Fudgey chocolate brownies (sheet biscuits)

Chocolate brownies
Chocolate brownies

Sheet biscuits are baked in a sheet pan (surprise, surprise) and then portioned out into individual bars or squares.

The most famous sheet biscuit is the classic chocolate brownie, but other examples are flapjacks, lemon bars and any number of what Australians traditionally call “slices”.

The texture and flavouring of brownies is completely a matter of taste – some people like the inclusion of nuts, some like them covered in icing, and some even like to use white chocolate which turns them into “blondies”.

I like my brownies fudgey and gooey with a shiny, crisp top.

To get a chewy biscuit of any type, moisture is essential in the recipe. You’re also often looking at a higher sugar content and the inclusion of whole eggs to provide body.

I’ve made a lot of brownies in my time, and after tinkering around for a while, I perfected my recipe which I’ve included below.

There’s a fine line with this recipe between over- or under-baking the brownies so keep a close eye on them!

My fudgey chocolate brownies

250g dark chocolate, chopped
250g butter, chopped
300g caster sugar
3 eggs, plus 1 extra yolk
1/2 cup good quality cocoa powder
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a saucepan over a low heat.

In a separate bowl, mix together the rest of the ingredients then pour in the chocolate mixture.

Stir until combined, then pour into a prepared 20cm-square tin lined with baking paper.

Bake in a pre-heated oven for 30-40 minutes at 150 degrees, then allow to cool before slicing into squares.

Classic shortbread (moulded biscuit)

Classic shortbread
Classic shortbread

Shortbread falls into the “moulded biscuit” category and is made using the sanding method.

This is quite unusual when it comes to biscuits, because most use the creaming method and there’s also the odd meringue method (think Parisian macarons).

Sanding (or sablér) method can result in crumbly, sandy or crispy biscuits. In the case of shortbread, the name says it all.

You’re looking for a very short, crumbly biscuit that should come from a few base ingredients – butter, flour and sugar.

The sanding method combines the dry ingredients with butter until you have a sandy texture. You can then add any flavourings you wish.

Rice flour (or sometimes even cornflour) is often used in shortbread recipes to enhance the sandy texture.

Similar to making pastry, make sure your butter is cold and the shortbread is not over-handled.

You’ll notice the absence of eggs in this recipe which is pretty unusual for a biscuit.

I’m using Felicity Cloake’s recipe that’s worked for me time and time again.

Classic shortbread

115g butter, at room temperature
55g caster sugar
Good pinch of salt
130g plain flour
40g ground rice
Demerara sugar, to finish

Pre-heat the oven to 150C. Put the butter into a large mixing bowl, and beat with a wooden spoon until soft. Beat in the sugar and salt.

Sift over the flour and ground rice and mix to a smooth dough; if it doesn’t come together, add a little more butter.

Line a 15cm cake or tart tin with baking parchment, and pat, or lightly roll, the dough into a shape slightly smaller than the tin. Alternatively pat out to 1cm thickness and cut into biscuits and put on a lined baking tray. Put in the fridge to chill for 15 minutes until firm.

Bake for around an hour (about half that for biscuits) until cooked through, but not browned. Take out of the oven and cut into fingers, slices or squares.

Allow to cool for a couple of minutes, then sprinkle with demerara sugar and transfer to a wire rack.

Chocolate and pear hot cross buns

Chocolate and pear hot cross buns
Chocolate and pear hot cross buns

This is going off my curriculum a little bit, but it’s impossible to let Easter weekend past without a bit of baking.

I’m not a massive fan of mixed peel, and my husband doesn’t like sultanas so I was a bit stuck when it came to developing a hot cross bun recipe.

I considered an orange/chocolate combo but had pears in the fridge so decided to go for cinnamon, pear and dark chocolate.

I wasn’t going to take any risks with the bun dough, so went straight to Paul Hollywood who I absolutely adore.

I used his recipe for traditional hot cross buns (which can be found at http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2066661/hot-cross-buns) but swapped out the key flavour ingredients and upped the spices.

I was really nervous about making this dough, but it came out beautifully (if somewhat uneven in shape and nothing like Mr Hollywood’s photos) so I’d definitely recommend it.

Straight out of the oven they were heavenly slathered with butter. I converted my husband so must have done something right J

For the buns
300ml full-fat milk, plus 2 tbsp more
50g butter
500g strong bread flour
1 tsp salt
75g caster sugar
1 tbsp sunflower oil
7g sachet fast-action or easy-blend yeast
1 egg, beaten
100g dark chocolate, chopped
2 medium pears, peeled and diced
2 tsps ground cinnamon
For the cross
75g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
For the glaze
3 tbsp apricot jam

Bring the milk to the boil, then remove from the heat and add the butter. Leave to cool until it reaches hand temperature. Put the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour in the warm milk and butter mixture, then add the egg. Using a wooden spoon, mix well, then bring everything together with your hands until you have a sticky dough.

Tip on to a lightly floured surface and knead by holding the dough with one hand and stretching it with the heal of the other hand, then folding it back on itself. Repeat for 5 mins until smooth and elastic. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hr or until doubled in size and a finger pressed into it leaves a dent.

With the dough still in the bowl, tip in the cinnamon, pear and chocolate. Knead into the dough, making sure everything is well distributed. Leave to rise for 1 hr more, or until doubled in size, again covered by some well-oiled cling film to stop the dough getting a crust.

Divide the dough into 15 even pieces (about 75g per piece – see Tip below). Roll each piece into a smooth ball on a lightly floured work surface. Arrange the buns on one or two baking trays lined with parchment, leaving enough space for the dough to expand. Cover (but don’t wrap) with more oiled cling film, or a clean tea towel, then set aside to prove for 1 hr more.

Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7. Mix the flour with about 5 tbsp water to make the paste for the cross – add the water 1 tbsp at a time, so you add just enough for a thick paste. Spoon into a piping bag with a small nozzle. Pipe a line along each row of buns, then repeat in the other direction to create crosses. Bake for 20 mins on the middle shelf of the oven, until golden brown.

Gently heat the apricot jam to melt, then sieve to get rid of any chunks. While the jam is still warm, brush over the top of the warm buns and leave to cool.

Note – I didn’t have any apricot jam so made a sugar syrup made from ½ cup caster sugar and ½ cup water heated in a pan over a medium heat until thickened

Back to biccies tomorrow though…

Lemon curd thumbprint biscuits

Lemon curd
Lemon curd

This post is probably more about the lemon curd than the biscuit itself, but it’s a lovely recipe and another example of an easy dropped biscuit.

I’m a huge fan of lemon curd and like to keep some in the fridge too add to a range of recipes, or just to spread on toast.

It’s great mixed with whipped cream on top of meringues, or combined with butter cream for a flavoured frosting.

It also keeps really well and is a great and easy way to use up leftover lemons (or limes or passionfruit).

The biscuits themselves are really short and almost like a pastry dough. They are a bit fiddly when you’re doing the thumbprint and have a fair few cracks in them but I think this is the comprise you make for a very soft, crumbly biscuit.

Lemon curd

Zest and juice of four lemons
150g caster sugar
2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks
125g butter, melted and cooled

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and whisk over a medium heat until the curd has thickened. It will take around 12-15 minutes and you’ll need to be whisking the whole time.

Pour into a jar to cool and then keep refrigerated.

Lemon curd thumbprint biscuits
Lemon curd thumbprint biscuits

Lemon curd thumbprint biscuits

1 cup butter, softened
2 ½ cups flour, sifted
½ cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
Zest and juice from one lemon
Pinch salt
Lemon curd (about half the batch above)

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt.

Add half the flour in slowly and let it combine before adding the second half.

Shape heaped teaspoons of dough into balls and placed on a greased baking sheet.

Create a hole in each biscuit with your finger, and press the dough down gently.

Bakke for 15 minutes at 170 degrees C, then take out of the oven. Pipe the lemon curd into the holes and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes.

Allow to cool, then sprinkle with icing sugar.

Chocolate chip cookies (dropped cookies)

Chocolate chip cookies
Chocolate chip cookies

Okay, so I appear to have fallen at the first hurdle and called these cookies.

To me this is what cookies are – American-style, soft and chewy.

I did a bit of googling trying to find an exact definition of biscuits vs cookies and only got more and more confused. Some referred to crisp vs cakey, some referred to bread vs cake, some sweet vs savoury.

And don’t even get me started on crackers!!

So, forgive the terminology and let’s get onto the baking.

I started my biscuit/cookie/whatever journey with a simple chocolate chip dropped cookie.

This recipe uses the creaming method which is pretty much the same as used when baking cakes.

It involves creaming together the butter and sugar until light, then adding eggs before finally gently mixing in the dry ingredients.

Michel Suas has a couple of extra tips – use room temperature ingredients and don’t cream the butter and sugar together for too long to avoid what he calls “cookie run-out” or spreading.

Apparently over-mixing the dough  results in the fat melting during the cooking process and hence the cookie losing its shape.

I must have done something right because mine didn’t spread and were absolutely delicious – especially warm from the oven.

Chocolate chip cookies (courtesy of Michel Suas)

5 ½ oz butter
3 3/8 oz sugar
4 1/8 oz brown sugar
2 ½ oz egg (1 large)
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 ¾ oz bread flour (I used plain flour)
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
8 ½ z chocolate chips

Cream the butter and sugar.

Gradually add the eggs and then the vanilla.

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; mix to 50 per cent incorporation.

Add the chocolate chips and mix until just incorporated.

Scale into 2 lb 3 oz (1,000g) pieces and roll into 17 inch (43cm) logs.

Wrap each log in parchment, and refrigerate until ready to bake.

Cut into the desired size (approx. 2oz) and place on parchment lined baking tray. Bake at 350F (177C) for 10-12 minutes.