Easter bunny Simnel biscuits

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.IMG_0582

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.IMG_0585

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. bunnies

If you fancy having a go, here’s the recipe, which makes about 20….

Ingredients

  • 60g sugar
  • 120g margarine
  • 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

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 150ºC (fan) and prepare two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar until smooth and fluffy.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Once you’ve cut out all the dough, press a few raisins onto the top of each bunny.
  6. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until lightly golden.
  7. Remove and allow to cool.
  8. Roll out the marzipan on a lightly floured board to about 1/2cm thick.
  9. 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.
  10. Eat as fresh as possible!

Father Christmas mince tartlets

When I bought a 24-piece biscuit cutter set a while ago for Andrew to use with play dough, I noticed that there was a Father Christmas cutter included. As there aren’t many weeks of the year that you can get away with baking in such a festive shape, I thought I’d give it a go this week. I also had some marzipan left over from the star cupcakes that we made last week, so I came up with something that used it – mince pies with marzipan lids in the shape of Father Christmas. But because you can see some of the filling, they are really tarts rather than pies, and their small size means I’ve called them tartlets.

I’m not a massive fan of shop-bought mince pies, mainly because the pastry isn’t great unless you buy the really expensive ones. I actually prefer a plain unsweetened shortcrust pastry rather than a sweet pastry, because it tones down the highly sweet filling. Obviously the marzipan lids of these pies add sweetness, but at least it’s marzipan, which I LOVE – it’s one of the best tastes of Christmas in my foodie opinion. But the bases are unsweetened pastry, to which I added a dash of cinnamon, just to spice things up a little and make these tartlets a real twist on a classic bake.

I don’t usually bake mince pies in cake cases, but I have had times when they have stuck to the tin a bit, so I was pleased when I came across the idea of using paper cases on the website of Holly Bell, Great British Bake Off finalist 2011 – recipesfromanormalmum.com. We gave it a try, and it worked well.

Here’s how we made them. You could use whatever shape cutter you have for the lid, it doesn’t have to be Father Christmas (or Far Kissmas as Andrew is calling him 🙂 )! As there were two lots of rolling and cutting out dough , Andrew was very impressed, so I’d recommend it for toddlers who like that sort of thing. I’d also be interested to hear about other mince pie recipes, especially if they’re a bit unusual like this one – please leave a comment if you have one.

Ingredients (makes a dozen)

  • 110g plain flour
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 55g butter
  • cold water
  • mincemeat (I used about half a 454g jar)
  • ready to roll packet of marzipan (I used about a quarter of a standard supermarket packet)

Method

  1. First make the pastry. Chop up the butter into chunks and add to the flour and cinnamon in a bowl.
  2. Rub the butter chunks into the flour and cinnamon until you have a breadcrumb consistency.
  3. Add water, small amounts at a time, and combine with the butter-flour mixture until it forms a stiff dough. Don’t overwork it.
  4. Leave to rest in the fridge overnight, and get it out an hour or so before you want to roll it out, to get it to room temperature again.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan), and put paper cake cases into a fairy cake tin.
  6. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board to about 3mm thick.
  7. Cut circles out for the base of the tartlets using a circle cutter, and press them lightly into the cake cases.
  8. Add a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat to each base.
  9. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, until the pastry is lightly golden and the mincemeat is bubbling.
  10. Meanwhile, roll out the marzipan on the same lightly floured board, to about 3mm thick.
  11. Cut out Father Christmas shapes, or whatever festive shape you have a cutter for!
  12. When the tartlets are ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  13. When they have fully cooled, place a Father Christmas on top of each tartlet and press down lightly.

Chocolate and marzipan star cupcakes

When an email popped into my inbox the other day, from a friend asking if anyone could bake cakes and/or sell them to help her and her sister raise money for charity, I thought that I could help. Baking is a great way to keep Andrew from getting bored and makes a change from the DVD and youtube watching that goes on at the moment. And we get to help raise some money, so it makes it even more worthwhile. The charity they’re fundraising for is Asthma UK, which supports asthma sufferers and their families. My friend’s sister is asthmatic herself, and despite this she is running the London marathon in April as part of her fundraising efforts too – now that sounds much harder than baking cakes! 

As it’s nearly Christmas, I decided to go for something a bit festive but not the traditional mince pies etc. as we already have so many of them at this time of year. I think it’s easier to sell little individual cakes rather than whole ones or slices of whole ones, so I went for cupcakes. They are chocolate sponge, with chocolate chips, and have a marzipan star on top (that’s the festive twist, in both flavour and shape!) The star is held on with a bit of buttercream icing, and on top of the star there is a little swirl of glittery purple icing to finish it off. The sponge has ground almonds in, partly to make it a nice moist sponge, partly to blend with the flavour of the almonds in the marzipan. Oh and the cupcake cases are silver, to make them extra sparkly for the festive theme.

Andrew enjoyed helping me – he stirred the mixture a few times at different stages, and he rolled out marzipan and cut out stars (his favourite job). During our baking session, I noticed that he has a new phrase to say: “Mummy do it” and, more often, “Andrew [A-tar] do it”. I’ve given the recipe below, if you’d like a bit of inspiration to have a go at your own Christmassy cupcakes. This made 16 cakes. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 170g sugar
  • 170g margarine
  • 3 eggs
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 20g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 100g milk chocolate, chopped into chunks (or ready done chic chips)
  • ready to roll yellow marzipan
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • glitter sugar

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and place 16 cupcake cases into muffin tins.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs until well combined.
  4. Add the four, cocoa, ground almonds and baking powder, and mix until well combined.
  5. Add the chocolate chunks and stir until evenly distributed.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases to about two thirds full.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, until risen and a skewer inserted in the centre of each cake comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  9. Meanwhile make the buttercream icing by mixing the butter and icing sugar until smooth and stiff; then add the splash of milk to make it a little less stiff and a good consistency to work with.
  10. Spoon a small blob of icing (at this point without colour) onto each cupcake; then add the glitter sugar to the remaining icing (I chose a purple glitter sugar).
  11. Roll out the marzipan to a few millimetres thick on a board dusted with icing sugar.
  12. Cut out 16 stars, and press them down quite firmly onto the top of each cake.
  13. Finish by putting the remaining glitter icing into a piping bag and piping a small swirl onto the top of each star.