Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Spiced Christmas Biscuits

Just for fun this weekend I thought I'd build a biscuit tree, as you do. Not long ago I bought a big set of 3D star shaped cutters from Lakeland so I could make something a bit different this year and after a frosty walk in the park I felt a bit festive so thought I'd make some spiced biscuits. I adapted the quantities for the recipe that came with the cutters as whilst I was chatting to the sales assistant in Lakeland (always such lovely staff in the Reading branch) when I bought them, she told me that the recipe made enough for the tree plus loads more biscuits. I found that even by reducing the quantities slightly, I still had more than enough biscuit dough to make the tree. This was fortunate as the first tray of biscuits ended up slightly overdone and I had enough spare dough to cut them out again and make about a dozen other biscuits in a range of shapes.

I've flavoured the biscuits with mixed spice and a little almond extract, a perfectly Christmassy combination and the brown sugar in the biscuits makes them even tastier. To decorate I've gone for royal icing and this was my first attempt at piping a border round the biscuits and then flooding with icing. I'm not normally the best when it comes to using a piping bag but for me this was quite easy and fun to do. I could have made my life easier by using sugarpaste but I don't really like it that much. I followed this guide to piping the biscuits and of course YouTube is full of tutorials if you haven't tried it before.

Ingredients - makes loads of biscuits!

For the biscuits:
250g unsalted butter, softened
250g soft light brown muscovado sugar
500g plain flour
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp almond extract
1 tbsp mixed spice

For the icing:
1 medium egg white, lightly beaten until frothy
450g icing sugar, sifted
5 tbsp lemon juice
green food colouring - I used Sugar Flair in Christmas green
decorate with silver balls and silver sugar sprinkles

  • Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy then add the egg and almond extract and beat again to combine.
  • Add the flour and mixed spice and mix well until all the flour is incorporated and you have a stiffish dough. Shape the dough into 2 balls, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour. You can make the dough the day before and leave in the fridge overnight if you want to. If you do this just remember to remove the dough from the fridge about an hour before you want to bake the biscuits otherwise it will be too firm to roll. 
  • Preheat the oven to 180C and line baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  • Dust a clean work surface and rolling pin with flour and roll out the dough to about 3mm thick and cut out shapes with whichever cutters you have. If you happen to have the same set from Lakeland as I do and you want to make a biscuit tree, you will need to cut out 2 biscuits using each star cutter. Re roll the trimmings and continue until all the dough has been used up.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the biscuits are firm and lightly golden. Due to the brown sugar in the dough it is slightly harder to see when they are ready so do keep an eye on them as they can overbake very easily. When baked, leave the biscuits to cool on a wire rack. 
  • If you want to make a biscuit tree like mine, I recommend stacking the biscuits once cool just so you can see how they fit together before decorating.
  • To make the icing add 3 tbsp of the lemon juice to a large bowl with the egg white and pour in the icing sugar. Use a metal spoon to mix the icing sugar into the egg white and lemon juice (start off slowly or you and the kitchen will end up covered in icing sugar!) and once it all starts coming together beat the mixture until it is smooth. You should now have quite a thick royal icing that is spoonable yet firm enough to be piped. Add the food colouring and mix well then transfer about 1/5 of this icing into a piping bag fitted with a very small round nozzle. 
  • Next add the remaining lemon juice gradually to the icing sugar (you may need slightly more or less lemon juice) and mix until the icing is of a pouring consistency and set aside. 
  • To decorate the biscuits start by piping a thin border around the edge of each biscuit using the thicker icing. This acts as a barrier to stop the runnier icing dripping off the edges of the biscuit. By the time you've piped all of the biscuits, the first ones will be ready for the next stage. If you have any of the thicker icing left return it to the bowl of runnier icing and mix in, you may need an extra drop or two of lemon juice to get the right consistency again. 
  • To flood the biscuits with the runnier icing, spoon the icing into another piping bag, this time fitted with a larger round nozzle and then pipe onto the biscuits to cover them with icing. You can use the back of a teaspoon or a toothpick to help the icing reach all the corners. If you want to add any sprinkles to decorate then do this whilst the icing is still wet.
  • The icing will take a few hours to dry and if you want to package up the biscuits as gifts make sure the icing is completely set first. 
  • If you are making a biscuit tree then it doesn't matter if the icing is not completely dry before you stack the biscuits as this will help them stick together and make the structure more stable. To assemble a biscuit tree, stack the star shapes in overlapping layers with the largest at the bottom. Stand the smallest star on top of the tree, if you have any icing left over, a tiny bit added here will help it stay in place. 

The biscuits keep well. I made the tree on Sunday evening, it's now Wednesday afternoon and the biscuits are still fine and haven't gone too soft yet from being left out. We're gradually nibbling our way through it (I also took some into the office to share out) and I have requests from my brothers to make another one next week though as they are biscuit monsters I doubt the second one will last very long!

I'm linking this post up with a few weekly events and some festive themed challenges. The weekly events are Cook Blog Share, Recipe of the Week, and Tasty Tuesdays. The festive challenges are Festive Food Fridays, Treat Petite, run by Baking Explorer (this month's host) and Cakey Boi (although I've stacked the biscuits they are still individual treats), Alphabakes run by Caroline Makes (this month's host) and The More Than Occasional Baker where the letter is X and I can call these Xmas biscuits (tenuous I know), No Croutons Required run by Tinned Tomatoes (this month's host) and Lisa's Kitchen where the theme is a festive photo, and finally Tea Time Treats run by Lavender & Lovage (this month's host) and the Hedgecombers where the theme is shiny stuff.


Thursday, 4 December 2014

Spiced Cranberry & Marzipan Loaf Cake

Following on from my first savoury cranberry recipe of the season, a bacon, leek & cranberry risotto, here's my first cranberry cake recipe. I've combined 3 of my favourite ingredients in this cake: fresh cranberries, marzipan and speculoos spice. Even though Christmas is still ages away, this cake with its spices and cranberries has started to make me feel just a teeny bit festive. A thick slice of this cake served with a big steaming mug of coffee is a perfect afternoon treat for these grey chilly days.

At first glance before you cut into it, the cake just looks like any old loaf cake but it has a lovely sweet surprise in the middle. A core of marzipan runs throughout the whole length of the cake surrounded by tart cranberries. You could the cut the marzipan up into small pieces instead and fold through with the cranberries but I love marzipan (especially homemade) and wanted to have a big piece of it in every slice.

Ingredients - serves 8-10

225g caster sugar
225g unsalted butter
4 large eggs
225g self raising flour
2 tbsp milk
2 tsp speculoos spice mix - I love the Steenbergs version but you can easily make your own too
150g fresh or frozen cranberries
125g marzipan - I used homemade marzipan but shop bought is fine too
icing sugar for dusting

  • Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 2lb loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
  • Dust the worktop lightly with icing sugar and roll the marzipan into a fat sausage shape the same length as the tin and set aside. 
  • Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy either by hand or using a mixer. Next beat in the eggs one at a time then fold through the flour and speculoos. Finally stir through the milk and the cranberries.
  • Spoon half of the cake mixture into the tin then lay the marzipan sausage on top and cover with the remaining cake mixture. 
  • Bake for 60 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. I recommend checking the cake after 45 minutes just to make sure the top isn't browning too quickly, it can be covered with foil or greaseproof paper if it is. 
  • Transfer the tin to a cooling rack and leave for 10-15 minutes then carefully turn the cake out onto the rack and peel away the paper. Leave to cool fully before dusting with icing sugar and cutting into thick slices and serving. 
  • NB. If using homemade marzipan you may find that there is some oil in the bottom of the tin after you remove the cake, this will have come from the marzipan and is nothing to worry about. Though it is the reason why I suggest removing the cake whilst it is still warm so that it does not end up greasy at the bottom. 

If you want more ideas for baking with marzipan, here are some great recipe ideas from some of my favourite blogs.

I'm linking this post up with Cook Blog Share, Recipe of the Week, Tasty Tuesdays, Bake of the Week, my Fresh Cranberry Recipes linky and Festive Food Friday. As this cake is also a good way of using up any marzipan that may be leftover from decorating the Christmas cake I'm also linking up with the No Waste Food Challenge. Finally, I'm linking this post up with the Love Cake December Delights challenge as well. 




Monday, 1 December 2014

Fresh Cranberry Recipe Link Up 2014

If you've been reading my blog for a while then may know that every December I get a little cranberry obsessed. I adore fresh cranberries and I make the most of the few weeks when they are available to buy fresh and squeeze as many into my freezer as possible for use throughout the year. I also love coming up with brand new recipes using fresh cranberries each year.

In case you haven't seem them before, here are a few of my favourite cranberry recipes that I've already posted on the blog over the past 2 years. I hope they inspire you to do more with cranberries this year instead of just making cranberry sauce. Don't get me wrong, homemade cranberry sauce is a wonderful thing but there are so many more dishes that cranberries can be incorporated into. I've highlighted some sweet recipes from my repertoire below but I also like using cranberries in savoury dishes too such as my winter pasta, chicken, ham & pecan crumble and my roasted beetroot, squash, feta, lentil and cranberry salad.

  1. Cranberry mince pie mini muffins
  2. Cranberry sauce flapjacks
  3. Cranberry and cinnamon Swiss roll
  4. Cranberry and cinnamon muffins
  5. Cranberry and marzipan mince pies
  6. Cranberry and apple scone round

Last year I set up a linky for people to share their cranberry recipes and I'm doing the same again this year. If you want to join in all you have to do is add a link for any recipe you've blogged using fresh cranberries, not dried as we can buy them anytime. You don't have to make anything fancy (unless of course you want to), e.g. I'm always interested in seeing how different people make their cranberry sauce, I like using red wine and whole spices in mine. Feel free to link up old posts if you like but if you joined in last year I do kindly ask that you don't link up the same posts again. To see last year's entries just click here.

I've made a little badge for the linky so it would be great if you could add it to your posts along with a link back to this post to help share the cranberry love this December, the linky is open until 27th December and I'll post a round up of my favourite entries afterwards. I'll be pinning all of the entries to my cranberries board on Pinterest and sharing them on Twitter using the hashtag #FreshCranberryRecipes. Feel free to add as many links as you want and you can also tweet me your link at @BlueKitchenBake and I'll retweet all that I see. Let the cranberry fun begin!