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At the end of November I made several cakes to feed friends at a church event, settling on a Mixed Fruit & Ginger version of our favourite (never known to fail) Knock Up Fruit Cake, a double sized Fragrant Marmalade Cake, made in two sandwich tins with more marmalade spread in the middle plus, as a nod towards Christmas and having come across the recipe the previous week, these White Christmas Slices.  They proved to be very ‘moreish’ and I am thinking of making some more batches to give away at Christmas.

I discovered this competition winning recipe by Caroline Richards for White Christmas Slices in my local Sainsbury’s supermarket: one of many free cards available, in this case giving new ideas for Christmas food.  It appealed because, not only did I have everything available at home (apart from the inexpensive and easily bought coconut biscuits and the white chocolate), it also looked quick, easy and did not require baking.  I rarely make a recipe exactly as written and adapted this just a little.  Firstly, I cut the amount of butter by one third as I do not like to add too much unnecessary fat.  Secondly, I felt the original recipe was lacking something and decided the something was fruit, or similar.  To compensate I added dried cranberries to give one of the flavours of Christmas: glacé cherries, sultanas/raisins, dried apricot, fig or date or even crystallised ginger could be added instead.  In fact I have decided that this successful – and useful – little recipe is highly adaptable, so variations may be posted here.  I have my eye on a gingery version, which I know would be a great hit here!  These slices are quite rich so do not make them too large:  I cut mine into bite sized squares.

Update 22.12.12:  I have just made my third batch of these this year – they go like hot cakes, or should that be hot slices!  I have also made Nigella Lawson’s Sweet & Salty Crunch Nut Bars, from her new book Kitchen, but the post will have to wait for another occasion.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

White Christmas Slices
(Makes 20-24 small pieces)

200g dark chocolate
75g unsalted butter
400g coconut cookies
2tbsp runny honey
200g white chocolate
50g desiccated coconut
50g dried cranberries or alternative (see my suggestions) – optional

1.  Gently heat the dark chocolate, butter and runny honey together in a pan, stirring with a spoon until the chocolate and butter are melted.

2.  Crush the biscuits in a bag until they are large chunks and crumbs.  Do not crush too much.  Add to the melted chocolate along with the dried cranberries, if using. 

3.   Carefully stir, continuing for about 5 minutes until well coated and so the mixture starts to cook.

4.  Using a spoon, press the mixture down well into a 30cm x 20cm baking tray lined with foil (or cling film as suggested in the original recipe, but foil is easier to handle).

5.  Gently melt the white chocolate over a low heat.  Do not overheat as the white chocolate spoils very easily. Drizzle over the biscuit base and spread out. (The base may be unevenly covered and dark patches may show through, but this does not matter.)

6.  Sprinkle over the desiccated coconut.  Place a layer of cling film on top and chill for 4 hours.  If you are short of time then the covered tray can be placed in the freezer for about an hour, but do not leave too long as chocolate is better if it is not frozen for an extended period.  Do not cut from frozen as it will shatter. 

7.  Once it is set, place the block on a board and while it is still cold cut into small squares with a sharp knife.  If it warms up it is more likely to crumble, and should be returned to the fridge to harden before cutting.   I cut my block 6 squares by 4 squares, giving 24 bite sized pieces.

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The word biscuit literally means twice cooked, taken from the Latin bis (twice) and coquere (to cook). It is this slight cooling followed by a second burst of heat that gives crispness to a biscuit, a method used by the recipe I use for Easter Biscuits.  Sure enough the resulting biscuits are light and crisp and very ‘moreish’: a crispy sugar topped treat for Easter.  These Easter Biscuits are similar to the round ‘fruit shortcakes’ that can be found in shops, sometimes called ‘squashed fly biscuits’ (although I know that this title can also be given to the long Garibaldi biscuits).  I am not sure why they should particularly be associated with Easter.  Easter Biscuits are said to have originated in the West Country of Britain where they were given as gifts on Easter Sunday, (though they are also claimed by Shropshire and probably other places as well).  They were often larger too, measuring up to 4 inches (10cm) across.  An article in the Times, which includes an alternative recipe (untried by me) suggests that the ‘tradition’ be moved to Easter Monday.  Not all recipes include the mixed spice with some Easter Biscuits including lemon zest, such as this Netmums recipe (also untried by me). I will definitely add zest next time, even though there is already mixed peel in the recipe. 

The recipe used below comes from The Women’s Institute Book of Biscuits which was published jointly with Mornflake Oats.  For these small biscuits I used a 2 inch (5cm) cutter: a metal one is good as it cuts through the pieces of fruit.  However, I like the idea of bigger biscuits and I will definitely be making them larger next time.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com


Easter Biscuits

(Makes about 3 dozen x 2inch biscuits)

175g/6ozs plain flour
75g/30zs butter
75g/3ozs caster sugar
50g/20zs currants
15g/½oz candied peel
Large pinch of mixed spice
1 egg yolk
Scant 2 fl ozs milk
Glaze:
1 egg white (or a little milk)
Caster sugar

1.  Preheat the oven to 170oC Fan oven/180oC/350oF/Gas 4.  Grease 2 or 3 baking sheets.

2.  Cream the butter and the sugar together and beat until it is soft and fluffy.

3.  Add the egg yolk, spice, fruit and flour and mix together.

4.  Add just enough milk to make a stiff dough.  If the dough becomes sticky then add a little more flour but too much flour will make the biscuits a little hard and less rich.

5.  Roll the dough out thinly on a floured surface.  Cut rounds and place them fairly closely on the greased baking sheet:  they do not need too much room for expansion.

6.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  After 10 minutes remove the trays from the oven, brush the biscuits with egg white or a little milk and sprinkle with a little caster sugar.  Return them to the oven for the remaining time – remove when just starting to become golden.

7.  Remove from the trays and cool on a wire rack.  Store in an airtight box or tin.

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A little extra something for the Christmas or New Year party table!  Following the example of the original recipe I made these little cheesy biscuits bite sized using a variety of shapes from my collection of mini cutters.  They would be just as good made larger and used as canapes with a selection of toppings. Each of my cheese biscuits – I made six shapes – had a different topping: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, black onion seeds (often known as Nigella or Kalonji, though I am not sure if the English garden Nigella or ‘Love in a Mist’ as an edible variety), cumin seeds, smoked (or ordinary) paprika, pinch of finely grated parmesan. Another recipe for cheese biscuits I found suggested using fennel seeds and if you like heat then you could use cayenne pepper. You could also leave some of the biscuits plain.  (Be warned that the high heat of the cooking combined with the high fat content of the biscuits could cause a liquid topping such as tomato or pesto sauce to blacken. Although I have not tried it, I think it would be sensible to add these toppings once the biscuits are cooked, returning them to the oven for 3-5 minutes maximum so the topping can set.)  The mixture could, I am sure, also be made into cheese straws.  I found rolling the soft pastry between pieces of cling film was very successful, as was using a thoroughly chilled lump of dough and re-chilling the baking trays full of biscuits before cooking.  From memory, I think my cutters were original from a children’s cookery set.  One warning these biscuits are very rich and contain a large amount of butter as well as cheese, so are not very good for weight watchers.  Definitely naughty but nice!  My small cutters made around 170 biscuits, so be warned that it is a rather time consuming job, but don’t they all look pretty!

The recipe for Crunchy Cheese Biscuits came from the ASDA instore free magazine, December 2009 issue and was suggested they could be give as an edible Christmas gift: a good idea if you have the time!  It is recommended that they will keep for two weeks in the fridge, stored in an airtight container, or alternatively frozen for up to six weeks.  The recipe is almost identical to the original with very few alterations.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Crunchy Cheese Biscuits
(Number depends on cutter size.  I made about 170 – original says 50!)

200g plain flour
¼ level tsp dry mustard powder
¼ level tsp cayenne
150g butter, cut into cubes
75g extra mature Cheddar, grated
25g Parmesan, grated
1 medium egg, separated
Toppings to decorate – Choose from pinches of: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, black onion seeds, cumin seeds, smoked (or ordinary) paprika, finely grated parmesan, fennel seeds – or anything else that you feel might be suitable.

1.  Grease two or three baking trays or line them with baking paper (the trays may have to be reused). 

2.  Sift the flour, mustard powder, cayenne and a good pinch of salt into a large bowl.

3.  Rub in the butter.  Stir in the cheeses.  Add the egg yolk and 2tsp cold water.  Stir until the mixture starts to clump together and then mix it by hand shaping it into a slab about 2cm thick.  Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

4.  Roll out a third of the dough between two sheets of clingfilm until it is 3mm thick (using clingfilm means you do not need flour each time to re-roll the dough.  This keeps the biscuits crisp). Remove the top sheet of film and cut the dough into small shapes with a cutter. Place the shapes on a baking tray. Repeat with the rest of the dough. Try to get roughly an equal number of each shape.

5.  Preheat the oven to 180oC/160oC Fan/Gas 4. Lightly beat the egg white and brush some on each biscuit. Sprinkle some with the toppings.  You may like to leave some plain.  (See notes on toppings in the introduction above.)  If you have time, re-chill the biscuits in the fridge for 20-30minutes before baking.

6.  Bake biscuits for 12-14 minutes, removing them carefully from the baking tray as they are fragile and leave them to cool on a wire rack. 

7.  If giving as a gift they can be packed into a decorative box with tissue paper and decorated with pretty paper and ribbon.  Remember to provide a ‘menu’ (as in a box of chocolates) so the recipient knows which flavour toppings you have used and to give storage instructions if appropriate.

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I love Lebkuchen, the spiced Christmas-time biscuits from Germany which are slightly soft rather than crisp.  They are often called German Gingerbread with the most famous type originating from Nuremburg. The German Food Guide gives more information on the different types of Lebkuchen.  This recipe is for the most well known type: Brown Lebkuchen, but there is a lesser known White Lebkuchen made with almonds and candied fruits. Brown Lebkuchen can be either iced or chocolate covered.  It was not easy tracking down a brown Lebkuchen recipe.  There was nothing on my extensive cookbook shelves or in the library, and although there are lots of references to Lebkuchen online the recipes I found were written for US cups rather than UK or European measures.  (I know there are conversion tables but I find them rather confusing and baking is a precise art!)  My only comment on the finished biscuits, which were lovely, was that we would have liked some other spices.  Other online recipes included cinnamon, nutmeg and/or cardamom.  I will definitely make Lebkuchen another year and I will try adding a bit of one or two other spices to see whether they improve an already good recipe.  If they do I will update this post. (By the way, you really cannot detect the chilli heat, so don’t worry about including it as an ingredient.)

I had almost given up my hunt until a chance conversation with a cookery loving friend – thank you Jo – who lent me a delightful little book, a charity shop purchase.  In the book: Making Gingerbread Houses and other Gingerbread Treats by Joanna Farrow, was the Lebkuchen recipe I had been seeking, plus instructions for decorating the finished biscuits.  Truly this is a book for those who like to mess around in the kitchen, also giving recipes for golden and chocolate gingerbread and how to form them into the most amazing Gingerbread creations, including ideas for using crushed boiled sweets as stained glass windows.  (As the gingerbread bakes the sweets melt and form a brittle coloured shell.)  Wish I had visited the charity shop first!

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Lebkuchen
(Makes 40-50 biscuits, depending on the size of your cutters)

115g/4ozs unsalted butter, softened
115g/4ozs light muscovado sugar
1 egg, beaten
115g/4ozs black treacle
400g/14ozs self-raising flour
5ml/1tsp ground ginger
2.5ml/½tsp ground cloves
1.4ml/¼tsp chilli powder

1.  Cream the butter and sugar together until they are pale in colour and fluffy.

2.  Beat in the egg and treacle.

3.  Sift the flour, ground ginger, ground cloves and chilli powder into the bowl.  Using a wooden spoon gradually mix the ingredients together to make a stiff paste. 

4.  Turn this paste onto a lightly floured surface and lightly knead until it is smooth.

5.  Wrap and chill this dough for at least 30minutes.  (I left mine in the fridge overnight.)

6.  Grease two or three baking sheets. Pre-heat the oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4

7.  Divide the dough into equal portions, one for each cutter you are using.  I used three different shapes of about 4.5cm/1¼inch: heart, square and round, each of which was differently decorated.  Roll out the dough on a floured surface to a  thickness of ¼in/8mm.  Cut out the shapes and place on the baking sheet with a space between each to allow for a very small amount of expansion.  The dough can be re-rolled and cut, using a little additional flour to stop it sticking, until it is all used up.

8.  Chill trays of uncooked Lebkuchen for 30 minutes.

9.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  Once cool the biscuits can be stored in a well sealed container until you are ready to decorate and/or eat them.

10.  Decorate each shape in a different way.  When they are finished, leave in a cool place to set, but do not refrigerate as this will spoil the shiny appearance of the chocolate.  Suggestions include:

a)  Make an Icing Glaze: mix together 1tbsp lightly beaten egg white and 1tbsp lemon juice with enough sifted icing sugar until you have a mixture which is like thin cream and thinly coats the back of a spoon.  Use this to cover the biscuits, tapping the wire tray as in a) to evenly distribute the glaze.  This lemony glaze is a lovely complement for the ginger flavour as well as being very traditional.

b)  Melt dark chocolate in a dish over a pan of boiling water (or very carefully in the microwave) and coat the biscuits.  Do this on a metal rack over a tray.  Tapping the tray slightly will help the chocolate run evenly over the biscuit.  Add a decoration of chocolate sprinkles while still wet.

c)  As a) but melt a little white chocolate in the same way in a separate bowl. Once the first dark coat is dry, pipe a decoration of white chocolate stripes or carefully drizzle with chocolate. (This could be reversed with dark stripes on a white coating for those who like white chocolate.)

d)  As a) using dark chocolate and a dusting of sifted icing sugar while still slightly wet.

e) As a) using white chocolate and a dusting of cocoa powder while still slightly wet.

f) A thin layer of marzipan under a coating of chocolate.  Other decoration if you wish.

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White Lebkuchen

As mentioned above, there is another type of Lebkuchen made with ground almonds and decorated with candied peel.  I plan to try this recipe for White Lebkuchen from the Good Food Channel website another year.

Thick Chocolate Fruit & Nut Lebkuchen

Lebkuchen can also be cut twice as thick (making half as many finished biscuits, of course) giving a softer more chewy biscuit/cake.  These thick Lebkuchen are covered with a coating of dark chocolate as in a) above and then decorated with glace cherries, almonds and walnuts. 

These are both something to try another time and I will make a separate post if they are successful.

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This recipe was given to our family by Mrs Jolly, the Swedish mother of my brother’s school friend Neal.  It’s one of those recipes that works every time.  A lovely crispy spiced biscuit: very more-ish.  At a glance, the amount of spice used seems rather a lot: the original recipe calls for scant teaspoonfuls.  Once you have tried the recipe you can use a full teaspoon of each if you would like a stronger flavour.  We lost touch with Neal a long time ago, but know he is now a GP somewhere in Yorkshire.  I hope that he would be glad to know that his mother’s recipe is still being enjoyed by his old friends! 

Updated 8 May 2010: I have made these biscuits many times but another similar recipe (Bittersweet Baker – Perfect Gingersnaps) suggests that the balls of biscuit dough are rolled in sugar crystals before baking to give a crunchy sugary coating.  Raw sugar was suggested. I think extra Demerara would also be good and I shall try this next time I make a batch.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

‘Jolly’ Ginger Biscuits
(Makes about 30 biscuits)

125g/4ozs butter
250g/8ozs Demerara sugar
1 egg
1tsp golden syrup
250g/8ozs self raising flour
1tsp (scant) ground ginger
1tsp (scant) ground cinnamon
1tsp (scant) ground cloves
1tsp (scant) ground mixed spice
1tsp (scant) bicarbonate of soda
a little extra Demerara sugar for sprinkling

1.  Pre-heat oven to 375oF/190oC/180oC Fan oven/Gas 5.

2.  Cream butter and sugar together well until soft and fluffy.  

3.  Stir in the beaten egg and mix well.

4.  Mix in the golden syrup.

5.  Sift in the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda and mix together well.

6.  Form pieces of the mixture into small balls (about 10-15g/½oz each) and place spaced well apart on greased and floured baking sheets or tins.  (I find I needs 3 or 4 sheets.)

7.  Bake in the pre-heated oven for 10minutes.  You may need to change the position of the tins in the oven or rotate them to make sure the biscuits brown evenly.

8.  Cool on a wire tray before storing in a tin or airtight box.

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