Cheese Biscuits with Tomato Jam

Cheese Biscuits with Tomato Jam

Wotchers!

A Bake Off recipe that never was, this week. Back in 2011, I was busy writing recipes for use on The Great British Bake Off, as all recipes had to be written and submitted before even one second of filming was completed.

Week 4 was Biscuit Week and right down to the wire I couldn’t decide whether to go with sweet Melting Moments or savoury Cheese Biscuits with Tomato Jam.

I love savoury, and the cheese biscuits were actually my first choice, because apart from being deliciously moreish, they provided a slight trompe l’oeil  by looking a little like (sweet) Jammie Dodgers. I even found a special biscuit press/mould that had a little indent, perfect for holding a blob of the tomato jam. I’ve had a look around and can now only find it sold on one website, in Australia, so if you’d like one for yourself, you can find it here.

As the days ticked by, I wrestled with the recipe but just couldn’t get the biscuit texture to my liking. So at the 11th hour I made the decision to go with the Melting Moments.

Rummaging around in the cellar recently, I came across the biscuit mould and decided to look out the recipe to see if I could successfully tweak it to my satisfaction, and here is the result.

The two changes I made I picked up from reading old recipe books, which pleases me greatly because it demonstrates how something old can still have uses and application today. The first was to substitute cornflour for some of the plain flour, as first mentioned on here in the recipe for Cheese and Potato Pies. This added the crispness and crumbliness I had been missing in the original recipe. The second tweak was to use freshly grated nutmeg in the seasoning (ready-ground just doesn’t have the same flavour in this instance) that I discovered in Mrs Frazer’s (1791) recipe for Macaroni Cheese (included in my NEW book, Deja Food), and which adds a fantastically complimentary note to the cheese flavour.

Don’t feel obliged to make/use the Tomato Jam – tomato chutney is just as delicious and the biscuits can also be enjoyed without any adornment at all.

Cheese Biscuits with Tomato Jam

Makes approx 40 small biscuits.

100g unsalted butter
155g of plain flour
45g cornflour (US cornstarch)
1/3 nutmeg – grated
pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
60g grated parmesan cheese
A little cream or milk to mix

300g vine ripened tomatoes
1tbs tomato paste
50g caster sugar
2-3tbs lemon juice
pepper & salt to taste

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Put the butter, flours, seasoning and cheese into a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the motor running, drizzle in the milk/cream until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Roll out to a thickness of about 1cm, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge until firm – about 1 hour.
  • Cut out into rectangles 3cm x 5cm and arrange on a parchment-covered baking sheet. They can be fairly close together, as there is little spreading during baking.
  • Bake for 15-18 minutes, turning the baking sheet around after 8 minutes, to ensure even colouring.
  • When the biscuits are cooked through and golden brown, remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  • Best served/eaten on the day baked, they can also be stored in an airtight container and warmed through when needed to crisp up.
  • To make the Tomato Jam.
    • Cut a small cross in the tip of the tomatoes and place in a bowl.
    • Pour over boiling water and soak for 2 minutes, until the skins split.
    • Transfer to a bowl of cold water and leave for 5  minutes to cool.
    • Remove skins and discard.
    • Cut the tomatoes in half around the ‘equator’, and remove the seeds.
    • Chop the tomatoes into 5mm cubes and transfer to a small saucepan.
    • Sieve the seeds and transfer to juice/jelly to the pan also.
    • Add the sugar and paste and simmer over a medium heat until the excess liquid has evaporated and the jam has thickened.
    • Allow to cool, then stir through the lemon juice.
    • When cold, season to taste.
    • Spoon onto cooled biscuits as liked.
    • Store any unused jam in a jar in the fridge.

Christmas Bake Off Biscuits

Christmas Wreath Biscuits

Wotchers!

In response to a couple of requests, I decided to publish the two biscuit recipes from the Christmas Bake Off. Obviously, no cameras were allowed on set, and regular listeners will know of my current lack-of-oven status preventing me from baking a set at home, so my husband kindly grabbed a couple of screen shots of them from the program – and, of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a picture with my name on screen and the BBC logo in the corner 😀

I won’t go into all the ‘guidelines’ for these bakes, because they were many and restrictive, and also they concerned baking a particular irritation of mine, namely ‘stuff that looks like something else, usually not food-like’. I also firmly resisted suggestions to make things ‘sparkly’ and shunned all forms of edible glitter because, to my mind, if you need to label something ‘edible’, it probably shouldn’t be.

ANYHOO…

I settled on these recipes because they tasted great, were simple to prepare and decorate in a time limit, and looked attractive in a completely edible way.

Don’t wait until Christmas to give them a try, they’re delicious!

In a Mary Berry/Paul Hollywood double-handshake kinda way *resists urge to post screenshot of THAT too*. 😉

Christmas Wreath Biscuits

Makes at least 12

I must apologise for the silly ‘½ a large egg’ ingredient – if you have no pastry to glaze to use it up, make a teeny-tiny omelette or a double batch of biscuits!

115g unsalted butter – softened
100g caster sugar
zest of 2 oranges
½ a large egg – whisked
150g plain flour
50g cornflour
200g white chocolate couverture
2g Mycryo powdered cocoa butter
candied cranberries
slivered pistachios*
dried barberries*

  • Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Add orange zest and egg, and mix thoroughly.
  • Add flours and mix to combine.
  • Tip out of the bowl, knead smooth and roll out to 8mm thick.
  • Cut out into 5cm rings.
  • Freeze for 15 minutes.
  • Place on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 200°C/180°C Fan for 6-8 minutes.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • To decorate:
    • Melt the white chocolate over hot water. Allow to cool to 33°C.
    • Stir in the Mycryo until melted. This is a fast way of tempering chocolate. For a softer ‘bite’, skip this step.
    • Pipe the white chocolate to cover, or carefully dip, the biscuits.
    • Press half a candied cranberry onto the bottom of the biscuit, then scatter over slivered pistachios and barberres.
    • Set aside to cool.
    • Thread thin ribbon through the middle to hang.

 

xmaspuddings

Pecan Praline Christmas Pudding Biscuits

Makes at least 12

70g toasted pecans – chopped
112g unsalted butter
65g light muscovado sugar
60g praline paste
½ tsp vanilla extract
1tbs dark rum
pinch of salt
125g plain flour
35g feuilletine
200g white chocolate couverture
2g Mycryo powdered cocoa butter
50g milk chocolate chips
candied angelica
dried barberries

  • Beat butter and sugar until well blended.
  • Add vanilla, praline paste and rum and mix thoroughly.
  • Combine flour and salt and add to the butter and sugar mixture until it’s just beginning to blend.
  • Add pecans and feuilletine and mix.
  • Roll out to a thickness of 5-8mm. Scatter with chocolate chips and press lightly into the dough.
  • Cut out with 5cm plain round cutter.
  • Poke a hole in each biscuit for the ribbon. A bubble tea straw is ideal.
  • Freeze for 15 minutes.
  • Place on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 170°C/150°C Fan for 8-10 minutes.
  • Cool on the tin for 10 minutes then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • To decorate:
    • Melt the white chocolate over hot water. Allow to cool to 33°C.
    • Stir in the Mycryo until melted. This is a fast way of tempering chocolate. For a softer ‘bite’, skip this step.
    • Drizzle over the top half of the biscuits to resemble cream. Make sure the hole doesn’t become blocked.
    • Decorate with angelica holly leaves and barberries.
    • Set aside for the chocolate to firm up.
    • When set, thread ribbon through the hole and hang.

 

* Available online from Sally at the fabulous Persepolis, 28-30 Peckham High Street, http://foratasteofpersia.co.uk/


Blackberry Shortbread

Blackberry Shortbread

Wotchers!

A very autumnal recipe for you this week – Blackberry Shortbread.

There’s no bells or whistles, I just fancied something simple, with the brightness of fresh fruit.

You could use this serving suggestion with a number of different fruits, but I thought blackberries most appropriate for the season, as they are the last soft berries of the year. Plus they look like jewels!

You can also use any shortbread recipe if you have a particular favourite or don’t fancy the one below. The recipe I chose isn’t particularly special, but with the baking powder and eggs, it has a lovely open and delicate texture. I also decided to use an unusual flour I found on the supermarket shelves this week: wholemeal Kamut flour from Doves Farm.

To quote from the bag:

“Kamut® grain is a khorasan wheat….said to be the wheat of the Pharoahs.”

It’s a very fine flour, producing a wonderfully golden shortbread biscuit with a nutty, almost malty flavour. There are three recipes to try printed on the pack itself and you could make them all with just one bag.

Alternatively, make the recipe below with ordinary flour – it’s all good.

Blackberry Shortbread-2

Blackberry Shortbread

90g soft brown sugar
2 large yolks
100g unsalted butter – softened
110g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon

blackberry jam or jelly

300g fresh blackberries

icing sugar for dusting

250ml whipping cream (optional)

  • Whisk the sugar and yolks together until pale and creamy.
  • Add the softened butter and mix thoroughly.
  • Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together and fold into the egg mixture.
  • Mix in the lemon zest.
  • Press mixture evenly into a baking tin and smooth over. I used my loose-bottomed flan tin (35cm x 12cm), lined with buttered foil, so that I could cut fingers of shortbread widthways.
  • Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
  • Remove the cling film from the shortbread and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. Turn the tin around halfway through to ensure even colouring.
  • As soon as the biscuit is cooked, remove from the oven and cut into fingers (or slices or wedges, as you prefer). Leave to cool in the tin. DO NOT attempt to move the biscuit pieces until completely cold – they will crumble to pieces.
  • When the biscuit has cooled, spread each piece with a layer of blackberry jam and stand the fresh blackberries on top.
  • Dust with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream and any extra blackberries.

Chocolate Chip Biscuits

Gluten-free Dairy-free Chocolate Chip Biscuits

Wotchers!

These biscuits are delicious! Crunchy, chocolatey, rich and rounded caramel flavour, they are light and crisp and decidedly moreish.

They are, perhaps a little surprisingly, also free from gluten and dairy products.

I made these for a friend who has dietary restrictions and have such a wonderful texture and taste, I didn’t want to label them as “allergy only”, since this tag can be offputting.

These biscuits are everything you’d want in a biscuit, they just happen to be gluten and dairy free.

My own priority as regards recipes and food in general, is flavour; how a dish tastes. Which is probably why my presentation has a tendency to veer towards the C-minus-could-do-better grade. (I’m working on it!) If a dish tastes good, you can always improve the appearance to make it look attractive, but if it tastes mediocre or bland, then all the bells and whistles in the world aren’t going to make it a success.

Apart from being common sense, this attitude probably stems from an experience I had, back in the mists of time, whilst backpacking in Nepal. (Bit of a crunching of the gears, topic-wise there, but try to keep up.) Kathmandu used to be something of a culinary beacon in the old overland backpacking route, since after months of rice and dal, weary travellers were treated to shimmering visions of mile high cakes and gateaux and froths of pie confections to entice the palate. Whilst in Pokhara, I was tempted by a stunning display in a tea shop and opted for a slice of their magnificent layered cake. Alas, the analogy of a mirage proved all too accurate, since it turned out to be all style and no substance. Sawdust-textured cake and greasy buttercream, it was as if someone had made it from a picture, with no reference to how it was supposed to taste. Quite possibly, this is exactly what happened. It served to emphasise to me, the importance of taste. It’s food, not art. It all looks the same in your stomach. So make the effort with taste, not appearance.

OK, maybe make a little effort with appearance; we’re not completely uncivilised.

For the batch of biscuits in the photo I used dairy-free chocolate chips I found online, but I have also made these by chopping up the dairy-free chocolate bars (see pic below) I found in Morrisons (also available in Sainsbury’s and Waitrose).

Kinnerton's allergy-free chocolate bar

Kinnerton’s allergy-free chocolate bar

Chocolate Chip Biscuits

This recipe has been adapted from Alton Brown’s Good Eats recipe, to make it dairy-free and suitable for use with ingredients available in the UK. I like the dark, caramel flavour that the sugars bring, but if you prefer a more delicate flavour, change the dark brown sugar to soft, light brown.

115g coconut butter
160g Doves Farm wholemeal gluten-free bread flour
30g cornflour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
30g Demerera sugar
140g soft dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
170g dairy-free chocolate chips, or bars, chopped

  • In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda. Set aside.
  • Melt the coconut butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan over low heat. Once melted, pour into a bowl.
  • Add both of the sugars and whisk together for 1 minute.
  • Add the egg and vanilla extract and mix until well combined.
  • Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined.
  • Add the chocolate chips and stir to combine.
  • Chill the dough in the refrigerator for 1 hour until firm.
  • Preheat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC Fan.
  • Shape the dough into 30g balls. An ice-cream scoop can help. Mine has a diameter of 4cm and makes a perfect 30g hemisphere of dough. If your scoop is large, just cut each ‘scoop’ in half and roll each piece into a ball.
  • Chill again in the fridge for 15 minutes of so, to firm up. This will help keep them from spreading too much.
  • Place on parchment-lined baking trays, 8 per pan. On a half-sheet (30cm x 45cm) pan, I set them out in a 3-2-3 formation. The cooked biscuits are approximately 10cm in diameter, so you want a decent 3cm space all around the ball of dough to allow for spreading during baking.
  • Bake for 10 minutes, rotating the trays after 5 minutes to ensure even baking. If you’re baking 2 trays at a time, be sure to swap the baking trays between shelves as well as rotate them. If you like your biscuits chewy, you should try a test bake with just once biscuit and a shorter cooking time. Remember to allow to cool before you taste as they do crisp up when cold.
  • Remove from the oven and allow the biscuits to cool on the baking trays for 5 minutes to firm up.
  • Move the biscuits to a wire rack and cool completely.
  • Store biscuits in an airtight container.

No Bake Gooseberry Cheesecake

Gooseberry Cheesecake
Wotchers!

I love a good cheesecake. I don’t, however, love ALL cheesecakes.

*pauses dramatically for the compulsory gasps of horror*

No, to my mind, if you’re going to elaborate on the indulgent simplicity of flavours such as vanilla or maple syrup, cheesecake needs something sharp to act as a contrast to the richness of the filling.

So I say “Away, foul fiend!” to a whole slew of flavours that, to my mind, shouldn’t be paired with cheesecake, mostly in the chocolate, toffee, Banoffi, caramel, praline range, and “Come to Mama!” to all the tart and sharp fruity flavours. Lemon cheesecake was a long-term favourite, but anything that has a sharpness to it is delicious.

There are two main styles of cheesecake: baked and no-bake. I’ve got several recipes on the blog for various baked cheesecakes but haven’t done a no-bake cheesecake, so here we are.

After a little experimentation, I’ve come up with something that will work for any fruit puree you might have to hand. I’ve used gooseberries, but you could also use this recipe for poached rhubarb, plums, damsons as well as raw fruit purees such as strawberries, raspberries, cherries etc.

Another way you can customise this recipe is by swapping in ingredients that will give a texture that you like. A baked cheesecake is usually rich and dense, whereas no-bake cheesecakes tend to have a lighter texture as they rely on gelatine to hold their shape once set.

The filling for the cheesecake in the photo has been made with equal parts of mascarpone, creme fraiche and double cream mixed with the fruit puree, which makes for a creamy but still light texture. If you prefer a denser consistency, you can substitute cream cheese for the mascarpone or creme fraiche or even both. Quark is a fat-free dairy product, but might take the texture towards a mousse rather than a cheesecake. Nothing wrong with that at all, of course, as long as it’s what you were wanting.

A word or two about gelatine. At the risk of stating the obvious, gelatine renders your dessert off-limits to vegetarians. Whilst this might be your dastardly plan, you can still make this dessert so all can enjoy. Vegetarian gelatine is generally available, but not in the sheet form used in this recipe. You should follow the vege-gel guidelines for blooming and using it in your dessert.

The other thing to bear in mind, whichever form of gelatine you use, is that it’s not very fond of acidity. Using the quantity stated on the pack to set a very sharp, acidic liquid is not going to be as firm as if the liquid is neutral in flavour. You might like the texture, but as a general rule, I would advise using extra gelatine to ensure your dish sets as expected.

For example, the recipe below generated 300ml of gooseberry puree. Normally, 2 sheets of gelatine will set 300ml just fine. I used 4 sheets of gelatine a) because of the sharpness and b) because of the volume of filling into which it was to be mixed. The mixture of creams and cheese is quite stiff when whisked together, but adding the puree slackens the mixture off considerably. Having the extra gelatine in the puree meant that all of the filling set, once it had been folded through.

In contrast, for the gel on the top of the cheesecake, I only used a little extra gelatine, which resulted in a much softer final set.

For leaf gelatine, 1 leaf will set 150ml of liquid. Powdered gelatine and Vege-gel are sold in packets that usually set 1 pint (570ml) of liquid. Weigh the granules and divide by four for an equivalent guideline amount.

Last topic before we get on with the recipe – the biscuit base. You can make this from a range of commercially produced biscuits or make your own. Traditionally the biscuit has been Digestives, but other (British) types include HobNobs, Ginger Nuts, Butter Crinkles, Rich Tea – anything crisp. I’ve even used Doriano crackers (similar to Saltines), which give a deliciously unexpected saltiness as well as crunch.

For this recipe I have chosen to use a crumb of Spekulaas, the traditional Dutch Christmas biscuits. They are definitely crunchy and add a nicely spiced note which complements the gooseberries. Any favourite crisp biscuit can be used, merely bake the dough in its breadcrumb-like state and blitz in a food processor when cooled.

No-Bake Gooseberry Cheesecake

You can use either green or dessert gooseberries for this recipe. Green gooseberries (see photo at the bottom of this post) ripen earliest, and pair very well with elderflowers. You can substitute half the poaching water with elderflower cordial if liked. Dessert gooseberries are sweeter and with a rosy blush which makes for the beautifully coloured topping in the top photo. These quantities makes a large cheesecake, so if that doesn’t suit your needs, consider halving the recipe.

Serves 10-12.

For the base
200g self-raising flour
125g dark muscovado sugar
2 tbs speculaas spice mix – or a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, as liked.
1 pinch salt
150g cold unsalted butter

50g unsalted butter – melted.

  • Heat oven to 175°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment. A sheet with a lip will help keep the crumbs contained.
  • Put all the ingredients except the melted butter into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade and blitz until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
  • Tip the crumbs onto the baking sheet and spread out evenly.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Stir the crumb, breaking up any large pieces and then return to the oven for a further 10 minutes.
  • Set aside until cold.
  • Pour the cooked crumb into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture is of an even and uniform crumb.
  • Tip the crumb into a bowl and pour over the melted butter.
  • Mix thoroughly until the crumb resembles damp sand.
  • Press firmly into your chosen tin. I used my rectangular springform tin (28cm x 10 cm) and pressed the crumb up the sides a little to give a little extra support to the filling, but if you’re confident in your gelatine levels, this isn’t necessary (see photo at the bottom of this post). You might like to line your tin with foil or parchment to help remove once set.
  • Chill in the fridge until needed.

For the filling
600g fresh or frozen gooseberries, or other sharp fruit
120ml water
250g mascarpone cheese
250g creme fraiche
250ml double cream
5-6 tbs icing sugar
4 leaves gelatine

  • Put the gooseberries and the water into a pan over a very low heat.
  • Cover and allow to gently simmer until the fruit is soft. Stir gently from time to time to prevent the fruit from burning (10-15 minutes).
  • Pour the fruit mixture through a sieve. Leave to drain. Keep both the liquid and fruit pulp.
  • Bloom the gelatine in cold water.
  • Sieve the drained fruit to remove the seeds. You will get about 300ml of puree. If you have extra, set it aside and serve as sauce with the cheesecake.
  • Put the puree and bloomed gelatine into a saucepan and warm gently until the gelatine is melted. Taste and stir through just enough icing sugar to make it slightly sweet.
  • Set aside to cool.
  • Put the mascarpone, creme fraiche and double cream into a bowl. Add 3 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar and whip until the mixture is firm. Taste and add more sugar if necessary, but it should only be slightly sweet.
  • When the fruit puree has cooled, but is still liquid, fold it into the whipped cheese/cream mixture.
  • Taste the mixture to check the sweetness levels and adjust as needed.
  • Pour the cheese mixture into the prepared tin. I lined the edges of the tin with acetate which allowed the filling to come up higher than the level of the crust, but this isn’t compulsory.
  • Cover lightly with cling film and allow to set in the fridge (2-3 hours).

For the jelly topping
retained juice from cooking the fruit
gelatine leaves

  • Measure the retained juice from cooking the fruit and calculate how much gelatine is required to set it. I set 400ml of sharply-flavoured juice with 3 leaves of sheet gelatine. I like the soft set, but you might prefer something a bit firmer in which case add another gelatine leaf. Stir in enough sugar to sweeten slightly. I prefer to keep the topping quite sharp as it provides a great contrast with the sweet biscuit base and the creamy filling.
  • Bloom the required quantity of leaf gelatine in cold water.
  • When the cheesecake filling has firmed up, add the gelatine to the juice and warm until the gelatine has melted. Cool slightly, then gently spoon over the cheesecake. Be careful not to pour from a great hight, as you might disturb the surface of the cheese filling and this would make for a cloudy jelly layer.
  • Return to the fridge and chill until set, preferably overnight.
Green Gooseberry Cheesecake

Green Gooseberry Cheesecake – an earlier version with base-only crumb.


Sugarless Biscuits

Sugarless Biscuits

Wotchers!

I don’t mean to boast (which means I’m going to), but I’m very pleased with this recipe, which I found in a book from 1767 entitled “Primitive cookery; or the kitchen garden display’d”. In the curious attribution style of the day, the frontispiece declares the book “Printed for J.Williams at No. 38, Fleet Street”, which leaves the authorship somewhat undetermined – possibly J.Williams or he might have been the publisher, or even the printer himself.

That mystery aside, the frontispiece also contains some wonderful claims, viz “RECEIPTS for preparing a great Variety of cheap, healthful and palatable Dishes without Fish, Flesh or Fowl; WITH A BILL of FARE of Seventy Dishes that will not cost above Two-Pence each”. The low cost and the vegetarian nature of the dishes was doubly interesting, since vegetarianism didn’t really take off in Britain until the nineteenth century. Alas, it wasn’t quite the groundbreaking publication I thought, as I found meat and meat products scattered liberally throughout, and although the seventy tupenny dishes are meatless, they consist mostly of dishes along the lines of “[insert the name of a vegetable] boiled and bread and butter”. Still, it’s not all plain fare, as the following meal suggestion illustrates: “Bread and half a pint of canary, makes an excellent meal.” With half a pint of sherry (canary) inside you, you wouldn’t really care that you only had bread to eat. And for tuppence? Bargain!

ANYHOO…..

These biscuits are listed in the book as Parsnip Cakes – the word ‘cake’ having a much more versatile usage in the eighteenth century, and more inclined to refer to shape, rather than some delightful teatime confection. Parsnips provide both bulk and a very gentle sweetness. Sliced, dried in the oven and then ground in a spice grinder, the parsnip ‘flour’ is then mixed with an equal quantity of flour, a little spice, and formed into a dough by mixing with double cream. Rolled out to a thinness of 5mm and baked in a cool oven, the resultant biscuits are crisp, crunchy and similar to a close-textured digestive biscuit. The flavour of parsnip is detectable, especially if, in the drying they have also browned a little and the sugars caramelised, but it’s not overpowering.  More nutty than vegetable. In terms of sweetness, they sit bang on the fence between sweet and savoury – sweet enough to satisfy a sugar craving, savoury enough to eat with cheese.

It’s this versatility which got me thinking of ways in which it could be adapted, and after experimentation, came up with the following:

  • Spices. You can vary the spices and tip the biscuits more towards sweet or savoury as you prefer.
    • Sweet spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves.
    • Savoury spices: garam masala, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, curry powder.
    • Neutral spices that could go either way: aniseed, fennel, fenugreek, caraway, cardamom, Chinese five spice.
    • Herbs: thyme, rosemary, sage, garlic powder, onion powder, chives, etc.
  • Flours. This is where these biscuits are most versatile.The flour you match with the parsnip powder doesn’t have to be limited to plain white. The biscuits in the picture above have been made with stoneground wholemeal with aniseed (top) and medium oatmeal, with a little salt (bottom). Here are just a few further suggestions:
    • brown
    • wholemeal
    • medium oatmeal
    • barley
    • rice
    • plain white
    • white + cornflour
    • brown + rye
    • malted
  • Usage. The dough can also be used as a pastry, with different results coming from the different flours used. Mixing the parsnip flour with brown flour or oatmeal would make a fantastic crust for something like a cauliflower cheese tart. I haven’t tried it for turnovers/handpies, but I suspect you’d need to use bread flour and to work it quite well in order to prevent it cracking when trying to fold it.

Sugarless Biscuits

The recipe for mixing the actual biscuits requires only a fraction of your parsnip flour, thereby allowing you to make several batches from this one quantity. That said, this made only about 200g of parsnip flour in total.

4 large parsnips
50g flour of choice
½-1tsp spice/herb/flavouring of choice
50-70ml double cream

¼ tsp salt (for savoury biscuits and/or when using oatmeal)

  • Peel the parsnips and slice thinly – a mandolin is ideal.
  • Arrange the slices on parchment-lined baking sheets and put into the oven.
  • Turn the oven on low, 120°C/100°C Fan.
  • Since the slices are so thin, they won’t take very long to dry at all. Check after 15 minutes. If they have curled into flower shapes, remove from the oven and allow to cool. If they aren’t completely crisp when cold, you can easily dry them a little longer. It’s better to dry them in two stages, than to let them go a little too long and allow them to take on colour – unless that’s what you’re after, of course.
  • When the parsnips slices are crisp and cold, grind them to powder in a spice grinder, or pound them in a pestle and mortar. If you’re using them for savoury biscuits, you can get away with having it a little coarser – like semolina or polenta. For sweet biscuits, you’ll probably need to sieve out the larger pieces and re-grind.
  • Preheat the oven to 140°C/120°C Fan
  • To make the biscuits:
    • Put 50g parsnip flour in the bowl of a food processor.
    • Add 50g of your chosen flour.
    • Add your chosen spices and salt, if required.
    • Blitz for a few seconds to mix.
    • With the motor running, gradually pour in the double cream. Depending on the flour you are using, the quantity of cream required to bring the dough together will vary. Add just enough until the dough comes together in a ball, or at least resembles damp breadcrumbs.
    • Tip out and press together into a ball.
    • Roll out between sheets of cling film plastic (to avoid sticking) to about 5mm and cut into biscuits. I made rectangles of 2.5cm x 5cm, but any shape will do.
    • Lay the biscuits onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and prick the middles neatly with a fork.
    • Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the baking sheet around and bake for a further 10 minutes.
    • Transfer to a wire rack and return to the oven for a final 5 minutes in order to ensure the undersides are dried and crisp.
    • Allow to cool on the wire rack before storing in an airtight container.

Bonus Recipe – Labna

This has to be the world’s simplest soft cheese recipe. I enjoyed it regularly when I was working in the Middle East and its so easy to make. It’s the topping for the biscuits in the photograph and, like the biscuits, can be enjoyed equally with sweet flavours as well as savoury. I dabbed on some seedless blackcurrant jam and it was awesome.

500ml yogurt – any will do, but Greek yogurt is especially delicious
1tsp salt

  • Line a sieve with some clean, scalded muslin.
  • Mix the salt and the yogurt together and pour into the muslin.
  • Tie the corners of the muslin together and hang over a bowl to drain.
  • Leave for 10-12 hours, or overnight.
  • Transfer to a suitable container and store in the fridge.

And that’s it. It’s rich and creamy like cream cheese, but light and refreshing and with just a fraction of the fat content. As already mentioned, it’s delicious paired with a sharp jam or salad, but you can also embellish it as follows:

  • Combine with crushed garlic, freshly chopped mint or parsley, a little olive oil and black pepper and serve with flatbreads.
  • Spread labna on a plate, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper or paprika. Serve with tortilla chips and salsa.
  • Shape balls of labna by using a tablespoon as a measure, or a mini ice-cream scoop. Arrange on a tray and chill in the fridge for several hours until firm. Transfer to a jar and pour over olive oil to cover. As long as the labna balls are fully covered by the oil and the jar properly sealed, this will keep without need for refrigeration. Serve dusted with zatar, sumak or rolled in chopped, fresh thyme.

Oasis Rolls

Date Rolls

Wotchers!

For me, the appeal of these pretty biscuits lies in the stark contrast between the dry, crumbly pastry and the sweet, sticky filling. It’s like finding a rich oasis of flavour after a dry and dusty trek through the desert!

OK, so I might be pushing the metaphor a bit – it’s a bite into a biscuit, not Lawrence of Arabia rescuing Gasim from the Empty Quarter, but work with me…..

The pastry contains semolina, which gives it it’s characteristic crumble, and the filling – well, that’s pretty much up to you. I particularly like the combination of date and lemon, but you could equally go with prunes, figs or indeed any ‘sticky’ dried fruit. Mince in something complimentary, such as candied orange or lemon peel, or even chopped nuts for a bit of crunch.  As long as it holds together, and you like the flavour, anything is possible.

Another characteristic of the pastry is that it will hold a pattern during baking, and I’ve taken the opportunity to play around with my set of fondant crimpers to mark the pastry with a range of designs. Since the rolls only have to be baked long enough to cook the pastry, and no more, the contrast between the paleness of the pastry and the dark interior is one I find very aesthetically pleasing. Of course, you don’t HAVE to use crimpers – anything that will make a mark can be used: toothpicks, mini cutters, jagging wheel, etc. or indeed nothing at all.

The price for all this delight is that the pastry is very delicate, both before and after baking. You will need to be very gentle handling it whilst marking any pattern, and I strongly recommend moving the warm biscuits onto the cooling rack with a thin slice. They are a little more robust once cool, but it is still possible to squish the pattern if you’re a little heavy-handed. Let’s be careful out there!

One final point – to bake the rolls without colouring the pastry, you will need to use a non-fan oven.

Oasis Rolls

For the filling
250g chopped dates
zest and juice of 1 lemon

For the pastry
280g plain flour
50g semolina
1tsp baking powder
40g caster sugar
100 unsalted butter
60ml vegetable oil
1tsp orange blossom water or vanilla extract

  • Put the dates, zest and juice into a food processor and blitz to a paste.
  • Form the paste into long rolls about 2cm in diameter. Cover with cling film and chill until required. Rinse and dry the food processor bowl.
  • Put the pastry ingredients into the clean food processor bowl and blitz until the mixture comes together as a soft dough.
  • Tip out and knead smooth, then wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  • Once the pastry has chilled, roll out between two sheets of cling film, to a thickness of about 1cm.
  • Remove the top layer of cling film and lay a roll of the filling onto the pastry.
  • Use the bottom sheet of cling film to lift the pastry around and over the filling, wrapping it like a sausage roll.
  • Trim off any excess pastry and make sure the roll is laying on the joining seam of the pastry. Trim the ends of the roll off neatly.
  • Repeat until all the filling has been wrapped in dough.
  • Cut your rolls into even lengths 8-10cm is a nice size both for making patterns on and for eating.
  • Mark each roll with patterns – optional – and lay carefully onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.
  • When all are finished, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge while the oven heats up.
  • Heat the oven to 180°C.
  • Bake the biscuits for 14-16 minutes, until the pastry is cooked but still pale.
  • Allow the biscuits to cool on the tin for 10 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.