The Musette: Italian style soft almond biscuits

I love almonds and am always looking for recipes which include these lovely nuts. I love biscuits but too many include forbidden dairy ingredients. I always have a couple of egg whites knocking around in the fridge so I love it when I find a recipe that solves this three-way issue.

The recipe starts with blanched almonds, rich in moisture and essential oils which I reduce to a fine flour in my food processor. However, I’d be just as happy to use unpeeled ones. It’s important to use good quality nuts otherwise the end product won’t taste good.

I make the biscuits  all the same shape and size by using a very small ice cream scoop but you could roll the balls of dough in pine nuts or crushed pistachios, stud them with glace or fresh cherries, or a curl of candied peel, or a thumb print of jam. I like them best plain, I don’t even dust them afterwards with icing sugar as I find they’re sweet enough.

These are as much marzipan sweets as they are biscuits, with the egg white keeping them sticky and light, so they need careful cooking. When cooked, the biscuits turn opaque with just a gilding of gold on top. Keep a close eye on them, so they don’t catch on the bottom. These are not biscuits to walk away from – they require you to loiter close by. When they come out of the oven, they will still be soft, so let them cool on a wire rack before lifting on to a plate and (if you must) dusting with more icing sugar.

Soft almond biscuits (makes 25 – 30 small biscuits)

  • 250g (2 1/2 cups) blanched almonds, ground in a food processor
  • 250g (2 cups) sifted icing (confectioners’) sugar, plus extra to dust
  • Zest of an unwaxed organic lemon, approx. 1 tbsp
  • 2 organic egg whites (approx. 60g or 2oz)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 170C (150C fan)/(325F/300F) gas 3½. In a food processor, grind the almonds to a flour, tip into a large bowl, then add the sifted icing sugar, salt and lemon zest. Stir well to incorporate all the ingredients.

2. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, add to the almond mix and bring everything together into a dough initially using a spatula and then your (clean) hands.

3. Use a small ice-cream scoop to form balls or dust your hands with icing sugar and make balls by rolling walnut-sized lumps of dough between your palms.

4. If you want to decorate them, either press something into the centre of each biscuit, or make a deep indent with your finger and fill with a blob of jam.

5. Put the dough shapes, slightly flattened, nicely spaced out, on a baking tray lined with greaseproof (parchment) baking paper or silpat, and bake on the middle shelf for 10-12 minutes, or until they are lightly golden.

6. They will still be soft when pulled from the oven, so leave them to cool completely on a wire rack, then lift on to a plate and (if you must) dust with more icing sugar. Heaven with tea or coffee!

The Musette: chocolate chip, oat biscuits

My Thursday evening English class were my first official guinea pigs. Now I agree that a bunch of teenage cyclists probably aren’t the most discerning of taste-testers. But mine were reasonably forthright and, while capable of inhaling their own bodyweights in baked goods, if they didn’t like something, I would be left with more than just crumbs. Unsurprisingly, anything with chocolate in it scored highly and they simply loved home-made biscuits and cookies.

These also found favour with a few professional cyclists who pretty much polished off the entire batch! I’m not sure exactly how many more kilometres on the bike were ridden to work off the surplus calories but safe to say it was plenty.

The recipe is based on one for shortbread type biscuits to which I’ve added chocolate chips – everything’s better with chocolate  – and oats for sustained energy.

You don't need many ingredients to make delicious baked good! (image: Sheree)

You don’t need many ingredients to make delicious baked goodies!

Ingredients (makes 24 biscuits)

  • 225g (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 120g (1 cup)  caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp of fine sea salt
  • 275g (2⅓ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 30g (⅓ cup) oats (oatmeal)
  • 100g (6 tbsp) 70% min. chocolate chips

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°Cfan/ gas mark 6 (400°F/350°F).

2. Line two shallow baking sheets with greaseproof (parchment) paper.

3. Beat the softened butter until it lightens. Use really great butter as it does make a difference to the finished product.

4. Beat but don’t whip in the sugar and vanilla extract then gently fold in the sifted flour, salt, oats and chocolate chips. Don’t overwork the mixture, which should be of a similar consistency to that of pastry. Indeed you can roll the mixture into logs, wrap in greaseproof (parchment) paper and freeze for baking at a later date.

5. I use a small ice cream scoop – equally you could use a soup spoon – to portion the dough and ensure the cookies are a similar size. Place the balls on the baking sheets about 1cm (less than ½”) apart, as they’ll spread slightly while baking, and flatten the tops. I found the dough made 24 biscuits, each weighing around 30g (1 oz) uncooked.

6. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until they start to turn golden at the edges and they’re firm to the touch. Depending upon the size of your oven, you might need to rotate the sheets midway through the cooking process.

7. Remove from the oven and transfer to cool on a wire rack. Once cool, put them in an airtight container where they’ll keep for 3-4 days, providing you keep them out of reach of any cyclists, or enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.

Gone in a flash! (image: Sheree)

Gone in a flash!

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the biscuits in the oven, put the timer on for five minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. I have also made the biscuits with milk chocolate chips but found them too sweet for my taste.

4. I’ve successfully substituted the chocolate chips for a similar weight of fat juicy raisins.

5. The biscuits work equally well with a mixture of 50g (1¾oz) tart chopped dried cranberries and 50g (1¾oz) white chocolate chips.

The Musette: Probably the best chocolate chip cookies ever

I know some of you put the brakes on right after the Festive Season, but I like to keep the treats flowing at least until Epiphany. My bunch of taste-testers voted these quite unequivocably the “best cookies ever”. I feel I should qualify this with the word “probably”. If I put out a plate of these, they disappear in seconds and they’re always a welcome gift, particularly during the holiday season.

The recipe comes from the Momofuku: Milkbar cookbook by Christina Tosi, from the New York joint of the same name. I have to confess that none of their recipes disappoints. What’s more, the book is full of useful nuggets of information to help you become an even better baker. How good is that? However, just reading the recipes is likely to lead to a furring of your arteries. This recipe is not low in calories and is quite time-consuming (typical British understatement) and so should be saved for celebrating special occasions, such as Christmas, a landmark birthday or winning a grand tour.

Ingredients (makes approx. 48 cookies)

Cornflake crunch

  • 170g (5 cups) cornflakes
  • 40g (½ cup) dried milk powder
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 130g (9 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

Cookie dough

  • 225g (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 240g (2 cups) caster sugar
  • 150 g (1 cup) soft, light brown sugar
  • 2 organic eggs, each weighing approx 45g (1⅔oz) without their shells
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 240g (2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • 1½ tsp fine sea salt
  • ¾ recipe (3 cups) cornflake crunch
  • 125g (⅔ cup) 70% minimum dark chocolate chips
  • 65g (1¼ cups) white mini marshmallows

Method

1. First make the cornflake crunch. Preheat oven to 140°C/120°C fan/gas mark 1 (275°F/225°F fan).

2. Pour the cornflakes into a medium-sized mixing bowl and crush them with your clean hands to one-quarter of their original size. Add the milk powder, sugar and salt, then stir to mix thoroughly. Add the butter and mix, ensuring all the flakes are coated. The butter will bind the dry ingredients creating small clusters of cereal.

3. Spread the clusters onto a greaseproof (parchment) paper lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes, at which point they should look toasted, smell buttery and crunch gently when cooled slightly and chewed. Don’t chew too many or you won’t have enough for the cookies.

4. Cool the cornflake crunch completely before storing or using in the recipe. It will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a week or a couple of months in the freezer.

5. Now you can make the cookie dough. Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or beat with a hand mixer) and cream together on medium-high for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs and vanilla, and beat for 7-8 minutes. This is a crucial step – less is most definitely not more. You need to get as much air into the dough as possible otherwise you won’t be able to incorporate all the other ingredients. It should be light, fluffy and have quadrupled in size.

6. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the sifted flour, baking powder, bicarbonate (baking) soda and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together, no more than a minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

7. Still on low speed, gently mix in the cornflake crunch, chocolate chips and mini marshmallows – no more than 30-45 seconds maximum. It’s important you don’t overwork the dough.

8. Use a large ice cream scoop (or ¼ cup measure) to portion out the dough onto a greaseproof (parchment) paper lined sheet pan. Put no more than nine on a sheet, spread well apart. Pat the tops of the cookie dough domes flat. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in clingfilm (plastic wrap) and refrigerate for at least one hour, or even up to a week. Do NOT bake your cookies from room temperature – they will not hold their shape. At this point, I usually portion the cookies into 4 x 12 portions and freeze three-quarters of the cookies for baking at a later date.

9. When the cookie dough has chilled for at least an hour, heat oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 5 (375°F/325°F fan).

10. Remove the clingfilm (plastic wrap), place in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes. The cookies will puff, crackle, and spread. They’re ready when they are browned on the edges and just beginning to brown toward the centre. Leave them in the oven for an additional minute or so if they still look pale and doughy on the surface.

11. Cool the cookies completely on the baking sheets before transferring to a plate or to an airtight container for storage. In theory the cookies will keep for five days, in practice they disappear in nanoseconds. The unbaked dough will keep in the freezer for a month.

choc-chip-cookies-e

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cookies in the oven, put the timer on for 2-3 minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. The cookies can be cooked from frozen and I find they only take a few minutes more to cook.

4. Do not substitute dark chocolate chips for milk chocolate ones as you’ll upset the overall balance of the sweet, salty, bitter cookies.

5. If you can’t find mini marshmallows, cut larger ones into four but roll the pieces in a mix of equal amounts of sifted icing (confectioners) sugar and cornflour so that they don’t stick together.

6. Freeze the unused 1/4 portion cornflake crunch. When you’ve made 3 batches of cookies, you’ll have enough cornflake crunch stored for your fourth!

momofuku-milk-bar-cookies-102611-ew-380

 

7. Enjoy!

Where’s the car keys?

It’s been a while since we’ve had a key incident. And, when I say “we,” I mean my beloved.

At Christmas time I often make biscuits, cookies, truffles, Christmas cakes and brownies to give as presents or to offer to unexpected guests who pop in during the Festive Season. As a result, there’s usually the warm and comforting fug of baking all around the apartment.

A selection of some of my baked goodies
A selection of some of my baked goodies

Saturday afternoon, we drove round to friends for an unanticipated pre-Christmas high tea. We parked the car in my usual spot near their apartment that only fits SMART cars and, laden with parcels of baked goodies and presents, headed inside where we passed several enjoyable hours catching up with a number of friends, most of whom were heading back to parental homes for either Christmas or New Year. My baked offerings were well received, some of which I had made specifically to be taken home to their parents for Christmas.

A number of the other guests had newly returned from their teams’ first training camps and were already in restraint mode in anticipation of the forthcoming cycling season. I’m always amused when professional cyclists initially refuse my wares on account of weight-maintenance. They’ll then unobtrusively cut a piece of cake in half and eat first the one half and, a few minutes later, the other. A technique they’ll use to taste all of the cakes and cookies, at least once.

I had taken round some of my race winning brownies so it was understandable they were keen to tuck in but I’m not sure the benefits will last until the Europe Tour season opener, the GP Marseillaise. In no time at all, the guests had reduced the brimming plates to the odd crumb or two.

One of my friends’ adorable sons, a notoriously picky eater, single-handedly polished off four brownies. I was impressed, these are seriously dark, rich, sticky and typically adult only. He passed on the truffles but dug into the cookies, particularly the hazelnut and chocolate caramel ones.

Before taking our leave, we popped down to our friends’ cave to pick up some brochures. At which point my beloved asked me for the car keys. I replied that he hadn’t given me the keys. I usually take them off him as soon as we park up, but my hands had been full of parcels, so hadn’t taken possession of them. We returned to the flat, where I emptied my handbag – no car keys! My beloved checked he hadn’t left them in the car. He hadn’t. At which point, we were inundated with offers of lifts to fetch our spare set of keys.

Whenever my beloved loses anything, I attempt to re-trace his steps. This typically helps us locate the item in question. He had entered the flat and taken off his shoes. Had he left the keys on the shelf? No! He had played with our friends’ children. Were they on the floor or down the side of the sofa? No! Were they on the coffee or dinner tables? No! En route to the car, we had gone down to the cave. Had he put the keys down in the cave? Yes!