One of my great loves is to bake. I started very young under the guidance of my maman. I wouldn't say "under her watchful eye" because she was always busy looking after her large brood. With so many mouths to feed, she was never far from the kitchen though and helped me understand what "folding" and "greasing" meant and what an ounce was. Soon, I became the family's birthday cake maker and relished those occasions because it meant I was allowed to ice those cakes, usually in chocolate, and decorate them with candles. In those pre-Google times, I was limited to my mother's modest recipe book collection and relied heavily on a Margaret Fulton book and the Tarnagulla Primary School cook book, both of which are heavily stained with cocoa and butter on my two favourite recipes!
Times have changed and I now enjoy finding and making new recipes, only repeating recipes that are accurate and fly off the serving plate. Also one ounce is no longer measured as two tablespoons, rather 30 grams on my electronic scales, and everything is beaten in my lovely Sunbeam Cafe Series Mixmaster (bless my Nanna and Grandad) not with a hand-held rotary beater of the non-electric variety.
When a Christmas market was organised at my workplace recently, I decided to realise my dream of making a living from baking. I creamed butter and sugar every night for a week and spent any spare moment looking for suitable containers and ribbons for the finished products. At the end of the 2-day market I was left with one container of biscotti, an order for six more gingerbread men and a new appreciation for those who bake for a living. It would seem to me virtually impossible to be paid for all the hours slaving over a hot oven so I'm putting my dream of being a pro baker on hold for now and doing it for the love of it. Here are the fruits of my labour:
Twinkling Star Orange Shortbread
Makes about 40 cookies (depending on cutter size)
• 250 g butter, softened
• 1/2 cup caster sugar
• 2 teaspoons orange rind, grated
• 1/2 cup rice flour
• 2 cups plain flour, sifted
• 2 tablespoons raw sugar, for sprinkling
• 100 g dark cooking chocolate (optional)
• 1 teaspoon vegetable oil (optional)
1. Pre-heat oven to 160°c conventional/140°c fan forced.
2. Beat butter, sugar and orange rind with a pinch of salt in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
3. Fold in flours and mix to a soft dough.
4. Lightly knead mixture on a lightly floured surface and roll out to 8-10mm thickness.
5. Cut mixture with star cutters. Sprinkle each star with a little raw sugar and place on a baking paper lined tray.
6. Bake for 15 minutes, or until pale golden and firm.
7. Cool on a wire rack.
8. Serving suggestion:- Melt chocolate and oil together over a pan of simmering water or in microwave and drizzle over stars with a fork.
Source: Coles Catalogue November 2009
Special note: Given this recipe was taken from a Coles catalogue and it was my first attempt at it, I was very pleased with the result. The orange brings a welcome (but subtle) change from traditional shortbread.
Makes: 30 - 35 (Approx.)
• 125g butter
• 1/2 cup treacle or golden syrup
• 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
• 1 egg yolk
• 1 tablespoon MasterFoods ground ginger
• 2 teaspoons MasterFoods mixed spice
• 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• 1 1/4 cups self-raising flour, sifted
• 1 1/2 cups self raising flour, sifted
• Decorating pens, to decorate (I made royal icing and piped it on instead - see below)
1. Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C (conventional/fan forced).
2. Combine butter, golden syrup and brown sugar in a small pan and melt. Remove to a bowl and cool. Stir in egg yolk and remaining dry ingredients to form a soft dough. Turn out onto plastic wrap and press into a flat disc. Rest in fridge for 1 hour to firm up.
3. Roll dough to 7-8mm on lightly floured surface and cut gingerbread men or other Christmas shapes from dough. Place on baking paper-lined tray and bake for 7-10 minutes until firm. Stand on tray for 5 minutes then remove to wire rack to cool. Decorate with icing pens.
Source: Coles Catalogue November 2009
Special note: Another great recipe from the Coles catalogue. The ingredient quantities are very similar to the Australian Women's Weekly (AWW) recipe that I tried a few days earlier but I found the Coles method of melting the butter, golden syrup and brown sugar made a much better dough (far less dry). I am usually a big fan of the AWW "triple-tested" recipes so I am surprised to say that I wouldn't recommend their gingerbread recipe.
1½ cups pure icing sugar
1 egg white
2 to 4 drops lemon juice
Sift icing sugar. Beat egg white lightly in a small bowl, using a wooden spoon. Add icing sugar one tablespoonful at a time, beating well after each addition. When icing reaches desired consistency, beat in lemon juice. Amount of icing sugar required depends on size of egg white.
Source: Australian Women's Weekly
Pistachio, fig & lemon biscotti
These biscotti are low GI and low fat.
Ingredients (serves 30)
• Melted butter, to grease
• 55g (1/3 cup) pistachio kernels
• 3 egg whites
• 80g (1/3 cup) caster sugar
• 1 tbs finely grated lemon rind
• 115g (3/4 cup) plain flour, sifted
• 80g (1/3 cup) finely chopped dried figs
1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Brush a 7 x 25cm (base measurement) bar pan with melted butter to lightly grease. Line the base and 2 long sides with non-stick baking paper, allowing it to overhang.
2. Place pistachios in a heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water and set aside for 5 minutes or until skins soften. Drain. Peel off skins and dry on paper towel.
3. Meanwhile, use an electric beater to whisk the egg whites in a clean, dry bowl until soft peaks form. Add the sugar, one spoonful at a time, whisking well after each addition, until sugar dissolves. Add the lemon rind and whisk until combined.
4. Combine flour and figs in a bowl. Use your fingers to separate figs and coat in flour. Fold fig mixture and pistachios into egg-white mixture until just combined.
5. Spoon mixture into prepared pan and smooth the surface. Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until cooked through. Turn onto a wire rack and set aside for 1 hour or until cooled to room temperature.
6. Preheat oven to 160°C. Use a serrated knife to cut loaf crossways into 5mm-thick slices. Place in a single layer on a baking tray. Bake in oven for 10 minutes or until crisp and golden. Cool on tray.
Source: Good Taste - May 2005, Page 98. Recipe by Emma Braz, Sarah Hobbs & Jan Purser
Special note: I have been making almond bread at Christmas time for many years, following a tried and true recipe that always makes a simple, tasty and crunchy almond bread. I have been meaning to make this fancier pistachio and fig version for years so I was initially disappointed when making it the first time as it seemed a little too chewy for biscotti. I guess it was the due to the figs -even the dried variety are a little moist. A few days in an airtight container seemed to solve the problem. Mmm, crunchy biscotti once again.