Christmas Cookies, or anytime-spiced-iced-cookies

At the recent sugar craftnight in TOG (our annual Xmas party where the crafters eat too much cake and biscuits and hot chocolate), I had a go off proper icing, with an icing bag and all, and decorated a rather dapper velociraptor (raptor made by Becky).  It was also my first go off making royal icing for decorating, and I quite enjoyed the whole thing, so went out and got icing gear and a Christmas tree cutter so I could keep icing at home.

Cookies

Christmas jumpers are only for cookies, not grown humans

So far as I can tell, the only thing consistent between royal icing recipes is that it contains egg whites and sugar. The methods aren’t all consistent, and things like the addition of lemon juice or glycerine seem optional, even the eggs to sugar ratio varies from page to page.  If you’re using the icing to decorate a cake, there’s probably a lot more effort to be put into beating it to make it stiff, but for piping on to biscuits and doing a flood fill, things are a lot more flexible.  Also, use gel food colourings if you want proper colour, the liquidy ones only work when they’re what your using to hydrate the icing as you’d need to add to much for a vibrant effect.

You can buy bags of powdered royal icing in the shops, so you can make up as much as you need.  Thin it out with lemon juice so you can pipe with it, and thin it out even further for flood filling areas that you’ve piped around the edges (see the Xmas trees, the edge is the boundary to stop the flood fill rolling off thet cookie).  The advantage of the powdered royal icing is that the egg whites are dried and mixed already, meaning you don’t have to mess around separating egg whites and feeding raw egg to people who don’t want it (and may not recognise that it’s in icing).

Pretty trees

The trees were flood filled after piping around the edges. They were decorated when the flood was mostly dry, so the icings merged a little.

Of course, what’s the point in iced cookies without cookies! Many thanks to Carri for the recipe which I have duly modified by chucking in some spices.  I’ll probably be more heavy handed the next time, but at this ratio, people who normally don’t like cinnamon or ginger did their best to eat the whole batch. You could also use vanilla in place of the spices, though I think cinnamon should be added to every baked thing (within reason, maybe).  Leave some undecorated for the people who don’t care for icing.

 

  • 225g butter
  • 175g icing sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 450g flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line some trays with baking paper. Get the wire cooling rack ready and a plate for cooled cookies too, as the cookies will constantly be going in and out of oven and you’ll need somewhere to put them. This recipe makes a LOT of cookies.

Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the egg. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices and add to the mix. Knead briefly and roll out to about 5mm thick. Cut out with your preferred cutters, place on the baking tray (they don’t spread too much during cooking, but leave a little space between them anyway). Bake them for about ten minutes, until they are a pale golden colour. Let to cool for a minute before transferring to the wire rack (they’re a little fragile straight out of the oven). When they’re cold, move them off the rack to a plate, as the next batch will be out of the oven shortly.

showing off

The cookies should be golden before you turn them into instruments of sugar delivery

When the cookies are all made, make up the icing according to the pack. Take some of the icing into a new bowl and add the colour and thin with lemon juice until you can pipe it. If you want to floodfill, go round the outside of the area you want to fill, then thin the icing even further with more lemon juice so it’s pourable and you can fill the space on the cookie. The floodfill ends up paler than the outline if you simply thin the outline paste without adding more colour. Let the icing to partly dry at least before you move on to the next step. These cookies lasted about four days from baking, well they were finished within four days, so I’m not sure how long they’d last beyond it.

Further adventures in biscuit land

I love a good shortbread so I do. It’s quick enough to make, and the buttery delight means it’s hard to make shortbread that doesn’t taste good. People always go on about shortbread being quick enough to make if guests suddenly arrive and you want to show off / not go to the shop for biscuits, but seriously, who does actually do that. I just make it on a whim, so the lads in college will be in for a treat tomorrow, lucky folks.

The recipe was derived from a barely remembered (misremembered?) ratio of 3 parts flour to 2 parts butter to 1 part sugar. It’s VERY buttery, so if you don’t like buttery shortbread you won’t like this (also, how can you not like buttery shortbread). It’s a simpler cousin of this recipe, it’s not as delicate and fragile, an altogether more robust shortbread than can survive the trip to work.

It is pretty quick to make, about ten to fifteen minutes making the dough and then fifteen to twenty while they bake in the oven. If you want to chocolate coat them then that will take extra time. This makes about twenty biscuits (4-5cm in diameter).

Delicious chocolate covered shortbread waiting for the chocolate to set, and some naked ones waiting to be nommed.

  • 240g plain flour
  • 160g butter
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp almond essence

Preheat the oven to 170°C (mine’s a fan oven). In a bowl, mix together the butter and flour until it starts to resemble breadcrumbs. Then add in the sugar and essence. Mix about a bit, then start to knead it all together. The kneading takes a little work as it’s a pretty crumbly dough (the only thing holding it together is butter!). When it’s come together as a lump, you can roll it out. (I stuffed it into my biscuit gun and cut off neat circles, as it’s too stiff to pass through the shapes). (I made about 20 biscuits)

Put your (about 8mm) thick cookies on your parchment lined tray. Leave a little space around the biscuits, they’ll spread by about 20% due to the massive amount of butter in them (they melt basically). Put them in the oven for 15 to 20 mins until starting to brown very very lightly. Leave to cool on the tray for five minutes before transferring to the wire rack.

Optional:
You can coat the biscuits with chocoalte if that’s your thing. I coated 15 of the biscuits with about 200g of chocolate. While the oven is cooling, put the broken chocolate into a borosilicate (pyrex is a tradename dontchano) bowl and while the biscuits are cooling the chocolate can melt and you dont have to watch for it burning in the microwave. Dip each biscuit into the melted chocolate using a pair of forks, turn and then place on parchment to set (I’m using one of these nonstick sheets for the oven that you get in Aldi). And be patient. When they’re set, you can eat them!

Lemon shortbread (for dipping in lemon curd)

Obsession with lemons you say? Who? Me? Surely not….

Intending to make lemon cake during the week, I bought a net of six unwaxed lemons in the supermarket. Sadly, I didn’t get around to it in time for my final day in my most recent lab rotation. So there were six lemons staring up at me for the past few days. Now, much and all as I love lemons, using all six at a go was going to be quite the feat, so I’ve done an experiment in lemon preservation (details to come shortly) and also made some curd. The curd used up two lemons. I used the zest of these two lemons to make the shortbread that follows (I decided I dont much like the bits of zest in curd, as my zester makes them too big).

Normally, Darina is my go to girl for kitchen help, but this time I followed Prue’s directions for shortbread, save that I substituted the rice flour for cornflour as I had that to hand. Rice flour and cornflour have no gluten in them, so when mixed with the wheat flour serve to reduce the overall gluten content of the biscuit to make it much lighter. Generally about a quarter of the flours is gluten free and the rest is wheat flour. Reducing the gluten content too much can result in a biscuit that disintegrates.

Lemon shortbread dough

Lemon shortbread waiting to go into the fridge. Admire my quality fork-pricking of the dough...

  • 110g Butter
  • 55g Caster sugar
  • Grated zest of two lemons
  • 40g cornflour
  • 125g plain flour

I used my Aldi chopper to speed things up, if you have a proper food processor, use that, if not bring your mixing arm to the gym…

Beat the butter to soften it. Cream in the caster sugar and then mix in the zest. Sieve the cornflour and flour together and add to the creamed sugar/butter mix (I dont tend to sift flours when using the chopper, it’s fiddly and I’m lazy…) Blitz until it just about comes together then turn out and give it one last mix. If you’be been doing it by hand, it’ll come together into a nice smooth paste round then.

Roll the shortbread dough out to about 1cm thick on some greaseproof paper (if you try to do it on the worktop, it’ll just smush into place and stick, even if you flour it). Cut into your desired shape (I went with fingers, for good dipping times). Lay on greaseproof paper on the baking tray. Prick with a fork all over, and right through to the tray. Put the biscuits in the fridge to chill until firm. Pre-heat your oven about now to 170°C (I used 160°C as we have a fan oven, damn, I miss conventional ovens).

When the shortbread has firmed up, sprinkle on some caster sugar, for that authentic shortbread look. Pop into the oven for about 20 minutes, until the shortbread has turned a pale golden colour. Prue recommends scooshing under the shortbread with a palette knife (who owns a palette knife like) after they come out of the oven, leaving to cool for 5mins and then transfering to a wire rack, but I just slid the baking paper off the tray on to the wire rack. Be careful though, hot shortbread is fragile, so if they overhang the rack, they’ll break or if you try to move them without COMPLETELY supporting the underside, they’ll break. When they’ve cooled they’re much more robust.

Serve with lashings of lemon curd and some coffee!

Lemony delight (where “y delight” = bars)

For Easter my lovely fella’s lovely mammy invited me over for dinner, so I had to bring something tasty. I’ve been meaning to make something lemony for a while, and so lemon bars were made. Unfortunately, they’re awful tasty, so I had a couple for breakfast, leaving not quite enough to go round after dinner….

The base is a sort of lightly crispish base, like that of the caramel slices, and the topping is a lovely sweet lemon curd. I’d imagine dropping some of the sugar or increasing the amount of lemon juice should increase the tang, or making icing using the juice of another lemon should get a proper wince going.

Lemon Slices

A tray of lemon bars after some had been taken away for *cough* ehhh, testing....

  • 175g plain flour
  • 125g butter
  • 50g granulated sugar (though I used caster and it was grand)
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour (I used self raising even though recipe called for plain)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 medium eggs
  • Juice and grated rind of one lemon
  • Whatever you’d like to top it with (icing sugar/icing/fresh air)

Preheat your oven to 170°C. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin (mine was 18cm, first time I’ve ever bothered to measure).

If you have a food processor/chopper, you can use it here or you can do it by hand. Rub the butter into the 175g of flour until it’s like breadcrumbs, and then mix in the sugar (the 50g lot). Pour the crumbs into the tin and press down firmly. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven.

While that’s cooking, prepare the curdy topping. Into your food processor/chopper/big bowl, add the sugar, flour, baking power and salt. I like to leave the wet ingredients until the base is nearly ready to come out of the oven. So you can use this time to get the rind off the lemon (this is a damned fiddly job, and I keep meaning to upgrade my zester). When the zest is off (add it to the dry mix above), roll the lemon firmly on the counter, and then juice over a sieve into a bowl (apparently rolling is supposed to get extra juice out by breaking up the insides a bit, either way rolling gets extra lemon smell onto your hands). Beat the eggs and add to the mix along with the lemon juice and whizz/beat well.

When the 20 mins for the base are up, it should be a nice light golden colour. Pour on the curdy mix and put back into the oven for another 20mins. The recipe reckons the middle of the cake should have a slight wobble and then it’s done, but I overcooked mine (25mins instead of 20) so no wobble (still tasted good though).

Leave to cool in the tin. You can dredge with icing sugar, or put a nice lemon icing on top, or you can do nothing like I did (I was running late, I’d probably have tried harder if I got up earlier). Slice into bars and serve with a bucket of coffee. The recipe claims 24 bars, but I think about fifteen good size bars is more like it.

Caramel Slices (or, Diabetes in a Mouthful)

One of my favourite things to have with a cup of coffee is a humble caramel slice. They also make excellent treats to bring in to work (if you try to eat the whole tray at home on your own, I am not responsible for hospital bills). So, when I finished my second PhD rotation, I brought in caramel slices, to make doubly certain everyone would miss me….

Lunchboxes of Doom (and caramel slices)

That's a lot of caramelly goodness

Beware that the caramel is a) pretty intimidating to calorie counters, and b) somewhat tedious to make, but it totally pays off.

First you make the base. This base is nice and crumbly, but you can do a different type of biscuit if you prefer. I’ve been using this base since I first got the recipe for the slices more than fifteen years ago from my neighbour (hi stella! thanks!).

Biscuity base

  • 8oz plain flour
  • 4oz butter
  • 2oz caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 220ºC. Prepare a baking sheet by putting some greaseproof paper on top. Rub the flour and butter together until it has the appearance of breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar. Tip the crumbs onto the papered tray, and push around a bit until it’s level, but dont press it hard. Bake until golden around the edges (takes about 20 minutes). Leave aside to await its caramelly topping.

Biscuity base

Biscuity base (this also doubles up as a crumble topping, just bake on top of fruit instead of on a tray).

The good stuff (caramel)

  • Can of Evaporated milk (400g I think, also note EVAPORATED, not the other sort)
  • 8oz of butter
  • 4 tablespoons golden syrup
  • Vanilla essence

For the caramel, combine all ingredients apart from the vanilla in a pot. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly. When everything has melted together, bring the caramel to a simmer, and stir constantly, for about forty to fifty minutes, until the caramel coats the back of a spoon. You’ll see it start to thicken and look more like caramel. Also, I’m serious about the stirring, CONSTANT STIRRING. Either farm off some of the stirring time to a younger sibling, or bring a book to hold in your other hand…

Caramel on the back of a spoon

The caramel should coat the spoon nice and thickly when you dip it in the pot.

Pour the thick caramel on to the base and let to cool. Get a big glass of milk to drink while you scrape out whatever is left stuck to the pot (sometimes I leave a bit in the pot instead of pouring it all out, and make myself sick trying to eat ALL THE CARAMELS). When the caramel is cool, you can pour melted chocolate on top. I’m going to assume (never assume etc…) that you can melt chocolate, if not ask someone (me or another adult).

Once the chocolate is set, you can cut it into slices, pop it in a lunchbox, and make yourself a workplace hero!

Science biscuits…

Science Biscuits cooling on a rack

Just look at these delicious biscuits, waiting to be gobbled up! It’s a very light shortbread recipe from the aussie womens weekly books.  Was out of vanilla essence so substituted almond, with tasty results!  They might not look as incredible as I had hoped, but they’re very moreish…

The Recipe

  • 250g butter (not margarine)
  • 80g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp almond essence (or vanilla)
  • 75g cornflour + 225g plain flour (sifted together)

Preheat the oven to 160ºC.  Cream together the sugar, butter and essence. Then mix in the flours.  Shape and bake for 15mins.

They’re pretty delicate when they come out of the oven, so let them cool a bit before you try to move them.  I was lazy with the chocolate parts, I just rolled them in cocoa :)