Monday, 16 March 2015

Roll With It

I'm teaching an evening class at the moment. It's called Family Cake Decorating, although sometimes I think it should be "Messing About With Icing" as mess is a pretty substantial part of the process. It's the 4th year I've taught this particular course and by the time it ends at 7pm I still find I'm glazed like a doughnut from all the icing sugar I've been handling. Not being messy is a skill I've yet to acquire.

I love teaching people new skills.  I get such a kick out of helping someone try something they've never had a go at before. Often all it takes is a little guidance and boom! they've made something marvellous. That grin of "look what a fab thing I did" from people in my class is one of my favourite parts of the week.

I usually bake many, many cupcakes to give my class of 12 plenty of stuff to decorate.  This time, however, I'm not. Taking in 3 or 4 dozen cupcakes each week gets expensive. The school subsidises the class but I do want to keep the ingredients costs from getting too high. It occurred to me that as long as my students had a surface to decorate, to didn't really matter what that surface was. A cupcake or a biscuit can work equally well as their canvas, and with a biscuit I can make bigger batches, so they get more goes. I'll still do a couple of cupcake weeks but so far the biscuits are going down very well.
Just a fraction of a week's biscuits

Several people in my class asked for my gingerbread recipe as last week's gingerbread men were a hit with their families.  I'm putting it here as well in case anyone fancies a go.  It's a pretty nice one, although the dough can be a pain to handle when the kitchen gets hot. However, there's an easy way around that. 

Gingerbread biscuits

180g butter
125g caster sugar
1 egg
125g treacle
420g flour
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp bicarb

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale. Add the egg and treacle and combine thoroughly.  Sift the flour, spices and bicarb together and add to the mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon or by hand to bring it into a sticky dough - don’t overwork or knead the dough or the biscuits will be tough.

Ideally chill the dough for a while - the treacle can make it messy to handle when too warm. Roll out and cut into shapes, leaving room for the biscuits to spread slightly on the baking tray. Bake at 180 (170 fan) for 8-12 minutes depending on the thickness of your biscuits.


The more flour you add to a dough the tougher it will be. When rolling out biscuits dough - and especially pastry dough, where the thinner you can roll it the better- this can make the difference between a great result and a poor one.

You can avoid it sticking without adding flour by placing your dough between two sheets of clingfilm. Roll across the clingfilm until the dough is your preferred thickness (very thin for pastry, a pound coin thickness for most biscuits), peel of the top sheet, cut into shapes fitting them as close together as possible. Then lift up the bottom sheet of clingfilm and peel off the shape/disc and place it on the baking sheet or tart tin. 
 I can just hear Mary Berry congratulating you on the nicely baked tart without any hint of a soggy bottom. Paul Hollywood will tell you it's a nice thin pastry and a good bake overall.  Award yourself Star Baker and a smug grin.

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