Hazelnut & Chocolate Biscotti

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I love biscotti. Any baked good that you can justifiably eat before 11am with your morning coffee (black, please) goes straight to the top of my list. In fact, I love biscotti so much that I recently had a dream about them; a very frustrating dream in which the person in front of me in a bakery bagged the last one. It was brutal. Ever since, I’ve been craving that seriously dangerous sweet-but-not-too-sweet flavour that means you can eat five in a row no problem; the satisfying crunch; the subtle flavours of citrus and nuts.

This is a deceptively simple recipe and one that is very easy to customise. The traditional additions are nuts and citrus peel, but you can add chocolate, freeze-dried fruit or any dry product that won’t add liquid to the dough. The only trick to this bake is good timing: left too long in the oven and your biscotti will break teeth (if this happens, a good dunk in a cuppa should help!). Follow the timings listed here precisely, and don’t worry that they will feel soft when you first remove them from the oven – like most biscuits, biscotti harden as they cool.

Ingredients
120g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
80g caster sugar
Half a lemon, zest finally grated
50g hazelnuts
50g dark chocolate chips
1 large egg
A splash of milk

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Method
Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and preheat the oven to 160°C fan.

Roughly chop the hazelnuts (or blitz in the food processor). Place the flour, baking powder, sugar and lemon zest in a bowl. Break the egg into a cup, add the milk and beat lightly with a fork to combine. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir to bring them together into a wet dough. If your egg is a little on the small side, you may need to add a little more milk to bring it together, but go easy: a too-wet dough will be difficult to handle and spread too much in the oven.

On a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a rough log around 25cm long (don’t worry about getting it the same width the whole way along) and transfer to the prepared baking tray. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and, using a serrated knife and a clean tea towel to protect your hand, cut the log into slices around 1.5cm thick. Turn them to lie side-up and return to the oven for ten minutes, then turn and repeat to bake the other side. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

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Milk chocolate praline cookies

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There is a very dangerously placed Ben’s Cookies that stands between my office and the tube platform, and it is only a slight exaggeration to say that restraining myself from nipping in for one of their milk chocolate praline numbers is a daily battle. But everything is better for you if you make it yourself, right? Thus, inspired by Ben’s, I gave my usual Eric Lanlard cookie recipe an update. Here’s the result – soft, chewy, chocolatey, nutty glory.

Ingredients
100g blanched, roasted hazelnuts
175g unsalted butter, melted
200g soft dark brown sugar
100g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg, plus 1 yolk
250g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
100g milk chocolate chunks
1 box Guylian shells (or similar), chopped into chunks

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Method
Preheat the oven to 160°C fan and line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Divide the hazelnuts into two batches of 50g. Using a food processor, blitz one until the nuts are in small, rough pieces. Blitz the second to a fine grind. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat together the melted butter and two sugars together until smooth. Then add the egg, yolk and vanilla extract and beat again until the mixture is light and creamy. Next, sift in the flour, ground hazelnuts and bicarb and mix until combined.

With a wooden spoon, mix in the roughly chopped hazelnuts, chocolate chunks and chopped Guylian shells.

Drop heaped dessert spoons of the dough onto the prepared baking trays, around 6 cookies per sheet (they spread a lot). If you want to get your cookies perfectly round, I recommend using a small ice-cream scoop or melon baller to get a sphere of dough. Don’t flatten them out – they will do this themselves in the oven.

Bake for 17 minutes, or until the edges are golden. They will feel very soft when you first take them out of the oven but will harden up as they cool so don’t be tempted to leave them in for longer if you want that lovely gooey centre.

Cool on baking trays and tuck in!

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Christmas Gingerbread

IMG_2937Last Friday my beautiful sister, Becka Bailey (not my actual sister, despite the surname), threw a Christmas party in my university town of Leeds. So of course I had to go and surprise her – and take something baked. I needed something that would travel well and last a few days, so I opted for gingerbread biscuits decorated with royal icing. They went down a treat, the party was great, and I got to spend a weekend with some very special people. All in all, a cracking weekend.

Ingredients
Biscuits, made with one quantity of my gingerbread recipe
4 egg whites
1kg icing sugar
Assorted food colouring pastes – I used red and green
Silver balls

IMG_0235Equipment
Assorted Christmas cookie cutters – I used a snowflake, Christmas tree, holly leaf, heart and two bauble ones
Disposable piping bags
3 of the same thin piping nozzles (or more if using more than three colours), like a Wilton 1 or 2

Makes: about 70 biscuits, depending on cutter size

Method
Follow the gingerbread recipe using your chosen Christmas cutters and bake. I recommend chilling each baking sheet for 15 minutes in the fridge before baking to help prevent spreading. Usually I wouldn’t bother, but when you’re doing something a bit more special it’s definitely worth it. Allow them to cool and get started with the icing straight away, or store them in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Add the egg whites to the bowl of a standalone mixer (or a mixing bowl with an electric beater) and whisk until they hold soft peaks. Then, continuing to whisk on a low speed, sift in the icing sugar a bit at a time, until it is all incorporated. Turn up the speed to medium and beat for another five minutes, until the icing is stiff and glossy.

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Separate into bowls for colouring; I used red, white and green in fairly equal quantities, so I divided evenly between three bowls. Add your pastes or powders: you won’t be able to get a strong enough pigment with supermarket-bought liquid colours without making your icing too runny; proper cook shop colours are a must.

Divide each bowl in two, so you have two bowls of each colour. Cover one of each with cling film (I find laying it directly over the surface of the icing helps prevent it from drying out) and set aside. The bowls remaining are going to be your piping icings, which must be stiff enough to hold their shape. You may need to add a little water to bring them to pipeable consistency, but do it very slowly, a teaspoon at a time. You may only need one teaspoon, it should be very stiff; about the texture of toothpaste.

Set up the matching nozzles with piping bags and transfer your piping icing into them, twisting and securing the tops with elastic bands. Carefully pipe outlines around your cookies in the colour that you want them to be, as shown in the picture below, and allow them to dry until hard, about 15 minutes.

Next, you need to fill the outlines with icing; this is known as ‘flooding’. To make the flooding icing, take the bowls that you set aside earlier and add water to them, a teaspoon at a time. You can test whether the icing is the correct consistency by drizzling a spoon of it over the surface of the icing; if it returns to being flat within 5-10 seconds then it’s ready. You can pipe your flooding icing on or use a squeezy bottle, but I find it easiest to just use a teaspoon and spread with the flat of a cocktail stick. It’s not the most technically correct way to do it, but I find it works best for me.

Flood all the biscuits with the corresponding colours and leave to dry at room temperature for 24 hours. Dispose of any remaining flooding icing, but keep your stiff piping icing. Cover the surface in cling film and keep it in air tight containers in the fridge. If you leave them in the piping bags overnight, the nozzles will dry out, so make sure to dismantle your bags and store the icing separately, annoying as it may seem.

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Bring your piping icing bag to room temperature and give them a good stir to loosen them up. You may need to add a drop or two of water, but no more. Once again, fit your piping bags with matching nozzles and fill, securing the tops. You are then free to pipe any designs you like on to your biscuits; take inspiration from mine or have a Google. I made a Pinterest board to collect inspiration before making mine. I decorated with silver balls, but you could also use edible glitter, gems etc.

If you’re not making these for a party, they make a pretty Christmas gift, presented in cellophane bags tied with ribbon or in presentation boxes. Alternatively, because gingerbread keeps very well once iced, you can also use them to decorate your Christmas tree. Before baking, use a straw (or something similar-sized, round and hollow) to remove circles from your dough shapes. Don’t put them too close to the edge or they will be too delicate. Ice around the holes, then thread through with ribbon when dry. This works particularly well with bauble-shaped cutters (duh); I got mine from Cakes Cookies & Crafts.

Once you’ve mastered these basics, you can do the same for any royal icing cookies: birthday balloons, ballet shoes, new baby biscuits or dinosaurs; if there’s a cookie cutter for it, you’re golden.

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Gingerbread (& my little sous chef)

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This weekend, I spent some time doing my favourite thing with my  favourite person (my little brother, Joe), making his favourite thing: gingerbread. I’m quite surprised we actually had enough biscuits left to decorate after the rigorous rounds of quality control – i.e. eating – that he enforced at every stage. What can I say, he learnt from the best.

This recipe uses golden syrup, rather than dark muscovado sugar or treacle, to produce a light and slightly childish-flavoured biscuit, which – in my opinion – is exactly how gingerbread should be, and is also simple enough to make with your favourite mini sous chef.

Ingredients

350g plain flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
100g butter
175g soft light brown sugar
1 egg
4 tablespoons golden syrup

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Preheat your oven to 160°C fan and line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Mix the flour, ginger and bicarb in a bowl, then add the butter and rub in to form regular-sized crumbs.

Stir in the sugar, then add the egg and golden syrup and stir to combine roughly, before using your hands to bring the dough together. Depending on how heaped or otherwise your spoons of syrup were, you may need to add a little more to get all the flour from the sides of the bowl.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead a couple of times to bring into a neat ball. If you don’t want to have gingerbread coming out of your ears for the next week, you can freeze half the dough before rolling for use another time. We just ploughed ahead with the cutters.

Place your gingerbread shapes on the prepared baking trays with a centimetre or two between them to allow for spreading (you may have to do a few loads’ worth) and bake for 10 minutes. They will feel soft to the touch when you first remove them from the oven but should firm up within a minute or two.

If you want the biscuits to hold their shape without spreading, it helps to refrigerate them for 15 minutes on the trays before baking. It’s something I would normally do if I were making these for adult company, but it turns out that five year olds really aren’t that fussed about how uniform their shapes are.

Once the biscuits have cooled, decorate! We went old-school with Smarties and writing icing pens. If you want to make something a little more grown up (and seasonal), try buying a set of bauble-shaped cutters, decorating them with royal icing and tying ribbons through the top to hang on the Christmas tree or give as gifts.

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