busted!

Whilst photographing Mary’s lovely felt decorations I spotted a couple of lame horses amongst the biscuits on the tree – a hoof missing here, a leg there. It was bound to happen to one or two of them I reasoned, but then, as I looked closer, I saw that almost all the biscuits had been picked at – all stars were at least one point short. Grrr.

Of course the girls tried to blame Sybil. It was the dog, they chorused, faces solemn. But I’m not that stupid. And anyway, Sybil has been banned from the sitting room since the biscuits appeared on the tree – one whiff of them sent her trotting around the room like a demented show dog, nose in the air as if held up by an invisible thread, hungrily drinking in their scent. I knew the biscuits wouldn’t last long, and they are meant to be eaten, but I had hoped the girls might share them with their cousins on Boxing day. Fat chance.

and we’re off…

Phew! The school term is over and we are now galloping towards the 25th. It’s not as though the date comes as any sort of surprise, yet every year I feel slightly caught out by Christmas. Anyway, having had the requisite seasonal bout of Bah! Humbug, a trapped nerve in my shoulder and the three-way bicker-fest that heralds the start of all our holidays… seasonal cheer has finally entered the household, and at last we have a tree. All we need now are some decorations. Yesterday evening biscuits were baked using this recipe, which I wheel out every year, and wonder why I don’t use at other times.

And this morning we sat and iced them. And someone tested them. Quite thoroughly as it turns out. And now I am wondering whether we might not need a second batch.

This afternoon, once the scattered siblings have regrouped, we will hang the biscuits  on the tree and I will feel ready for the drink that at any other time of year dare not speak its name: advocaat. I’m not even sure that I like it that much, but for some reason it seems to suit the business of decorating the Christmas tree. In fact I’d say that the way in which my thoughts turn to this sticky, custardy gloop as soon as I start fiddling about with fairy lights and baubles is Pavlovian.

this week’s biscuit

The Nanowrimo challenge grinds on, and it seems to get harder every day. I am now over 30,000 words into the task and despite the pain, boredom and frustration that I experience each day, I am enjoying the process. I can’t bring myself to call what I’m writing a novel, as currently it’s just a thicket of ideas with barely a squeak of a plot, but a story of sorts is emerging. Obviously this calls for more biscuits.

These chocolate and nut bars have proved very popular with the girls too, which is a surprise as they all claim to hate nuts. The recipe is from a very old cookery book, The Cook’s Companion, by Josceline Dimbleby, which my mother gave me twenty years ago, and which I still turn to on a regular basis. These little bars can be run up in ten minutes or so as everything is made in a pan, and they take twelve minutes to cook. Although only the thickness of a biscuit, they have a slightly cakey consistency which I think means they occupy that part of biscuitdom normally only inhabited by the Jaffa Cake. They are great on their own, but brilliant with ice cream. I have used toasted hazelnuts as the recipe suggests, but I think any nuts would do.

Chocolate and Hazelnut Thins

125g butter; 25g plain chocolate broken up; 1tsp instant coffee; 75g soft dark brown sugar; 1tsp vanilla essence;  1 egg beaten lightly; 25g plain flour; 1/2 tsp salt; 50g skinned hazelnuts, toasted and chopped up.

Preheat oven to 190/375 gas 5; Butter (and I also line) a 25 x 30cm Swiss roll tin.

Melt the butter and chocolate together over a low heat, stirring all the time. Add the instant coffee and stir to dissolve. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla essence and then the egg. Sift in the flour and salt and mix until smooth.

Pour the thick mixture into the tin and spread evenly, or tilt the tin to get it to level out across the base. It will look like a very scant amount, but don’t worry. Sprinkle with the chopped toasted hazelnuts.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, turning the tin halfway through to ensure that it cooks evenly.

Leave in the tin for a few minutes before lifting to a wire rack to allow them to cool. Alternatively, eat them straight away, whilst still warm.

NB – late addition here: I didn’t bother with the 1/2 tsp of salt as I used lightly salted butter rather than unsalted.

crumbs

Having signed up to a mad, month-long writing project which involves attempting to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days (NaNoWriMo), I find that all I want to do is bake stuff. And biscuits, in particular, have become very appealing: they are quick to make and, perhaps more significantly, easy to eat whilst alternately drinking coffee and typing. Or, more typically, staring into space.

The biscuit obsession began during half term when Bea rustled up a batch of peanut butter and chocolate cookies for her godmother, Jess. Whilst overseeing production, I was struck by the speed with which biscuits can be made, cooked, and dispatched.

I know there are recipes out there for cakes which can be whipped up in minutes (Delia has a very good basic sponge that springs to mind), but even so, biscuits seem quicker. I suppose it’s partly because biscuits tend not to be iced, which means that you don’t need to wait until they’ve cooled before diving in. In fact these cookies are particularly delicious when they’re still warm. The recipe is from Christmas Treats by Linda Collister.

But of all the biscuit recipes I’ve looked at recently (and it’s been quite an intense period of research), shortbread must be the easiest. It only has three ingredients, all of which are store cupboard basics: caster sugar, butter, flour – cocoa powder if you’re feeling flash.

The recipe for this chocolate shortbread came from The Great British Book of Baking, which accompanied the first series of The Great British Bake Off. It’s very rich.

And finally, for now anyway, from the same book, Jumbles. So called, I guess, because you sling a jumble of whatever nuts, fruit or chocolate you have to hand into the basic biscuit mix. Quick and easy, Jumbles are delicious and smell heavenly as they bake. All three of these biscuit recipes have been made on a loose rotation for the last two weeks. I have plans for some freezer biscuits this weekend – you make a dough, freeze it and then, when you want biscuits, you take it out and let it thaw slightly before slicing off the number of biscuits you want to bake. I love this idea. Though I can see some problems – chief among them being the temptation to bake a biscuit or two with every cup of tea.

Of course all this domestic goddess malarky is just a complicated, and fattening, way of avoiding my daily word count. Still, making biscuits is more fun than the endless vacuuming I found myself doing when I was trying to revise for my RHS level 2 exams.

Fortunately my daily walks with Sybil go some way towards ensuring that my bottom doesn’t take on bus-like dimensions as I sit in front of the computer.

These walks also give me a chance to get outside to enjoy my favourite season.

Enough! I have biscuits to bake. No, what am I saying? I have a novel to write. My cardboard characters are demanding a better plot. They say their situations are boring, their motives shaky. I am inclined to agree*. All my baking, walking, gardening**, quilting***, knitting, and blogging, have conspired against The Great Project. It is now 2,000 words behind schedule. Back to the grindstone.

* I don’t really care though, the exhilarating thing about Nanowrimo is that you just plough on, churning out words without a backward glance. I know that when the 1st of December dawns I will have some cringe-inducing prose awaiting me, but I will have thrashed out the framework for a story I’ve been thinking about for years.

**Despite several mornings on my knees, I still have 200 bulbs left to plant. 

*** It’s finished! I will write a post about this later. 

PS If anyone wants the recipes, just leave a message and I’ll post them as soon as I can. I’m sure it’s alright to post someone else’s recipe as long as it’s credited. Just can’t face typing them up right now.