For his birthday, Andrew was sent some cookie cutters all the way from Australia, from his Great Uncle and Great Aunt who live out there. The cutters are in the shape of Aussie animals (kangaroo, koala and crocodile) and one is in the shape of the country itself. As we hadn’t done any baking for a while, mainly due to the amount of birthday cake we had, I thought we’d have a go at some biscuits using these new cutters. Andrew loves rolling out dough and cutting out shapes, particularly if the dough is edible and not play-dough! Joel has even started to take an interest too, but he was asleep when we baked this time.
I looked through a biscuits and cakes recipe book that I got for Christmas for some inspiration. When I saw the recipe for some peanut butter biscuits, I thought that these would work well with the Australian theme – they’re not exactly Anzac cookies, but they’re along those lines, and I remember eating a few peanut butter sandwiches when we went to Australia. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, I never do! But they turned out yummy, and went down very well with the boys. So here’s our take on peanut biscuits…
50g white sugar
50g brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
80g peanut butter
190g plain flour
Preheat oven to 180ºC, and prepare a baking tray by lining it with grease proof paper.
Cream the butters and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Beat in the vanilla essence and flour to form a stiff dough.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface.
Cut out biscuit shapes (they don’t have to be Aussie if you don’t have such cool cutters!), and transfer them to the baking tray until all the dough is used.
Bake for about 15 minutes until lightly golden – they will still be slightly soft to touch.
Leave them to cool and firm up on the tray.
Store in an airtight container.
I actually think these are better a few days old, because I like my biscuits slightly chewier rather than snappy crispy, but they won’t last much longer around here!
We’ve been busy little bunnies in the baking and crafting departments this week. There have been fewer groups due to the holidays, so I’ve been thinking of ways to keep Andrew amused. I can’t really go wrong with baking, especially biscuits as he loves cutting them out and of course tasting them 🙂 Granny was with us yesterday when we baked these bunny biscuits, and we made them with wheat-free flours so that Grandma can enjoy them too.
There seem to be quite a few Easter cakes in the shops now that are basically slightly different versions of brands that are available all year, usually involving lemon or yellow colouring in some way, for example Mr Kipling lemon tarts or Cadbury’s lemon mini rolls or Jaffa Cakes lemon cake bars. But I rarely see Simnel cakes around these days – a light fruit cake with spices such as cinnamon and ginger and a layer of marzipan in the middle and on top. I love marzipan and I like fruit cakes, so I enjoy Simnel cake. Traditionally it has 11 balls of marzipan on the top, which are said to represent the 11 disciples of Jesus minus Judas who betrayed him.
We didn’t have the time or attention span (in Andrew’s case) to make fruit cake, so we made biscuits based on the idea of Simnel cake. The spices are in the biscuit dough and the fruit is sandwiched between the biscuit and a layer of marzipan on top. We used a bunny shape cutter, although I was convinced I had seen an egg-shaped cutter in Andrew’s bumper pot of cutters when we were doing play-dough the other day, but I couldn’t find it when we came to bake the biscuits, so we had to switch from the egg-shaped biscuits that I had intended to make originally.
If you fancy having a go, here’s the recipe, which makes about 20….
180g flour (I used 60g cornflour and 120g gluten-free flour)
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp groung nutmeg
about 30g raisins
1/2 pack ready to roll marzipan
Pre-heat the oven to 150ºC (fan) and prepare two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Cream the margarine and sugar until smooth and fluffy.
Add the flour and spices and mix with a spoon until a dough starts to form; then use your hands to bring it together as it gets too stiff for the spoon.
Roll out the dough to about 1/2cm thick on the greaseproof paper that you put on the baking trays, and cut out the biscuit shapes. That way, when you’ve cut out the shapes, they are already on the place where they will be baked, and you avoid breaking them in transferring to the paper once cut out.
Once you’ve cut out all the dough, press a few raisins onto the top of each bunny.
Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until lightly golden.
Remove and allow to cool.
Roll out the marzipan on a lightly floured board to about 1/2cm thick.
Cut out the same number of shapes as the biscuits, and place on top of the biscuits, sandwiching the raisins between the biscuit and marzipan layer.
Earlier in the week I blogged about making gingerbread men. At the time I made 2 different biscuit doughs, the other one being a choc chip shortbread which Andrew cut into animal shapes using a set of cute animal cutters that I was given for Christmas. The idea behind putting choc chips in was to try and get the effect of patches of darker colour on the animals, just as cows have, and often sheep, pigs, horses and ducks are more than just one colour. The problem with the chips was that they got in the way of the cutter slicing through the dough to the board, so the shapes didn’t come out as clearly as they would have without the chips – this was probably not helped by the fact that my chips were very chunky whereas using ready made chips that you can buy might have worked better as they tend to be smaller; I just think those are so expensive compared to chopping up your own chocolate.
The reason we made these, apart from it being a fun way to spend an afternoon, was as a present for Granny’s birthday. I created a photo mug online using photos of her with my little boys, and thought it would be nice to bake some biscuits to go with the tea that she can make in the mug. There’s also a story behind the Old MacDonald theme…. for Andew’s birthday, Granny and Grandad bought him one of those musical cards that blasts out Old MacDonald at full pelt when you open it, which Andrew found fascinating! Here’s a video of it – may I suggest that you only play it if you don’t mind having the song in your head for the rest of the day! In buying this card they have perpetuated a family joke that started when my grandparents bought my brother and me musical cards one Christmas, and my brother kept opening and closing his in fascination, much to the annoyance of everyone else in the room.
If you fancy making these yourself, in whatever shape you like, here’s the recipe, which is very simple to make. The semolina and granulated sugar help to give it a slightly crunchy texture as well as being lovely and ‘short’ or crumbly.
200g plain flour
100g granulated sugar
200g margarine or butter
100g chocolate, chopped into small chunks, or ready-made chocolate chips
Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan), and prepare a couple of baking sheets by lining with greaseproof paper.
Cream the margarine/butter and sugar together until smooth and fluffy.
Add the chocolate chips and stir in until well distributed.
Add the flour and semolina and mix until a stiff dough forms, using your hands to do the last bit when it’s too stiff for a spoon.
Roll out on a lightly floured surface and cut out shapes using biscuit cutters.
Place the dough shapes on the baking sheets and bake in the oven for about 10 – 15 minutes until slightly golden on top.
Remove from the oven and eat as fresh as possible, storing in an air-tight container until eaten.
This week we’ve had Grandma and Pop with us for a few days. It’s been great fun for Andrew, and even Joel has got some giggles for them too now. For me it’s been very helpful to have extra pairs of hands that get on with the household tasks when not otherwise occupied by a toddler or a baby. When they were all out at Andrew’s weekly music group yesterday, I stayed at home with Joel as he’s getting increasingly difficult to feed when we’re out because he gets so distracted by everything going on. When Joel was napping I prepared some biscuit doughs so that Andrew could do some rolling and cutting out later on in the afternoon after his nap – this is his favourite part of baking biscuits. One was a wheat-free gingerbread dough (Grandma is wheat-intolerant) and one was a choc chip shortbread dough (I’ll blog about this later in the week).
I know that Andrew loves making gingerbread men, mainly because he excitedly repeats ‘gingerbread mans’ with pretty good accuracy in terms of his vowels and consonants, but we’ve only ever made a wheaty recipe. So I googled and came across Coeliac UK’s website which has a gluten-free gingerbread man recipe. As far as I understand, if something is gluten-free it’s also wheat-free, but something that’s wheat-free might not be gluten-free because gluten is also part of other cereals (such as oat/barley gluten). I adapted it slightly – self-raising wheat-free flour instead of separate flour and raising agent, a bit more ginger as I like very gingery gingerbread (!), margarine instead of butter, honey instead of golden syrup. So here’s the recipe as we made it…
225g wheat-free self-raising flour
2 level teaspoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons melted honey
Mix the flour and ginger together, then rub in the margarine to form a breadcrumb texture.
Add the sugar and mix to a stiff dough with the melted honey.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, and cut out men (or other shapes) with a little man cutter.
Bake at 180°C (fan) for 8 – 10 minutes.
Leave to cool before decorating with writing icing to make the features like eyes, mouth and buttons.
There seems to be a bit of a star theme going on on this blog this Christmas! First there were the cupcakes we made for my friend’s sister’s charity fundraising efforts, then Andrew’s nativity play costume, and now these homemade cards. One of my reasons for choosing a star as the shape to feature on the cards was that I wanted to use the finger paints that I bought last year (they seem to last ages, even having used them a few times since last Christmas) to do some potato stamp painting, and a star is a shape that is both Christmassy and simple enough that I could easily make a potato stamp using a star biscuit cutter that we have. Plus Andrew is a big fan of stars, particularly the song Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, so I knew he’d enjoy making cards with stars on.
Potato stamp painting is something I haven’t done for a long time, and it reminds me of early school days. It’s such an easy and cheap way to make your own stamp – a baking potato cost me about 30p, and we already had a star cutter for making biscuits and playing with play dough. I cut the potato in half, and pressed the cutter into it and took it out again; I then cut out the potato from around the edges of the star to the edge of the potato, to a depth of about 0.5cm.
The paint we used was some blue finger paint that came as a set of 4 pots (with red, yellow and green too). We stamped one blue star into the centre of A5 orange paper (A4 cut in half) – blue and orange are complementary colours, so the star stands out well on the background. Once the paint was dry, we stuck some glittery mini star stickers randomly around the big star, to make it look like a starry sky (with a bit of imagination 😉 ). Then to assemble the cards, I chopped a 1cm border off each edge of the orange paper, and stuck it down using double-sided tape onto A4 brown thick card folded in half.
I always like to make (or buy) my Christmas cards with a design that reflects the real reason for Christmas, rather than something seasonal like snowmen, robins or holly. That was another reason for choosing a star – it was a star that marked the place where Jesus was born, so it had a vital role in the first Christmas. To go with this star design, I printed the text of a Bible verse that tells of the Magi’s (or ‘kings’ or ‘wise men’ as they are traditionally known) encounter with the star that shone over Bethlehem:
The star the Magi had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. Matthew 2:9-10
We then stuck this verse onto the inside of the cards, the opposite side to where I wanted to write the greeting. I used a silver pen to write on the brown card. And that’s all there was to our card making, pretty simple really, but something Andrew could get involved with and enjoy doing!
Anyone who’s following the Great British Bake Off as avidly as me will know that I’m a week behind on this one. Biscuits, specifically crackers, chocolate tea-cakes and gingerbread, were the theme of last week’s episode, whereas this week was all about French baking – petit fours, gateaux, choux pastry. I didn’t have time to do any baking last weekend, as we had a busy weekend visiting my brand new niece and taking Andrew to see the ‘choo-choos’ (model railway exhibition) at our local museum. Being as biscuits are more my thing than fancy French baking, I thought I’d stick to them rather than stretch myself too far. And besides, gingerbread men are something that I’d really like Andrew to get involved in with helping me bake.
Avid followers of the GBBO will of course also know that the contestants didn’t have to make just any old gingerbread, but rather build with it structures that went beyond the quaint little Hansel and Gretal houses that you see around Christmas-time these days. There were some impressive architectural feats, like a 2-foot tall Big Ben and a 2-foot diameter Colosseum! I wanted to stick with the classic ‘man’ shape for my gingerbread – though who has ever seen a man look like a gingerbread ‘man’?! This involved buying a cutter, because I realised that I’d only ever made gingerbread as a child at home, and I don’t personally own cutters in such a shape. I thought this would be easily remedied by a quick trip to the supermarket, but it seems gingerbread men cutters are harder to come by than I thought. In the end I found a bumper pack of kids biscuit cutters in Hobbycraft, and this included one classic gingerbread man shape as well as other assorted animals, birds and geometric shapes. I saw this as a good investment, because recently Andrew has got into play dough, and I have it on my to-do list to make some, so the cutters will come in handy for using with play dough as well as with edible biscuit dough!
It turned out that Andrew, when given the choice of which shapes he wanted to use for cutting out gingerbread dough, wasn’t actually that bothered about the classic ‘man’ shape, which he insisted was a teddy bear anyway. He much preferred to cut out butterflies and hearts – two words which he loves to say (‘heart’ is pretty accurate, and ‘butterfly’ is something like ‘pap-pap’, which I presume is him picking up the French word ‘papillon’), and kept saying them in very excited intonation as he cut one out, and another, and another, and another…! I did persuade him to let me cut out some ‘men’, sorry I mean bears, whilst he was in charge of heart and butterfly creation.
The recipe we used was from Paddington’s Cookery Book, which Andrew was given as a birthday present from his uncle and aunt. It has some great recipes that are perfect for getting little hands involved in baking, and this gingerbread was so simple to make. Along with the book, he was also given a lovely little apron, which now fits him well, with some growing room still, so he wore that whilst we baked together. I’ve given the list of ingredients below, which I altered slightly by using margarine instead of butter and omitting the salt, and I’ve also added ingredients for decorating that aren’t in the book. But I shouldn’t write the method out exactly as in the book as it’s under copyright. You do what you would do for making a shortbread-type biscuit, by combining flour and fat into a breadcrumb consistency and then adding the sugar, spices and finally milk to bring it together into a firm dough that can be rolled out and cut into shapes. The finished biscuit texture is quite soft and short rather than crunchy like some gingerbread, but I think this is a nice texture for little (and big) mouths.
200g self-raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
75g brown sugar
3 tbsp milk
white writing icing tube
5 tbsp icing sugar
Once they were cooled, we then set about decorating the biscuits with icing, sprinkles and chocolate beans. This was the really fun part! I was amazed at how good Andrew’s fine motor skills were, as he was able to accurately put a small chocolate bean onto each of two small blobs of writing icing that I had squeezed onto the men-shaped biscuits to make buttons down the front, in classic gingerbread man style. Even I found this tricky, though I guess smaller fingers is an advantage in this case. I then drew a mouth and two eyes onto the faces using the writing icing, and Andrew was keen to repeatedly say ‘eyes’ and ‘mouth’ as I did each one! We also mixed some icing sugar with a small amount of water to make a simple water icing that I then spread onto the butterflies and hearts and Andrew helped sprinkle the sprinkles and place the chocolate beans on the butterfly wings. I thought he might be tempted to eat some biscuits whilst we were decorating (or maybe that was just me?!) but he didn’t seem bothered, and I let him have one right at the end when they were done.
We had such a fun afternoon making this biscuits, and I’m glad that Andrew enjoyed it and found it interesting too – it means a lot to me that he’s showing an interest in one of my favourite things to do 🙂
I’m no good at lying, so here I am being honest about the fact that these delicious ‘crumblies’ I made started out in my head as shortbread biscuits. They look or feel nothing like shortbread, but they taste just as good if not better, because they have that lovely ‘melt in the mouth’ quality, they just crumble as (but not before) you bite them. Hence the name change to ‘crumblies’. It was always my intention to make half chocolate dough and half almond dough, and then make square biscuits with a contrasting-coloured heart in the centre. If you use your imagination, you can just about see this plan worked for the chocolate squares with almond hearts, but the almond squares with chocolate hearts were a bit of a flop (or a run if you like) – in appearance that is, but not taste. Oh how I wish I could post samples so that readers would believe me.
I suspect part of the reason why the dough ran so much (unlike the firmness of shortbread) was that I used all cornflour. I used to make shortbread with half cornflour, half plain flour; I expected that using all cornflour would make them more fragile and crumbly, but I didn’t expect the dough to go so runny whilst cooking and therefore lose the shape of my hearts. My inspiration for doing this cornflour thing was seeing gluten-free shortbread on sale at a tea-room I visited with my mum-in-law who is wheat/gluten-intolerant; so I thought I’d have a go at another wheat-free recipe with her in mind. The results are not bad. The perfectionist inside me is annoyed that they don’t look so pretty, but the time-pressed realistic mum inside me has come to accept that as long as they taste good (which they do, did I mention that?!), that’s all that matters. If you fancy having a go at these yourself, here’s how I did it.
125g corn flour
125g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
60g icing sugar
few drops almond essence
45g cocoa powder
80g corn flour
125g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
60g icing sugar
Start with the almond dough (so you can use the same bowl for the chocolate one – think about it, the other way round and you’d get brown bits in your yellow dough). Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl with a metal spoon.
Add the cornflour and almond essence and combine until you get a thick pasty dough. As it gets thicker, use your hands to bring it together into a ball.
On a large flat surface, sprinkle some cornflour. Roll out the dough until about 1cm thick. (I suspect that making it thicker would have been better.) Cut out some squares with a biscuit cutter, until you’ve used all the dough.
From each square, cut out a small heart using a biscuit cutter. I got mine from Hobbycraft back in 2008 (I know the date because I got them to cut out hearts from card for the orders of service at our wedding!)
Place the squares (minus hearts) on a greaseproof-paper-lined baking tray. Put the hearts to one side.
Do the same with the chocolate dough. Cream butter and sugar, then add cornflour and cocoa powder.
When you have a tray of almond and a tray of chocolate squares, place the opposite type of dough heart into the heart-shaped holes in the squares.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 160°C for 10-12 minutes. When you take them out they will still be quite soft.
Allow to cool on the trays and they will become firm. Once cooled and firm, remove from the trays and store in an air-tight box.
The chocolate taste is nicely strong and not too sweet, which contrasts well with the sweeter almond taste. So if you’re more in the mood for something chocolately with a hint of sweetness, I’d recommend one from the ‘good’ option, and if you’re more up for a sweet bite with a bit of chocolate thrown in, I’d go for the ‘ugly’ but still yummy option. My willing tasters (aka my boys) approve, which is reassuring to know. I’d be more than happy to get suggestions of why it went so runny, other than the cornflour. I’m a bit of an experimental baker; sometimes things go right, sometimes wrong, but I don’t know much of the science behind why something went wrong unless it’s obvious like I left out a key ingredient by mistake.