Tag Archives: biscuits

lemon and lime melting moments

10 Dec

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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

Makes 25-30

250g unsalted butter, softened

55g icing sugar

225g plain flour

60g cornflour

1/4 tsp salt

Zest of 1 lemon + 1 lime

Filling:

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.

je brunch, tu brunch: sweet

23 Sep

brunch sweet 2

(Following on from je brunch, tu brunch: savoury)

For sweet teeth, two cakes to start with: a round chocolate and a square upside-down pear and pecan (from Diana Henry). Both rich and full of flavour, stand-alone cakes – no need for icing or frills.

When cooking for a crowd in a miniature oven, it is best to choose at least one simple recipe that you know off by heart, that you can mix together in five minutes and have in the oven straightaway while you read and measure the next, new recipe. Then you have time to slice pears and caramelise them, and to whip up a fluffy buttermilk sponge.

My chocolate fondant recipe is a piece of cake (ha) and so decadent it tastes like a lot of effort went into it: Melt 200g chocolate and 200g butter over a bain marie. Whisk 170g sugar and 5 eggs in a large bowl. Stir in chocolate mix and 125g ground nuts (hazelnuts are nice). Pour into a 22cm greased and papered tin, bake for 25 minutes at 175C until just starting to crack, not wobbly but still soft. Optional extras: orange zest, cinnamon, 2 tsp instant coffee dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water. Slice very finely and decorate with icing sugar.

Another easy option: the Nigella clementine cake. Instead of boiling the fruit for two hours as traditional, you microwave them, covered, for eight minutes, turning once. Then blend, add sugar, eggs and ground almonds. Done. Simple but with a depth of flavour; moist and fragrant, both dairy and gluten free.

brunch sweet 1

Meringues keep well and can be prepared a few days in advance. Pipe bite-sized versions in neat swirls for a professional finish. Ottolenghi’s brown sugar and cinnamon meringues have you dissolve all the sugar in the egg whites over a bain-marie, which creates glossy meringues that are delightfully sticky on the inside.

So, on the sweet side of the brunch table, there are already two cakes and some meringues. Maybe some cookies dug up from the freezer. I like making logs of shortbread mixture and freezing half for a later date, to slice and bake as many as needed.

And finally, a fruit compote for the glut of produce in the markets at the moment: for autumn, figs and plums cooked in syrupy red wine, sprinkled with fresh purple grapes (Henry again). I didn’t follow the recipe properly but the result was still lovely: I cooked a dozen large figs, halved, with a dozen fat plums, in red wine with sugar and a bit of liquorice vodka until soft. Then removed the fruit, simmered the sauce to a thick syrup and decorated with red grapes. All in a luxurious velvety purple, sweet and ripe. Delicious with fromage blanc.

brunch sweet 3

Enough to feed an army yet? With a few added extras – homemade lemon curd, some iced coffee –  your brunch should leave your guests in a happy (comatose) heap on the sofa…

honey bee tuiles with almonds and coconut (gluten-free)

19 Aug

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At work, we always made tuiles a la forchette. Since then I understand there are faster ways to make those crackly almond biscuits, but we pushed the flaked almonds in their syrupy batter out into coaster sized circles with just a fork. There should be no holes, nor almonds overlapping. Then into the oven, and just as they turned an even autumn-leaf brown, they were quickly snatched up while hot and pressed into gouttières (gutters) to make them slightly rounded. It was the work of a patient hour or more – so often it was the loser of jan ken poi! (Japanese rock paper scissors, disappointingly similar to the English version) who would have to get out the fork. The reward was to eat the broken pieces, those crisp, sweet almond flakes.

On holidays, so far I have not been tempted to make any cakes. Partly because we were three, of which one ‘my body is a temple’ tended to shun dessert. (I did remake last year’s tarte tatin for a dinner party but that only consists of peeling apples and baking apples, leaving them in the fridge to form a gorgeous caramel jelly then quickly cooking shop-bought puff pastry.) Otherwise, I have been busy. Going to market, re-reading our whole collection of Inspector Morse books. (I must be getting old, I can never remember the identity of the murderer.)

One of our outings consisted in visiting a nearby bee-farm. Apiculteur, sorry. (My French entomological lexicon is not what it should be.) The bee-man was the picture of jollity, all nudge-nudge, wink-wink as he showed us the hives, and related the honestly fascinating lives of bees. A queen bee lays 2000 eggs a day, for up to 5 years. And she only has sex once, in a gravity defying challenge where only one male bee can win. Performance finished, he gets his head sliced off. This was where the nudging and winking came in.

Then we saw the miellerie, where they collect and distill the honey from the honeycombs. When he spun the empty centrifuge, a heady sweet scent filled the small room. He explained that commercial honey is often heated to a high temperature, totally destroying the vitamins and minerals. These jars will have an expiry date. Worse, the cheapest kind can be only 30% honey content. If you keep your local honey in a cool place (not the fridge, not in the sun) though it will thicken, it will last more than 100 years. His father, also a bee-man, had given him the honey of his birth-year recently as a present – better than a fine wine.

bees

Finally we tasted a range, from subtle to strong. First the creamy sunflower honey, then acacia, tilleul and chestnut tree. This last was dark as brewed tea, rich and sharp. It has notes of wood and winter, words for which my tongue is not trained. The kind that is too violent for your palate as a kid, but that you crave with bread and cold butter for an adult breakfast. It works well for adding depth to sauces, and caramelising roast meat – just a teaspoon when nearly cooked.

We drove home through the sunflower fields, passing old crumbling mansions and new pre-fab houses. On one roof we saw a team of men replacing the old orange tiles, shaped like a section of a gutter and faded to a range of terracotta and ochre, with new bland straight ones. That was what I wanted to make with the honey, to show off its flavour. Simple tuiles, with their curved shape based on those roof tiles, the ones on our own house.

The batter is easy – so much easier when making a few, and not a hundred! Melted butter, honey, flour and egg whites, mixed with flaked almonds, coconut if you like. Leave it in the fridge over an afternoon. While you are enjoying cheese and salad after supper, preheat the oven. Carefully push out a dozen biscuits on greaseproof paper, as thin as possible with no holes. Get the icecream out of the freezer to soften. In the absence of a gouttière, line up a row of beer bottles or spice jars on their sides on the counter. By the time you are ready for dessert, barely ten minutes, the tuiles will be golden-brown. Quickly ease them off the paper with a fork and drape them over the bottles, to let them cool. Use them to scoop up a delicate icecream, custard or with raw honey and fromage blanc, to really savour the strong honey taste.

one bee

Honey tuiles with almond and coconut

makes 20 small biscuits, which will keep for a week in a sealed biscuit tin 

Recipe adapted from Lenotre: I used almonds and coconut, but just flaked almonds is traditional and delicious. Ordinary flour can also be substituted for the rice flour if gluten-free is not necessary. Use a strong, dark honey like chestnut for maximum flavour

 

20g butter, melted and cooled

60g egg whites (about 2 small eggs)

60g strong, dark honey

1 tbs rice flour

75g flaked almonds

25g dessicated coconut

Melt the butter and let it cool. Mix egg whites, honey and butter, then stir in flour, almonds and coconut. Clingfilm and leave in the fridge – Lenotre says 1h30 – can be up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 165C. Dollop small teaspoons of mixture on a greasproof paper lined baking tray, leaving lots of space between each one. With the tines of a fork, carefully spread out the mixture as thinly as possibly, preferably the thickness of one almond slice.

If you want to make properly tile-shaped tuiles, line up a row of beer bottles, rolling pins or spice jars, preferably on a tea towel so they don’t roll away.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Check the oven and rotate the trays if necessary. They should be brown all the way across, no white in the middle. As quickly as possible, lift them from the tray with a fork and drape them over the bottles. Press them down if reluctant. Leave to cool to keep their shape.

Serve with icecream, custard, stewed fruit or yoghurt and honey. Keep in an airtight tin. If they lose their crispness, pop them in a hot oven for 2 minutes, reshape if necessary.  You can also keep leftover mixture in the fridge for a day or two and make tuiles on demand.

 

 

 

strawberries and shortbread

22 Apr

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Making fun of the French is all too easy. It has become a bad habit that I wear as easily as my shapeless duffel coat. What can I say? Their typically closed-off rule-following ways make for good anecdotes.

There was the time I went to the department store BHV and needed to ask five (famously snooty) shop assistants before one would deign to point me in the right direction for a cake stand. There are the continual awkward encounters with neighbours, who have made small talk about the weather with me for two years, who have all accepted free cakes from my bakery – but will never introduce themselves. I know that the couple on the 6th floor has a cat named Carlos. They have given me flowers to thank me for said cake. But they still don’t feel obliged to share their names.

Then there is the insistence on correct grammar, a reverence for words that I totally understand but still find amusing when upside in a hot yoga class and a student takes the time and breath to correct the American instructor: it’s la cheville not le. 

My first year in Paris, my year abroad, I wanted to integrate. I actively avoided anglophones. However this led to living and working with only Italians, a pleasant and unexpected consequence. I learned how to salt pasta water (heavily) and that una forchettata (a forkful) means a good 150g portion. I practiced some French, tangentially, with friends of friends or as a stilted common language with the rare German or Polish colleague, all confused and a little annoyed to find themselves in the crossfire of Italian chatter in that most French of institutions in the very heart of the city, in the Louvre.

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The second time around, a year later, I tried again. Granted, I was living with another Italian girl, the charming flatmate. But we made an effort to meet Frenchies, joined capoeira class, made small talk at soirees. Slowly slowly though, I started meeting English-speaking friends, an American, a couple of nice Canadians. Several girls from my tiny hometown of Hereford, all escaped to France in search of adventure. And I got to be myself a little more – my voice is squeakier and much more prissy in French, whereas in English (I hope) I am funnier, more relaxed.

Maybe my frog-mocking is just self-protection: it’s hard to fit in with the French. To break the ice without asking what someone does for a living, to slip in the subjunctive like it’s no big deal, to know how the latest thoughtful and depressing movie fits into the director’s back catalogue. It’s a little like tagging along with a sophisticated older sibling, trying to keep up. Just like brothers and sisters, the French and the English seem to be endlessly in competition, always making fun of each other more or less affectionately. That’s my excuse anyway, for pandering to stereotypes, which do nonetheless have a small grain of truth in them. And they do it too; how many times have I admitted to being English only to hear an often misinformed diatribe about how terrible our food/weather/national character is. (Oh dear, I am being a bratty little sister: ‘He does it too! He started it!’)

In the end though, the fact that I am still here has to count for something. I like all of the other cliched ideas about France, that its people take art and aesthetics, fine food and wine so seriously. I have become the Parisian who wouldn’t live anywhere else, wouldn’t give up all the city’s expos and vernissages, its street theatre, but still relishes a weekend in the French countryside with its rustic charm and simple meals. I love going to market and peering at the heaping mounds of produce, asking for that one to be ripe for tonight’s supper and another for three days time. Their care and attention when it comes to food is a kind of open-house hospitality, welcoming you in for the best they have to offer. You taste the cassoulet and mi-cuit foie gras from the farm next door and you notice immediately their pride in their culinary heritage.

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All the eating is part of a larger whole, the expectation that having followed those rules, paid one’s dues – the reward is rest and relaxation. Though the two hour wine-soaked lunch is becoming less common, the French have three bank holidays in May alone (in the sunshine of course) and still make the most of their five weeks holiday a year, preferably for a long August vacation. The state is very generous with unemployment benefits – which includes free entry into museums and cultural institutions – with health insurance and with help towards paying the rent for students and those on a low wage, even for foreigners like me. Provided you fill in all the forms of course, that is the classic stumbling block. Once you have cleared that hurdle, you are free to wander the streets and markets, pretending to be French, hoping that your charming accent will go unnoticed for two more minutes.

On the subject of fresh ripe fruit from the market, the gariguette strawberries are finally in season. I rather bossily ordered a friend coming to dinner to pick me up a punnet or two for dessert “and definitely not any of those Spanish monstrosities.” Gariguettes are small and delicate and sweet, a more translucent red than the aggresively farmed ruby berries from Spain that are available all year around. These ones come out around March to June, and are extremely sensitive. They must be handled with care for they bruise easily. (Here I could make an unflattering parallel with a prissy Parisian, but I won’t.) They collapse in a puddle of juice when bitten into, releasing a sweet perfumed flavour that I had forgotten over the winter. Like having Italian sun-ripened tomatoes after months of those tough supermarket orbs, you remember when eating gariguettes what strawberries are supposed to taste like.

Though I was planned to make a fancy mousse cake with a jelly middle, iced and beribboned, in the end I left the strawberries whole and fresh in all their glory. We ate the shortbread base plain with some icing sugar, perfectly crumbly from the subtle addition of rice flour. The fruit was dipped in melted chocolate and honeyed cream. I should be promoting the extravagant cake, but really there is nothing nicer after a big meal than sharing big bowls of fruit, reaching across the table to grab at chocolate, making a pile of strawberry, shortbread and mascarpone for each bite. It was very companionable. In fact, this improvised pudding has the best of France, England and even Italy in all its basic ingredients.

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Strawberries and shortbread

technically feeds six polite people at a dinner party, but I like the shortbread so much I can eat most of it in one sitting (full disclosure, it comes from my mother’s book Seasonal Secrets)

125g butter, room temperature

50g caster sugar

125g plain flour

50g rice flour

1/2 tsp salt

zest of 1 lemon

to serve:

500g fresh ripe gariguette strawberries

more sliced fruit – kiwis or mangoes are good for colour contrast

200g dark chocolate, melted

250g mascarpone (or clotted cream)

3 tbs milk

1 tbs honey

Heat oven to 175C. Cream the butter and sugar, stir in flours, zest and salt until it just starts to come together. Line a tin with baking paper – I used a 22cm ring on a baking sheet to make  it easy to emove when baked – and press the dough firmly into it. Bake for 15-18 minutes until golden and just brown around the edges. Let cool.

When ready to eat, melt the chocolate gently over a pan of simmering water. Mix the mascarpone with the milk and honey to make a smooth dipping consistency. Cut the shortbread into diamonds and dust with icing sugar. Slice any other fruit neatly, serve the strawberries as they are. Plonk everything in the middle of the table and hand your guests skewers or fondue forks, let them help themselves.

an oaty biscuit or two

24 Feb

digestive biscuits

The same question every time, asked with confusion or with a sneer:

But is there any traditional English pâtisserie? What is this pooding? 

I sigh.

The heavy fruit thing? You must be thinking of Christmas pudding – which we only eat once a year, if that. 

They think that pooding is the epitome of our backward cuisine.

For the British, pudding just means dessert. It’s true that the word itself resonates comfort, evokes steamed sponges with thick custard – rather than the insubstantial wisp of a French dessert. But we have all kinds, not just Christmas: a sticky toffee replete with syrup, lemon self-saucing, a summer one bursting with red fruits. And not just pooding, the British really can bake: chelsea buns, scones, biscuits, all kinds of rich layer cakes.

Usually I am too lazy to properly defend our heritage. We have a terrible reputation for food after all. Sometimes I have to admit that these things are personal, vestiges of a childhood that do not necessarily cross cultures. (See also, the northern French habit of dipping smelly cheese in coffee in the mornings.)

When I made last week’s cheesecake, I ran out to buy plain biscuits and found some digestives in Monoprix. They had been renamed sablées anglaises, and had little British guards on the red packet. I couldn’t help but think that the French must be very disappointed in our rendering of a sablée – normally a flaky buttery biscuit – with its plain dry crunch. Ideal for dipping in tea, digestives are sturdy and reliable, a ready vehicle for cheese and chutney, or chocolate spread. I had them for school break time, sandwiched with a generous layer of cold butter. But they win no prizes for prettiness, certainly cannot compete with the class of the macaron or the indulgence of a warm, melting chocolate chip cookie. To foreigners, they are probably as lacklustre as they believe our climate to be.

So I tried to make some of my own, to convert the new French flatmate immediately to my cause. (Start small and work up to the full-blown sticky pudding.) It was the perfect excuse to use my tiny alphabet stamps for cookies, to spell out ‘welcome.’

They turned out beautifully – borderline oatcakes, with a craggy rough texture more like Duchy Originals (la di da) than proper digestives. Like my Granny’s old-fashioned oaty biscuits that are made with lard, no less. Mine had a little golden caster sugar for sweetness, but were still delicious with goat’s cheese. Those that weren’t slathered in butter were dipped in milk chocolate with marbled stripes of dark chocolate, for a very comforting and nostalgic snack. Most importantly, they stand up extremely well to dunking in tea. How can you be rude about a country that bakes such gems – better still, whose prince and heir makes the biscuits?

In the end,  I am happy if no-one believes the English really do know their way around an oven – all the more for me.

~~~

Oaty biscuits

adapted from Peyton and Byrne’s British Baking – if you use oatmeal as they suggest the biscuits will have a fine texture like digestives, or grind rolled oats as I did for more bite, like hobnobs

150g rolled oats

150g wholemeal flour

50g golden caster sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp bicarbonate of soda

90g cold butter (I like salted)

1 egg, beaten

for decoration: 200g milk chocolate + 50g dark chocolate

Blend rolled oats in the food processor to a breadcrumb texture. Add flour, sugar, salt and bicarbonate of soda, then butter cut into cubes. Pulse until butter is lentil-sized bits. (This can be done by hand, but in that case you need to use a  fine oatmeal instead of rolled oats.)

Add egg and blend to form a dough. Tip out onto a floured surface and bring into a ball. If a little dry, add a tablespoon of water. Roll out with a little flour to 3mm thick, cut out rounds (I made 20 x 6cm biscuits) and stamp a message if you have alphabet stamps.

Bake at 200C for 12-15 minutes, until crisp and brown. Let cool, then dip one side in melted ilk chocolate. If you want to be extra fancy, pipe (or drizzle with the tines of a fork) the dark chocolate in horizontal lines before the milk chocolate has set, then draw the point of a knife back and forth in vertical lines to make a beautiful marble pattern.

rustic chocolate chip cookies

6 Nov

With a large helping of pomposity, I was about to begin:

“There are certain recipes one just doesn’t tinker with. One wouldn’t dare to reduce the sugar or butter, add a handful of nuts or a wayward splash of rum without honouring the original, at least for the first batch.”

David Leite’s chocolate chip cookies should have been one of those special cases. The gold standard – like Jim Lahey’s “No Knead Bread” – tried and loved by all. Unfortunately, I could not find standard bread flour in my local French supermarket. Brioche flour, whatever that means. Flour with added yeast for bread machine, no. Running late for Japanese class, I grabbed “rustic” bread flour and stuffed it in my bag amid textbooks and a chocolate-stained uniform.

In the end, the flour turned out to be much more grey and full of seeds than I had anticipated. Whole-wheat and grainy. In a recipe that promises over half a kilo of chocolate, there is really no point in healthifying. These, the consummate cookies, should be relished for their choco-laden quality, for the research that Leite put in to finding the perfect ratio.

(The mix of bread and cake flour is in order to up the gluten, which ought to make for more chewy cookies. The resting time – 24-72 hours – allows the flavours to meld and deepen. And the obscene amounts of chocolate? Well, they are full of huge chunks of it, that remain melty between the crisp edge and soft centre.)

But the butter and brown and white sugars were already a pale cream colour, the vanilla was waiting on the counter. So in went the “rustic” flour. Noble principles be damned.

There is a half batch waiting in the fridge. Just a taste of the sweet-salty dough around a stray square of chocolate (with a not unpleasant seedy texture) made me regret not going the whole cookie hog.

Update: test cookies have been baked with a sprinkle of fleur de sel (fancy sea salt) on top. They are pretty damn good. The rest of the dough is in my freezer, waiting patiently in golf-ball sized portions. (I cannot honestly deny eating several balls of frozen dough. )

Clearly extensive cookie research is necessary to determine the world’s best cookie. A certain New York version comes to mind, a chocolate and walnut monstrosity that I guarded jealously from even the cutest squirrel in Central Park. But for now, these rustic whole-wheat-but-definitely-not-healthy extravagantly chocolately cookies are my gold standard.

~~~

Rustic chocolate chip cookies

from David Leite 

makes 24-30 enormous cookies, so feel free to halve the recipe – for the chocolate, buy a bar of plain dark chocolate that you would happily eat on its own, 70% cocoa solids is best

240g plain flour

240g whole wheat, grainy bread flour

1 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 tsp salt

285g butter

285g light brown sugar

225g granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

570g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)

sea salt or fleur de sel for sprinkling

Sieve the flours, baking powder, soda and salt together. Cream the butter and sugars until pale, add the eggs one at a time and beat well until combined. Stir in vanilla, then flour mix. Chop the chocolate very roughly to leave large postage stamp size chunks and stir it in.

Wrap in clingfilm and leave dough to rest in fridge for 24-72 hours. Because it will become very hard, it might be easier to roll it into golfball-sized balls before refrigerating. Even store half in the freezer for a future instant cookie date.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 170C. Widely space a few cookie balls on a large baking tray and sprinkle a tiny dash of sea salt on each. Bake for 17-18 minutes. Stop when the edges are crisp but the middles look underdone. Let cool for 10 minutes then remove from tray onto a wire rack.

Consume when still warm for the pockets of melted chocolate.

alice in wonderland cookies (sablées à la cannelle et cardamome)

27 May

Somewhat selfishly, going home often gets trumped by more exciting places. October meant four sunny days in Barcelona. Christmas was a narrow escape from the snow to Australian beaches. February half term, tea in Munich. Easter, Milan. This summer will be the first time back in Hereford for almost a year.

Home is a beautiful house with a flowery garden, an orchard full of chickens and a trampoline. Big airy rooms. Two sly cats looking to hop up onto a spare lap or an open newspaper. Always something baking in the oven.

But in two or in three, the big rooms echo a little. The dining table seems a little too long. We often end up on the sofa instead, a pan of Sunday-night risotto on the coffee table. Or in the new conservatory with fried eggs and green leaves.

Coming up the drive, lined with daffodils in the spring, I muddle through a tangle of emotions. Comfort, nostalgia, missing. Is missing an emotion? But by not going home, I don’t get to avoid that black hole. In fact, I miss out. I miss out on the familiar. This December, for the first time in years I had to cancel the Christmas Eve Eve tradition of biscuit making.

Five girls (although once one of them was so far away we had to bring a photo replacement) and batches of chocolate and speculoos biscuits to hang on the Christmas tree. Because my mother is Australian, and proud of it, we mainly used patriotic cookie cutters: kangaroos, sheep, the Sydney harbour bridge and opera house. The sheep would always tragically lose a leg in the cutting.

Someone would invariably end up with white flour handprints on their black jeans. There would probably be a mad dash around the counter chased by a demon with a flour shaker. Lots of dancing, lots of raw dough eating. By the time the trays and trays came out of the oven, we didn’t even want to look at the sugary morsels.

This year I’m hoping we can have a summer version of the biscuits tradition. Certainly a summer party: a strange jumble of friends and family milling around outside, eating strawberries, playing croquet. But it would be nice to have a flour fight again, to swap stories of all the grand events and small insignificant moments of the last year. To fill up the house with people.

I will bring my new cookie cutter to rival even the favourite kangaroo. A scalloped rectangle with a grid of letters to be inserted as you like, to spell out love and profanities. I can already see “Hello Sunshine” and “Minger” crookedly stamped onto hearts as we all fight to write our own messages.

Today, I made Alice in Wonderland EAT ME biscuits with a hint of cinnamon and cardamom, appropriate for May but dreaming of December. Sweet and sandy, backed by dark chocolate, they beg to be shared.

Alice in Wonderland cookies

(adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who used a recipe from Dorie Greenspan)

makes about 35 cookies

140g butter, room temperature

125g light brown sugar

1 egg

280g flour

1 tsp cinnamon/cloves/cardamom spice mix

pinch of salt

100g chocolate

Blend the butter with a hand blender/food processor until smooth. Add the sugar, blend until incorporated. Add the egg, blend to a silky consistency. Stir in the flour and pulse the blender until large clumps start to form. Gently push the dough together with your hands into a ball. Divide into two balls and press into a flat disc. Wrap in clingfilm and cool in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Flour your worktop and rolling pin. One disc at a time, carefully roll out the mixture to an even thickness of about 1/2 cm. Stamp out your cookies with a floured cookie cutter. You might need to go over the lettering to make sure it is properly stamped. Place them about 1cm apart on a large baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 10 minutes. They will be just set and a light beige colour, not yet brown. Leave to cool.

Melt the chocolate  in the microwave in a small shallow bowl. Dip the bottoms of the cookies in chocolate. Or if you have no lettering on top, dip half the cookies in chocolate for a contrasting effect.

The mixture will keep for a few days in the fridge, or a few weeks in the freezer, so you can make a batch at a time.

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