I’m not what I would consider a ‘baker’. It’s not something I do incredibly often, I find it marginally stressful (I don’t like mess), and yet it’s something that I return to with alarming frequency. Perhaps it’s the Bake Off effect, or maybe my drive to get the kids to not watch TV all day; but I do like producing something that looks good and that other people can enjoy.
As always, for this years Bake Off I attempted to ‘bake along’. In my version of this game, I simply have to make something inspired by one of the rounds of the week. In all honesty, I enjoyed this MUCH more in previous years and soon lost energy this season. The biggest advantage to my baking this year was raising a wee bit of money for a fab charity – Finlay’s friends. My incredible friend Jen, who incidentally is one of the most amazing people I know, had recently launched it so I was keen to help even in a little way. (N.B. You should totally check it out!)
Aside from raising money, selling my creations in the staff room at work had a number of other benefits: it brought my colleagues a modicum of enjoyment, and meant I didn’t eat them all myself. Beyond that, I can’t say I had much fun.
One notable exception was biscuit week. For the Signature Challenge, contestants were required to make iced biscuits so I thought I would give it a shot. I’m more of a haphazard ‘informal’ style baker, but I was keen to get this one right. To my delight there are a ton of ‘how to’ videos on YouTube and it actually looked easier than I imagined.
The outcome was a selection of butterflies in school colours. Admittedly some looked better than others but they were pretty tasty too. I used cardamon seeds in the biscuits which contrasted quite nicely with the sweetness of the icing. They went quickly at work so I figure they weren’t too bad!
With that theory in mind, I decided to give some Christmas ones a bash. I have a few people that I find particularly hard to buy for, but I have a vague idea that I could just give them biscuits. Of course, that’s entirely dependent on me getting these biscuits looking good enough and I’m not quite sure I’m there yet:
For these biscuits I started by getting the kids to help make a cinnamon and orange dough. In retrospect, I’m not convinced you can taste any cinnamon so I’d chuck a bit more in if making these again and maybe some All Spice. Katie greatly enjoyed sifting the flour and generally making a bit of a mess before chucking 2 eggs and some maple syrup in.
Ben was tasked with zesting the orange – although this picture is entirely deceiving as a few minutes later he also ‘zested’ his thumb. After that he was relegated to being chief taster.
I found the dough pretty easy to roll out, particularly between sheets of parchment but I really struggle with getting it a consistent thickness. I was aiming for 5mm but these are definitely more of a variety and aren’t particularly even. This makes them much harder to ice neatly. I feel like this is something I need to get right before considering giving these as a gift. I don’t really want to have to buy any more cooking gadgets in the run up to Christmas but have spotted a great rolling pin that would solve the problem!
I chill the dough after rolling it as I’ve found that this really does make the shapes easier to cut. They cook fairly quickly but I’ve also hit the problem that by having different sized biscuits they cook at different speeds. I feel it would be a bit of a pain to have to cook one size at a time but I guess it might come to that. Unless anyone has the easy answer?
The idea with icing is to line them in a thicker icing (the consistency of toothpaste) before ‘flooding’ them with a runny icing. I know I’m meant to line them in appropriate colours i.e. not white for trees. But again, I’m pretty lazy and it seems like a bit of a pain. I’m not sure they look terrible as a result but again, maybe something to evaluate for the future.
Another option is to just use this lining icing to create a simple decoration. I think this worked quite well for my smaller snowflakes so I’d repeat this pattern rather than flooding those.
I don’t have a snowman cutter and am reluctant for buy more, but I figure snowmen with legs have been done before and don’t look too weird. Admittedly, I could’ve tried more complicated scarfs but it was getting late and I had had enough of try to get the right consistency of icing.
There’s a couple of ways to flood the biscuits once the lines have set. Either you can go for a single colour or blend a couple like I did with the butterflies. In this instance I opted for a single colour as I wanted to add more details on afterwards – like the snowmen’s scarves etc.
Once flooded I put the biscuits back in the oven on a really low temperate. This means the icing sets and gets a nice shine on it. It also means there’s time for a cup of tea and deal with the unending demands of Thomas!
Once the icing had dried enough, I went back in with some line icing to add details. This is where I hit a few more problems. Aside from getting the right consistency, I didn’t have any icing bags in the house so opted to use my squidgy bottles. This is all fine and good but they really needed to be loaded with quite a lot of icing. I didn’t want to make a lot for so few details, but I guess if I was making a larger batch it wouldn’t matter. They are great for flooding but actually, I really would go back to use a bag for details in future.
Overall, I’m not sure if someone would appreciate these as a gift as much as Molton Brown or something. But I feel that time and effort maybe counts for some of the more ‘creative’ touches! What do you think? Would you be happy to receive something like this at Christmas?