Category Archives: Biscuits & Cakes

Spiced Christmas Biscuits

IMG_5426These lovely biscuits can be made into whatever shape you like, used to decorate the Christmas tree (it’s fun to hide them for kids to find), or given away as gifts.

This is basically gingerbread with other spices added to make it more Christmassy.

  • 125 g softened butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup golden syrup
  • 2.5 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice powder
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon bicarb soda
  • Raw sugar, egg white and icing sugar for decorating.

Preheat the oven to 180c.

Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Cream the butter and brown sugar with electric beaters until creamy, just about a minute. Add the golden syrup and beat in. Sift the flour and bicarb and add the spices. Fold into the butter mixture and mix together with a spoon or with a dough hook attachment if you have it. Turn it out onto a floured surface, knead a little then press together to form a dough.

Roll out in batches on a floured surface to your desired thickness, at least half a centimetre works well. The dough will be crumbly so take care when cutting out and transferring to the baking tray. You might think it will fall apart when baking but it will be ok!

If you like the sugared decoration, brush with a little egg white and sprinkle with raw sugar before putting in the oven. If you’re decorating with the white royal icing, just bake as is. If you want to make a hole to hang them, use a plastic straw, and don’t make the hole too close to the edges.

Bake for approx 10 minutes, until golden on the top. Transfer carefully to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

To decorate with royal icing, mix a little egg white (not the whole egg white, just a small amount of it, start with about a teaspoon depending on how much icing you want) and add icing sugar until you reach a desired consistency – a smooth pliable icing that is neither runny or too pasty.

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Mince Tart-orama!

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Seasons greetings, friends! While my commercial website (theabbotsfordkitchen.com) is undergoing an update and temporarily down I’m using my blog to let you all know about some news from me on the mince tart front.

First, I’m tickled pink to tell you that my mince tarts have made it onto Wendy Hargreave’s website – Five of the Best – in her Top 5 Mince Pies this year. Wendy is the former food editor for the Sunday Herald Sun and now has her own fantastic site devoted to the best of all things food that Melbourne has to offer. Thanks for the inclusion, Wendy, I’m so flattered!

My other news is that my mince tarts will be available at the swanky new Rathdowne Village Deli from early December, and possibly other locations – stay tuned.

And if you’re in Melbourne and you’d like to order directly from me, I’ll be taking limited orders so get in quick! Email me: rebecca@theabbotsfordkitchen.com.

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School Lunch Box Biscuits

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I try to come up with snacks for my son’s school lunch box that meet both his and my criteria. Ideally, the snacks are:

  • Wholesome/healthy/nutritious (mine)
  • Delicious (both)
  • Able to be carried outside in one hand and don’t require spoons, containers etc (his)
  • Able to be made in batches and frozen (mine)

After experimenting with muffins with no success (putting too many healthy ingredients into them makes them dense and unappetising) I came up with this biscuit and it’s a real winner.

It’s packed with healthy ingredients – oats, wholewheat flour, dried fruits and seeds – yet it is based on a traditional biscuit recipe so it’s as delicious as it is wholesome. The little bit of chocolate makes it very appealing, and importantly for schools, it is nut free.

My son has been taking this biscuit to school for his morning tea almost every day for a while now: he’s happy he’s got something yummy that he can easily walk around with and I’m happy that he’s getting some wholesome foods into him.

This batch makes about 8 decent, morning tea-size biscuits, but you could make them any size you like. I roll them into balls and freeze them individually, then pop one in the oven as I need.

A word on muscovado sugar: if you can get hold of this, it will improve your baking out of sight. It gives a mouthwatering, melting crumb. Look for it in good supermarkets, delis and grocery stores.

  • 120 g butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed light brown muscovado sugar, or light brown sugar if you can’t find muscovado sugar.
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of wholemeal flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 2 tablespoons desiccated coconut
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup each of dried cranberries and sour cherries (you can substitute with other small dried fruits if you wish, such as blueberries, currants or sultanas)
  • 30 g dark chocolate chopped into small pieces (or use dark choc chips)

Preheat the oven to 180c

In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar for about a minute until it has turned pale and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined.

Combine all the remaining ingredients in another bowl and mix. Add to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and combine to form the biscuit dough.

Line a baking tray with some baking paper, roll out into balls of whatever size you choose and place however many you need on the baking paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on how big they are, until golden and brown on top. Let them sit for a minute or two, then carefully slide biscuits onto a wire rack and allow to cool. They will fall apart if you try to pick them up too soon.

Wrap the remainder, uncooked, in cling wrap and freeze. When you need to use the frozen biscuit dough, you can put them straight from the freezer onto the baking tray and in the oven, but you will need a few extra minutes’ cooking time.

Praline Brownies

Sometimes I hear about a recipe and I can’t get it out of my head. And so it was when the words “praline brownie” were dropped into a conversation recently. For weeks I couldn’t stop thinking about how amazing such a thing might be.

To get the brownie out of my head, I had to make it. The results were a triumph, so naturally I had to share them.

This is the most toothsome, fudgy and utterly divine brownie I’ve ever tasted and I highly recommend making it for a special occasion.

Buy the praline if you don’t fancy making it, but once you master it, it is extremely easy.

For the praline:

  • 1 cup sugar (caster or regular white sugar)
  • quarter cup of water
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts – eg hazelnuts, pecans or almonds
Stir the sugar and water in a heavy based saucepan over a low heat until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Increase the temperature until the mixture is bubbling, and boil (not furiously, but happily bubbling) until it’s changing colour, about 8 minutes. While it’s cooking, place a large sheet of baking paper on a baking tray.

Take the mixture off the stove and let it cool down a little for a minute and add the nuts. Pour onto the baking sheet and spread until you have a thin layer. Let it set for about an hour. Smash it up (hit it with a rolling pin between two pieces of baking paper) and set aside.
This will make more than you will need for one batch of brownies, but I find making it in smaller quantities doesn’t work as well. You can store it in an air tight container and use it for another batch of brownies, or other desserts.
Tips: When you get it right, it’s very easy to make praline. But I know from experience it’s also easy to stuff it up, usually by crystallising. Use a good heavy based saucepan and a wooden, not metal spoon to stir. Avoid splashing on the sides of the pan. It will often crystallise if the temperature is too high but I have crystallised it on a low heat too. Never scrape the crystallised bits on the edge back in. If you mess it up once, like I have many times, just try again (it’s not like it’s expensive) and experiment with your temperature. Soak crystallised pan in warm water to remove the hardened sugar.
Brownie recipe:
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 200 g good quality dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
  • 200 g butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 120 grams flour
  • 1/3 cup praline
Grease and flour a square, approx 27 x 20 cm baking pan (won’t matter if it’s a little smaller, but you don’t want much bigger than this) and line with baking paper so it’s hanging over the sides. This will make the brownie easy to lift out.
Preheat the oven to 180c. Melt the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl in the microwave (or over a boiling pan on the stove if you prefer -microwave is quicker and easier, I find).
Beat the eggs and sugar until pale and creamy. Stir in the slightly cooled down butter and chocolate mixture, and the vanilla. Fold in the flour – don’t be tempted to add more flour as I have done in the past, thinking the mixture was too runny. Too much flour will dry it out. This is not a cake, it’s meant to be a fudgy slice and the mixture should be quite runny.
Fold in the praline. Now, you can add as little or as much as you like here. I find that about a third of a cup is enough, noting that I’ve adjusted the sugar in the recipe to account for it. By all means add more but bear in mind it will become very sweet. The pieces will melt into the brownie as it’s cooked, so you don’t have to make them very small, but no bigger than about 3 cm is ideal.
Bake for approx 25 minutes, taking care not to overbake which will dry the brownie out. If you check with a skewer/spaghetti stick it will be moist and a little sticky when it’s ready, so also check by touching the middle and making sure it’s not wobbling.
Cut into squares and dust with icing sugar or cocoa powder. Decorate with little shards of praline if you like.

Stephanie’s Hazelnut Sponge with Coffee Cream

Last year I held a cake stall in my backyard to raise some money for the famine appeal in East Africa. With the help of wonderful friends and family, we raised almost $600 for Oxfam and the World Food Program.

Fundraising aside, the best thing about the day for me was discovering people’s favourite cake recipes. My friend Nada’s mum, Stephanie, brought this beautiful hazelnut sponge and it was a big hit.

Stephanie is a Croatian Australian and hands down the best cook I know. I love everything about her attitude to food and cooking. She makes simple but stunning food with the freshest and best ingredients possible, and nothing is ever wasted. She grows her own vegetables, fruit and herbs, and a visit to her garden is inspirational. It’s almost unbelievable how much produce her small garden in inner city Melbourne provides.

Stephanie kindly shared this recipe with me and now I’m sharing it with you. It’s such a beautiful cake – delicate and nutty. It is perfect with afternoon coffee or tea, or after dinner with a liqueur. I’ve only really made one change, and that is to reduce the amount of sugar, as it’s my standard operating procedure to do so. The coffee cream is my touch. If you prefer, as Stephanie suggests, chocolate cream, then substitute the coffee for a teaspoon of cocoa powder.

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • pinch of cream of tartar (about 1/4 teaspoon)
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar (or 1/2 cup if you want it sweeter)
  • 2/3 cup ground hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup self raising flour (or plain flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder)
  • 25 g, or two level tablespoons, butter melted in 2 tablespoons boiling water.
  • 150 ml pure cream
  • 1 level tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee

Preheat oven to 180c.

Grease a 20cm square cake tin or high sided tray (you can use a larger one if that’s all you have, as I did, but the sponge will be thinner).

Assemble all your ingredients so you have everything at hand once you get cracking.

Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar with electric beaters until peaks form. Gradually add the sugar and beat until thick and glossy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Sift over the flour, add the hazelnuts and fold in carefully with a metal spoon. Add the melted butter and water and mix gently. Pour into the tin and bake for 20-25 minutes.
Allow the cake to cool a little then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Beat the cream, coffee and sugar in an electric mixer until thick and spreadable. If the coffee granules haven’t dissolved, let it sit for five minutes then stir through.
Carefully slice the sponge in half horizontally. Spread the cream over the bottom half, put the top half on and dust with icing sugar. Cut into squares.

Banana and Pecan Loaf

Welcome back bananas! After almost a year at around $16/kilo following the devastation caused by Cyclone Yasi, bananas are now back in abundant supply, and currently selling for around $3-4/kilo.

To celebrate, I’m sharing my favourite banana recipe with you. It’s basically Tessa Kiros’ banana bread recipe, with pecans added, and a few other slight changes. I’ve been making it for my son now since he was 1, although I now leave out the pecans when making it for his school lunch box.

If you make this, you will never be able to eat bland banana bread from a cafe again.

  • 125 g butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 350 g – about 3 – ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
  • 1 and half teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon bicarb soda, dissolved in 3 tablespoons warm milk
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 180c. Grease and line a standard size loaf tin.

Do your prep: mash the bananas and set aside. Sift the flour and baking powder in a bowl and add the cinnamon, set aside. Chop the pecans and set aside. Have the eggs, and the milk and bicarb mixture ready to go.

In an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, mixing until combined, then the banana. Mix well. Add the flour mixture and milk, and fold in until combined. Fold in the nuts.

Pour the mixture in the loaf tin and even out on top a little. Bake for about 55 minutes. Insert a skewer into the middle. If it doesn’t come out clean, continue baking for another 5 or so minutes (you might have to do what I do here, and drop the temperature slightly to stop it burning on the bottom)

Cool on a rack, and preferably serve while warm 🙂

 

 

Halloween Gingerbread Men

These dismembered, bloodied and bandaged gingerbread men are so much fun to make and decorate. Make a whole batch of all one design, or mix them up. The gingerbread recipe is one I have used for years from a Donna Hay magazine, but I add a little fresh ginger to it for extra taste and zing, and reduce the sugar a little.

Makes approx 12 gingerbread men.

For the gingerbread men:

  • 2.5 cups plain flour
  • 125 g soft butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup golden syrup
  • 1 teaspoon bicarb soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger (powdered)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger

For the icing:

  • 1 egg white
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • red and black food colouring (get the good quality gel pastes from a specialty store, you won’t get great colour from the supermarket ones)

Beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer until creamy. Add the golden syrup and beat until combined. Add the fresh grated ginger. Sift the flour, bicarb soda and powdered ginger and mix until combined.  Knead to form a dough, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for half an hour.

Heat the oven to 190c.

Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper until roughly half a centimetre thick. It will be quite crumbly and this is normal.

Cut out the gingerbread men using a cutter. Tip: dip the cookie cutter in flour to stop it sticking to the dough.

Slash your gingerbread men according to your fancy, carefully lift them onto a baking tray lined with baking paper, and cook for 10-12 minutes.

Allow to cool on a rack completely before icing.

Mix the icing sugar and egg white until a smooth, thick paste forms. You don’t want it too runny so add more icing sugar until you have a workable, thick consistency.

Divide icing into three bowls, add the red food colouring to one, and the black to another.

Using a small tipped icing nozzle, or a plastic icing syringe from a specialty store, ice your biscuits as you please.

A few tips:

  • If you can, have three nozzles and bags so you don’t have to do all one colour first, then rinse and do the next colour.
  • You can also use small ziplock plastic bags with a tiny piece of the corner snipped off.
  • Have a damp clean cloth on hand for fixing mistakes, and some toothpicks will also come in handy.
  • Use wine and champagne glasses to stand the pieces in while waiting for the icing to dry, or ooze over the body artistically.
  • Have a biscuit to practice on, wipe away mistakes with a clean damp cloth, or wait for small mistakes to dry and scrape them off. This will be tricky with the coloured ones, they will leave a smudge.
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