two matching turquoise bookmarks add distinction and there are plenty of gorgeous pictures to admire. It appears to be more a work of art than a manual. It’s certainly a book to treasure.
As the title suggests, this book is aimed principally at those who are new to baking or who require a confidence boost. Each recipe is spread over four to six pages, with lots of step-by-step aerial photography and accompanying instructions. Ah, so it is a manual, albeit a rather lovely one. Methodologies, terms and equipment are covered at the beginning and there are plenty of tips and tricks to be found throughout. Anyone working through a few of these recipes would learn pretty much everything they needed to turn out fabulous, cakes, breads, biscuits, pies and desserts. Despite this, I think the book is also useful to the more experienced baker; most of us still have something to learn. Creating a Swiss roll is one of my bêtes noirs, so maybe I’ll be able to crack it with the steps shown here.
There are fifty recipes in total and although the classics are represented, there is plenty here to keep the more experienced baker interested and inspired. Shortbread is covered for example, but orange, lavender, pecan and chocolate versions are also given. I have my eye on the malted chocolate birthday cake as I’m a sucker for a malteser and if I hadn’t been ill in the run-up to Christmas, I would have made the pistachio and fig biscotti which sounds exotic and comforting in equal measure. Other bakes that might restore me to health include: blueberry-cinnamon crumb cake, cranberry stollen and Linzer cookies.
This is how I made:
Spicy Gingerbread with Limoncello Icing
- Melted 110g Rodda’s salted butter in a large pan with 200g dark brown sugar, 2 tbsp treacle and 25g dark chocolate.
- Allowed to cool a little then beat in a duck egg (large hen’s egg would be fine).
- Beat in 2 drops Holy Lama cinnamon extract (2 tsp ground cinnamon), a drop of black pepper extract and a drop of nutmeg extract.
- Sifted in 150g wholemeal flour and 200g plain flour, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1 tsp allpice and a heaped tsp ground ginger.
- Mixed until just combined, then left in my cold kitchen to firm up for an hour.
- Gathered the mixture together to form a ball of dough and rolled out on a floured surface to about the thickness of a £1 coin.
- Cut various shapes from it, rerolling the leftovers again and again until the dough was all used up.
- Placed biscuits on a lined baking tray and baked at 180C for 7 minutes – mine were quite small and larger biscuits would need a couple of minutes or so longer.
- Used a chopstick to make holes for threading whilst the biscuits were still hot from the oven, then removed them to a wire rack to cool.
- Mixed 3 heaped tbsp icing sugar with just enough limoncello to make a thick, but slightly runny icing.
- Piped this onto my biscuits and left them to dry.
- Made about 80 biscuits.
The biscuits smelt wonderful, both in and out of the oven and were as warming and delicious as I’d hoped. The touch of limoncello icing gave an added note of sophistication. They may not have looked very sophisticated, but I’m blaming the flu virus for that. CT and I quickly polished off all the rejects and the rest got packed into bags for gifts.
I am sending these biscuits of to Vanesther over at Bangers & Mash for The Spice Trail, which is allspice this month.
Some are also winging their way to Karen over at Lavender and Lovage who has appropriately chosen sugar and spice for this month’s Cooking with Herbs.
Country mouse heads to town. I’m off to London in a bit of a rush – people to see, places to go, tea to drink and chocolate to eat. This post will go out while I’m there. Before leaving, I need to make something for the friends I am staying with; something that can take a bit of a battering, isn’t too heavy and won’t take up too much space. Well, there is only one thing I can think of – biscuits.
I can’t make just any old biscuits of course, they are a present and need to look a little fancy. It’s time to try out the new textured rolling pin I picked up at The Big Cake Show as well as have another go at using a cookie stamp. I’ve had very little success with these before as the impression has always disappeared on baking. I need a more robust recipe. I know who to go to; Miranda, Queen of Biscuits. I’ve made a few recipes from Miranda Gore Browne’s book Biscuit and I’ve enjoyed all of them. Once again, she hasn’t let me down; there’s a recipe for Irresistible Chocolate Biscuits, a firm biscuit suitable for fancy icing. Well I’m not going to do any icing, but the recipe is meant to produce firm biscuits, so should suit my proposes very well – that’s what I’m hoping anyway.
I’ve pretty much followed Miranda’s recipe but as I want my friend’s children to enjoy them and they aren’t going to have any sweet icing on top, I’m using milk chocolate rather than dark. I’m also adding some allspice – well why not?
This is how I made:
Textured and Stamped Chocolate Biscuits
- Melted 55g of 37% milk chocolate (G&B) in a large bowl over a pan of hot water.
- Removed from the heat and added 200g cubed unsalted butter.
- Creamed this together, adding 160g vanilla sugar (caster) part way though.
- Added 1 heaped tbsp golden syrup and creamed until the mixture was light and fluffy.
- Beat in an egg.
- Sifted in 350g plain flour, 50g cocoa powder (G&B) and a scant teaspoon of allspice.
- Stirred until just combined. Formed into a ball, placed in a plastic bag and put in the fridge for an hour.
- Removed from the bag and cut into two peices. Rolled out one piece to about 3mm in depth, then cut our rounds suitable for the size of my cookie stamp.
- Stamped the rounds and placed on a couple of baking trays.
- Baked at 180℃ for 10 minutes. Removed from the oven and placed the biscuits on a wire rack to cool.
- Meanwhile, rolled the other dough half to about the same thickness using my textured rolling pin to do the last roll, pressing down quite firmly as I did so.
- Cut out heart and rabbit shapes and baked as before.
Before I rush out the door and leave the oven on, I better check on those biscuits.
I was half expecting my impressions to look, er, well, not very impressive. But I am delighted to see that this time they’ve held. Well done Miranda. Not only do the biscuits look rather good, I think, but they taste just right too. They have a good firm texture, but thankfully cannot be confused with hard tack. They have a good strong chocolate taste with a spicy undertone. The question is, will they make it all the way to London? I’ll let you know, it’s a long journey and I might get hungry.
As these have now become my favourite biscuits for stamping, I am entering them into The Biscuit Barrel over at I’d Much Rather Bake Than … Laura has chosen favourites as this month’s theme.
I’m also sending them off to Javelin Warrior’s Made with Love Mondays as they were entirely made from scratch.
I originally planned to make hot cross buns on the traditional day of Maundy Thursday, but what with one thing and another, action was postponed until Good Friday.
- Melted 50g dark chocolate
- Creamed 4oz butter and 7oz Rapadura (soft brown sugar). Oh the joy, the day was warm, the butter softened almost immediately and it was finally not a chore!
- Beat in 2 duck egg yolks.
- Sieved in 3oz wholemeal spelt, 3oz quinoa flour (experimented with this instead of using plain old flour), 1 heaped tsp of baking powder, 1 heaped teaspoon of allspice and a pinch of salt.
- Mixed this in alternately with 4fl oz milk
- Mixed in 1 oz of crystallised papaya (meant to be mixed peel, but I didn’t have any of that)
- Whisked 2 duck egg whites until stiff, then folded into the cake mixture.
- Spooned into a 21cm round cake thingy and baked at 180°C (gas 4) for 30 mins.
- Meanwhile, melted 50g dark chocolate and 2oz butter and left to cool for a bit.
- Mixed in 4oz icing sugar.
- Realised the icing was way too stiff, so hunted around for some sort of liquid. Could have used water, but found some orange liqueur lurking at the back of a cupboard so added a sloosh of that. This did the trick.
- Spread on top of cake.