Sunday, December 1, 2013

Old faithfuls: Slice-and-bake Christmas biscuits with mix-ins


I'm a little bit of a Christmas traditionalist. Even though I started getting excited and organised weeks ago, it's really December 1st where Christmas kicks off. It's the day the decorations go up and the first official day of candy-canes and mince pies and all the other seasonal goodies (it's also my mum's birthday - happy birthday Mama!). Today, my mothers' group is having a little Christmas gathering before we all jet off or bunker down for the holidays.

I'm bringing salad and my old faithful Christmas biscuits to the party.

I've been making these biscuits annually for quite a few years now. The recipe I originally tore from a Women's Weekly magazine is long gone but the recipe remains fairly intact - an easy, shortbread-like biscuit base that you then flavour as you like with mix-ins or leave plain. 

I'm also all for substituting and experimenting with ratios - this recipe is fairly laid-back in that there's a lot of leeway for playing around with the flours and sugar. I haven't experimented with alternative sugars but I bet powdered options would work fairly well; you could also easily give the plain flour the flick and add in wholemeal or another flour alternative. The rice flour is what gives it the real shortbread-esque crispness.

All ingredients are given using standard Australian cup, spoon and metric measurements. 

The biscuit

Ingredients:
  • 250g butter, softened (but not too melty)
  • 1 1/4 cups (200g) icing sugar (or icing mixture)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (or the seeds scraped straight from the pods)
  • 2 cups (300g) plain flour
  • 1/2 cup (75g) rice flour
  • 1/3 cup (50g) cornflour
  • 2 tblsp milk (as needed)

Instructions:
  1. Beat together the butter, icing sugar and extract until it's light and fluffy.
  2. Sift in the flours and mix together. If mixture is very dry, add in the milk a little at a time to loosen.
  3. Divide the mixture in half and roll into a log shape. Whatever diameter the log is essentially the size of the biscuit. The don't rise up or melt flat.
  4. Wrap in cling film and refridgerate until firm (approx 1 hour) or wrap in a length of baking paper and freeze until needed. If freezing, you need about 10-30 minutes defrosting time.
  5. Cut logs into 1cm slices and place a few centimetres apart on a baking tray lined with baking paper. I tend to recycle the sheet it was wrapped in.
  6. Bake in a 160 degree celcius oven for around 20 minutes or until golden and then cool on a wire rack. They'll still feel a little soft when you pull them out, so go by colour rather than feel. They crisp up once  they're cool.

The potential mix-ins:
  • choc chips, mini m&ms, grated chocolate, or cocoa/cacao powder
  • chopped nuts
  • seeds (poppyseeds, pepitas, chia)
  • citrus zest
  • flavoured/scented essence (coconut, orange, lemon, lime, almond, etc)
  • dried/candied fruit
  • spices (cinnamon, chinese five spice, nutmeg, allspice, ground ginger, etc)
My favourite flavour combinations are: chocolate and orange; orange and walnut (which is what I did today); lemon and pistachio; lemon and poppyseed; pistachio and craisins (so festive); cinnamon; or cinnamon and pecan. 

I find it easiest to divide the basic mixture and then add my mix-ins, but feel free to go the more traditional route and add the wet to wet or dry to dry ingredients. Just keep an eye on your flavoured biscuits while they're cooking as some ingredients can catch or brown faster than others.

Give them a try and let me know what flavours you come up with. I think I might experiment with a savoury version, omitting the sugar and adding herbs or a little parmesan. It might kill the integrity of the biscuit but I'm willing to take the chance.

Do you have any old faithful Christmas recipes?

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