Monday, 31 December 2012

Christmas Spice Biscuits

5 penguin biscuits with red scarves

Merry Christmas! Sorry it’s a little late – I’ve been having a lovely relaxing time back at home over Christmas. Time to catch up on writing up a few of the things that I made before Christmas.

At work, we have a Christmas Breakfast: everyone takes in a food contribution and we have a bit of a party, including handing out the Secret Santa gifts. I decided to buy the Really Good biscuit tin (as in my list of great gifts for bakers) as my Secret Santa gift and so felt that it really needed to be filled with biscuits! Biscuits are great as they can be prepared a few days in advance, so very useful at this time of year when evenings and weekends tend to be busy.

I wanted to make use of some of my Christmas cookie cutters, so decided on the Biscuiteers’ Treacle Spice biscuits – as the Biscuiteers’ biscuits are brilliant for using with cutters. I hadn’t baked these ones before but they sounded suitably festive! They are easy to make, although slightly hard to judge when they are cooked as they are a fairly dark colour.  They held their shape beautifully, even the delicate thin bits of the shapes. However, for me, they were a little too treacly and slightly bitter. Therefore, when I made a second batch to take home, I substituted half of the treacle for golden syrup and also added the zest of half an orange, which really improved them for me. Don’t worry if the dough seems very marbled when it comes together– this doesn’t matter and it is important not to over-work the dough as this will make the biscuits tough.

Here’s the adapted recipe (makes about 24 biscuits, I usually double the recipe):

Christmas Spice Biscuits

8 Christmas bauble cookies

  1. 200g plain flour
  2. ½ tsp baking powder
  3. ½ tsp ground ginger
  4. ½ tsp cinnamon
  5. ½ tsp mixed spice
  6. Zest of ½ an orange
  7. 50g dark brown sugar
  8. 100g salted butter, diced (at room temp)
  9. 25g black treacle
  10. 25g golden syrup


  1. Sift the flour, baking powder and all the spices into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and stir well.
  2. Rub in the butter, using just the tips of your fingers, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Make a well in the centre of your mix and add the golden syrup, treacle and orange zest.
  4. Use a knife to stir the mixture until it begins to come together as a dough.
  5. Use your hands to bring the dough together.
  6. Divide the dough into two and shape into two flat disks.
  7. Place the first piece of dough between two sheets of baking parchments. (This means that you do not have to add extra flour when rolling.)
  8. Roll the dough out evenly until it is approximately 5-6mm thick all over (you can buy rolling guides, but I have this rolling pin, which is brilliant!). If the top or bottom sheets of parchment crinkle at any time, peel it off and smooth out.
  9. When rolled to the correct thickness, move the dough (still sandwiched between parchment) onto a baking tray and then into the fridge to chill for at least 20-30 minutes.
  10. After chilling, use your selected cutters to cut out the biscuits, cutting each one as close to the last as possible, in order to use the dough efficiently. Re-roll the dough as necessary, but try to work the dough as little as possible.  
  11. Place each biscuit onto a lined baking tray, allowing space between as the biscuits will spread a little.
  12. Bake the biscuits for 14 – 18 minutes. When cooked, the biscuits will be firm around the edges but still slightly soft on top.
  13. Remove the baking trays from the oven and carefully remove each biscuit from the tray, placing them gently onto a wire cooling rack. The biscuits will still be very delicate at this stage.  
  14. Allow biscuits to cool totally before storing or icing.

To decorate:


I used the two smallest cutters from this set.

7 Christmas scnowflake iced biscuits


  1. 20ml orange juice or water
  2. 150g royal icing sugar
  3. Ice blue food colour
  4. Edible silver balls


  1. Add the orange juice to the royal icing sugar.
  2. Use an electric mixer to beat the mix (starting on low and increasing to high speed) for about 5 minutes. You are looking for the mix to be a toothpaste-like consistency.
  3. Spoon the icing into a piping bag with a very small round tip.
  4. Ice the biscuits with a variety of swirling patterns, decorating with silver balls as required.


I used the cutters from this set.

Christmas Bauble biscuits


  1. Ready-to-roll fondant icing
  2. Water
  3. Paste food colours
  4. Edible gold leaf
  5. Lustre dusts
  6. Clear alcohol (eg vodka/gin)


You can use either pre-coloured ready-to roll fondant or colour the fondant yourself – or I guess you could make your own fondant – but this seems like a lot of effort!

  1. Roll the coloured fondant out to approximately 2mm thick.
  2. If desired, roll the icing carefully over an embossing plate.
  3. Using the same cutters as used for the biscuits, cut out the fondant.
  4. Use a clean brush to brush each biscuit with water before carefully placing the fondant shapes onto the biscuits.
  5. Mix a sprinkling of lustre dust with a drop of the alcohol to create a paint.
  6. Use a fine paint brush to decorate the biscuits.
  7. Use another brush to gently lift fragments of the gold leaf and carefully place to form the top of the bauble.

Polar animals

I bought this set of polar animal cutters from TK Maxx just before Christmas – worth a look in there, they had lots of sets for bargain prices!

5 polar bear biscuits with blue scarves


  1. Ready-to-roll fondant icing
  2. Water
  3. Paste food colours


You can use either pre-coloured ready-to roll fondant or colour the fondant yourself – or I guess you could make your own fondant – but this seems like a lot of effort!

  1. Roll the coloured fondant out to approximately 2mm thick.
  2. Using the same cutters as used for the biscuits, cut out the fondant.
  3. Use a clean brush to brush each biscuit with water before carefully placing the fondant shapes onto the biscuits.
  4. Use different colours of fondant to add details like the penguins’ feet and beaks, and scarves for the penguins and bears.    

 5 Blue whale biscuits

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Cordial and Grace tea-rooms, Clifton Village

Last weekend, the pretty Georgian shopping quarter of Clifton Village was bathed in frosty sunlight and looking at its best – definitely a good choice for a stroll and morning coffee with my visiting family.  After a potter over the Clifton Bridge and a bit of window shopping around a few of the fantastic independent boutiques, it was time for a cup of tea and a bite to eat. Unsurprisingly, many of Clifton’s coffee shops were busy and, as there were five of us (Mum, my aunt (R), my brother (D) and his girlfriend (J)), it was a little difficult to find somewhere to seat us all. 

Although a little understated from the outside – possibly accounting for why they were not quite as busy as other places – once inside, Cordial and Grace tea-rooms are bright and modern with a fashionably kitsch feel.  They are a sewing café - apparently following a trend in Paris and Berlin and catering for the increasing market of crafters – and hire sewing machines by the hour as well as holding a wide variety of sewing workshops. 

There was a good variety of cakes available, including three types of mince pies, three different cream teas (including a savoury option), a chocolate and clementine marble cake, apricot and yoghurt cake, peanut butter brownies and home-made cookies. We loved that they had little tasters of a couple of the cakes and a taste of the apricot and yoghurt cake tempted me, J and R. The cake was a decent sized slice and lovely: moist, full of flavour and not-too-sweet – great for a mid-morning snack. D went for a peanut butter brownie – he was slightly disappointed by the size (definitely a girl-sized portion!) but not by the taste – he allowed me a crumb and it was rich, peanutty and delicious. 

I loved that the tea came served in mis-matched teacups and saucers – very fitting with the overall atmosphere of the tea-rooms. The tea itself was proper leaf tea and came with a very cute little egg timer – to let you know when the tea had brewed correctly! D had a big mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows, Mum had a latte and J had a Jasmine tea, which were all good. R ordered a white Americano but it came as a black Americano, but she decided to just use some of the milk provided with my tea, rather than asking for it to be changed.

Overall, I was impressed with this cute little café. Not sure if I’d return with EHH, but I’d definitely bring a couple of my girl friends – who would love it! I’ll definitely be back to Clifton in the near future though – I hadn’t been for a while and I’d love to have a bit more time (without a shopping-averse brother) to potter around all of the brilliant independent shops up there.

Monday, 10 December 2012

More Christmas present ideas for bakers

My kitchen cupboards may be overflowing but there are still more bits and bobs that I would like to fuel my baking habit. Here are some of the things on my Christmas List this year:


This has fantastic reviews on Amazon and appears to be a fairly comprehensive guide to cake decorating. 

100 Fondant Models for Cake Decorators: Designs for Special Celebrations

There seems to be lots and lots of books doing  this type of thing but this one seems to be more comprehensive than others and has good reviews.

 Lakeland Tilting Turntable

I've been finding icing tiered cakes difficult and so I really want one of these tilting turntables to help me get the edges beautifully smooth.

Sweetly Does It Cake Lifter

I only found this while browsing on Amazon but it seems like a great idea to help me move iced cakes from my new (hopefully) turntable to a cake tin or plate. 

Three-Tier Stackable Cooling Rack 39.5cm X 25cm

My kitchen is pretty small and things tend to end up all over the place when I'm cooking - a stacked cooling rack seems a sensible idea for when I'm cooking big batches of cakes or biscuits. This one has pretty good reviews on Amazon.


My Kitchen 12 Cup Mini Sandwich Tin

I'm a bit of a sucker for mini things and so love the idea of making mini sponges. I really rate Lakeland tins anyway so this one is definitely worth getting. 

Master Class Heavy Duty Macaroon Pan - 24 Cup

I had a go at making macaroons earlier this year - with mixed success. I'm keen to have another go and this tin seems like a great idea. 

Wilton 101-Piece Short Cookie Cutter Set 

A huge set of cookie cutters for a fairly bargainous price - you can't go far wrong!

Kitchen Craft Cookie Cutters, Leaf Shaped, Set of 7


Love these leaf-shaped cutters - next autumn, I really want to make pretty autumnal cupcakes and these would be brilliant! I'd also like the set of basic shapes

Alphabet Mini Cutters, the full set for Cookies, Icing, Sugarcraft & Cake Decoration

I've looked at Tappits etc, but these seem like they will be much easier to use - great for names etc. You can also buy a set of numbers. Be aware that these say that they are for cookies but they are pretty small so much better suited to sugarcraft. Worth a look around if you want to buy these - I saw some sets in TK Maxx (Cribbs Causeway) for about £6 today.

Pattern Edged Combs and Scraper

These are fairly cheap (£4.99 at the moment) and look fun to play with - adding patterns to buttercream on tiered cakes - will definitely need to be used with a turntable though!

Really Good Tin - Step away from the biscuit tin

Just because I love this range and I think this tin is fun! A lot of the tins I currently use are old chocolate tins so maybe it's time to get a proper one!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Puff pastry mince pies

6 puff pastry mince pies on a wire cooling rack

I love mince pies! I have to admit, we do buy shop-bought – especially early in the season. However, not much beats a home-made mince pie and, once you have made the mincemeat, it is so easy to make a batch of pies. Everyone thinks that you are a domestic goddess – even if you do just use shop-bought pastry!

I made the mincemeat a couple of weeks ago, but only got round to making my first batch of mince pies on Thursday this week:  in time for my mum’s arrival! Having had some pretty good puff pastry mince pies from the Co-op, I decided to make my own. However, even Baking Supremo Mary Berry says that she doesn’t make her own pastry – which is a good enough excuse for me, so my pastry came courtesy of Mr Sainsbury!

The co-op mince pies were flat rather than having a curved base, I’ve never made them like this but decided to give it a go. It was actually a lot easier than trying to put disks of pastry into a bun tin and they worked out pretty well – although I think I could have possibly baked them a little longer - but they tasted great anyway!

Christmas Mincemeat

Makes 3 lb (1.35 kg)

  1. 8oz (225g) Bramley apples, cored and chopped small (no need to peel them)
  2. 4 oz (110 g) shredded suet
  3. 4oz (175 g) raisins
  4. 4oz (110 g) sultanas
  5. 2oz (55g) currants
  6. 2oz (55g) dried cranberries
  7. 2oz (55g) dried sour cherries
  8. 4oz (110 g) whole mixed candied peel, finely chopped
  9. 6oz (175 g) soft dark brown sugar
  10. grated zest and juice 1 orange
  11. grated zest and juice 1 lemon
  12. 2 level teaspoons mixed ground spice
  13. ¼ level teaspoon ground cinnamon
  14. good pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  15. 3 tablespoons cherry brandy or amaretto
  1. Combine all the ingredients, except for the alcohol, in a large oven-proof bowl, mixing thoroughly.
  2. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave the mixture in a cool place overnight or for 12 hours, so the flavours have a chance to mingle and develop.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark ¼, 225°F (120°C).
  4. Cover the bowl loosely with foil and place it in the oven for 3 hours, then remove the bowl from the oven. Don't worry about the appearance of the mincemeat, which will look positively swimming in fat. This is how it should look.
  5. As it cools, stir it from time to time; the fat will coagulate and, instead of it being in tiny shreds, it will encase all the other ingredients.
  6. When the mincemeat is quite cold, stir well again, adding the alcohol.
  7. Pack in jars that have been sterilised (see below).
  8. When filled, cover with waxed discs and seal.
  9. The mincemeat will keep for ages in a cool, dark cupboard but it is best eaten within a year of making.

NOTE: To sterilise jars, wash the jars and lids in warm soapy water, rinse well, then dry thoroughly with a clean tea cloth, place them on a baking tray and pop into a medium oven, gas mark 4, 350F, 180C, for 5 minutes.

Puff pastry mince pies

  1. 6 tsp mincemeat (preferably home-made)
  2. 2 tblsp milk
  3. 250g puff pastry
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  2. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.
  3. Roll the pastry out to approx. 4mm thick.
  4. Cut out twelve 8cm disks.
  5. Place 6 of the disks on the baking tray and brush with milk.
  6. Place a teaspoon of mincemeat in the centre of each disk.
  7. Brush each of the remaining pastry disks with milk and then place them, milk side down, on top of the other mincemeat-topped disks.
  8. Press down around the edges to seal.
  9. Brush the tops of the mince pies with more milk.
  10. Cook for 20-25 minutes, until risen and golden.
  11. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
  12. Move pies onto a wire rack to finish cooling.