A couple of years ago, I had a bright idea to liven up everyone’s Fridays at work with “elevenses” – each team member would take turns to bake or buy a little treat for everyone else to have at 11am every Friday. I thought it would be a good chance to take 20 minutes out of the day to catch up informally with colleagues and enjoy a snack at the same time, but I wasn’t sure people would be bothered to take part.
Well, over two years later it’s still going strong – there are approximately 30 people participating now, and almost every week the goodies are homemade rather than shop-bought. I don’t think we’ve ever had the same thing twice: tarts, cakes, muffins, cupcakes, bread, pizza, crumbles, clafoutis, mousse and pastries – a mixture of savoury and sweet, hot and cold.
The only thing we hadn’t had before was biscuits, so when it was my turn to bake last week, I decided to make a selection of biccies for some tea-dunking action. My baking parter Rachel had decided to make fondant fancies, so I thought it would be a good contrast, and as I was out for dinner on Thursday night, I wanted something that would keep if I made it on Wednesday.
I trawled through my cookbooks for ideas and eventually settled on making Marcus Wareing’s custard creams (he calls them nutmeg and custard yo-yos), Rachel Allen’s oaty shortbread, Nigella’s Christmas chocolate cookies, and some old favourite ginger biscuits which I often make at Christmas. It was quite ambitious – I was cooking for nearly four hours. I almost overdosed on biscuit dough (I hadn’t realised that there was anything better than raw cake mix, but raw biscuit dough is), and the kitchen ended up looking like an icing sugar bomb had hit it – but the biscuits all looked and tasted fantastic, and were a big success at work. Unfortunately (depending on your perspective) I made too many, so we are still eating them now. That’s great for my greedy tummy, but not so great for my waistband.
Custard creams / custard and nutmeg yoyos by Marcus Wareing – makes 24
Butter, icing sugar, plain flour, custard powder, nutmeg
I creamed 300g butter with 80g icing sugar (cue icing sugar explosion – how do you stop that?) in my kitchen aid. Once lovely and fluffy, you add 4 tablespoons of custard powder and 330g plain flour and beat it all together. It makes quite a stiff dough which you then need to roll into two thick sausages (equally sized), wrap in clingfilm and chill for a good 30 minutes. Once chilled, slice off the messy ends (and eat them – waste not want not) and then slice the rest into 48 discs (which will then make 24 sandwiched biscuits). Obviously you can halve this mixture if you want less biccies, although I would advise to make loads because they taste amazing. Lay them out on a baking tray (I used a non stick one and didn’t need to grease or line it) and grate nutmeg over the top and then bake at 170 degrees for around 15 minutes. You want them to stay pale and golden. Then allow to cool on the tray. Once cold, they can be sandwiched with the custard filling, made by beating together 160g butter, 150g icing sugar and 4 tbsp custard powder. This is also yummy but quite sweet, so you won’t be so tempted to lick the bowl unless you have a very sweet tooth.
Chocolate cookies by Nigella – makes 24
Butter, caster sugar, cocoa powder, plain flour, bicarb, baking powder
While the custard creams were baking I gave the kitchen aid a quick rinse and used it to beat together the mixture for these not so little cookies. You cream 250g of butter with 150g caster sugar, then once whippy add 40g cocoa powder (I used drinking chocolate which Nigella expressly forbids you to use, but it’s all I had and it tasted fine). Mix 300g plain flour with 1/2 tsp of bicarb and 1tsp baking powder and add that to the dough. Once thoroughly mixed you can use your hands to pinch off walnut (in shell) sized pieces of dough and roll them into balls which you can gently squash onto a baking tray (again, no lining or greasing needed). Leave space between each biscuit as they grow massively in the oven. Bake for around 15 minutes at 170 degrees.
Nigella makes these biscuits christmassy by using a glaze detailed here, but I just melted some milk chocolate in the microwave and spread that on top of the cookies, which was yummy.
Oaty shortbread by Rachel Allen – makes around 40 biscuits depending on size
Porridge oats, plain flour, caster sugar, bicarb, salt, butter
I saw the recipe for these a while ago and quite fancied making them but had never got around to it. They are quite simply some of the best biscuits I have ever eaten – simple but delicious, with a fantastic hit of salty oatiness. You do need a food processor to blitz the oats though. Basically all you do is whizz up the porridge until it’s fine and then and all the other ingredients and process until it starts clumping together – that, my friends, is it! If you are that way inclined, then this is the most addictive dough to eat while raw, so beware.
You are supposed to roll out the dough and cut shapes with it, but my goodness it is hard work to handle (especially when the stray bits kept disappearing into my mouth) – as soon the rolling pin went near it mine started breaking up, so in the end I just pressed it out with the flat of my hand onto a floured worktop (about the thickness of half a cm) and then used a little heart-shaped cutter to cut the biscuits. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 180 degrees (although my oven stayed at 170 for the other biscuits and it seemed fine). Allow to cool slightly on the tray and then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. Be cautious – once you start eating them it is impossible to stop.
Ginger toms – makes around 24 depending on size of cutter
Butter, brown sugar (muscavado best but I have managed with golden caster sugar), golden syrup, plain flour, bicarb, ground ginger
I found this gingerbread recipe a few years ago on the Waitrose website, and have been making gingerbread cats with it ever since. It makes a hard biscuit, but they are really delicious and very easy to make.
You just melt 125g butter with 100g of sugar and 4 tbsp (or a 4 second squirt) golden syrup in a saucepan. Stir in 325g plain flour, 1tsp bicarb and 2tbsp ground ginger. It makes a very stiff dough which you need to turn out onto a floured surface and start rolling (or pressing down as the rolling pin method didn’t work for me) as soon as it is cool enough to handle – the colder the dough gets, the harder it becomes to work with. Bake each batch at 170 degrees for approx 10 minutes until they puff up slightly and turn golden.