At a birthday party for a little cousin, there was a pink number 4 cake. It was neat and simple, decorated with marshmallow flowers and hundreds and thousands. (Just cut the marshmallows into thin rounds and press into sprinkles or coloured sugar; arrange petals into a flower and place a smartie in the middle.) It brought back childhood memories of poring over this one birthday cake book, months before the day itself, to pick that year’s special cake. It had all the numbers, and the patterns needed to cut them out of a square or round without wasting cake, it had fairy castles and cowboy shootouts. It has a shark with long eyelashes cut out of liquorice. It had the ultimate in kitsch, a swimming pool cake decorated with blue jelly, tiny figurines splashing up and down. Any Australian child will recognise it: the Women’s Weekly birthday cake book. My brother and I grew up with it; my mother had brought it over to England. We looked and looked, still often chose the old favourite: a train cake with multiple sponge cake carriages, rainbow colours and an enormous amount of sweets.
I remembered that their biscuit book too was always on the recipe book stand, never filed away on the shelf. The Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits. The pages fell open at Anzac biscuits (crisp, golden rounds made with oats and coconut) and Weekenders (biscuits with raisins, covered in crushed cornflakes) which sound weird but are very moreish. Inspired to look through it again years later, I found an old extravagance: Melting Moments. They are very rich, buttery shortbreads, akin to Viennese Whirls, sandwiched with lemon cream. Though they look a little like macarons, they are simpler to make and better to eat. The shortbread crumbles, gives way beneath your teeth. The citrus just barely cuts the richness; they are pure indulgence. It is impossible not to chase the crumbs left on the plate with a forefinger, to enjoy every last scrap.
There are other recipes – Dan Lepard’s version with passion-fruit and whipped cream looks delicious – and at one point I was tempted by the basil plant on the balcony to modernise the biscuits, give them the macaron treatment, but I’m glad I tried the original version first. The Beautiful Biscuits book is clear and simple, sparse with instructions but heavy on pictures. Actually, I lie, I used lime juice instead of lemon because there was a half in the fridge. Still, they taste like my memories, pretty damn good.
Lemon and lime melting moments
Just barely adapted from the Women’s Weekly Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits
250g unsalted butter, softened
55g icing sugar
225g plain flour
1/4 tsp salt
Zest of 1 lemon + 1 lime
60g butter, softened
75g icing sugar
1 tbs lime juice (about ½ lime)
Zest of 1 lemon or lime
Heat oven to 160C. Cream butter and sugar until soft and fluffy. Sieve in the flour and cornflour, add salt and zests, and mix well. Dollop a teaspoonful at a time, about the size of a large cherry, onto baking trays lined with paper, well-spaced apart. The mixture should make 50-60 small biscuits. Dip a fork in flour and gently flatten the blobs. Bake for 10-12 minutes until just turning golden brown around the edges, still pale on top. (You may need to rotate the trays halfway so they bake evenly.) Let cool on a wire rack.
Make the filling: beat the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy, then gradually add the lime juice and zest. Match the biscuits into evenly-sized pairs. Turn half upside down and spoon a little filling onto each, then sandwich with the other half. Refrigerate for half an hour to firm up.
Serve with plenty of tea.