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Baking the Perfect Biscuit

Do you feel frustrated when your home-baked cookies/biscuits don’t turn out as you expect? Why are Cookies (called biscuits in Australia) sometimes too hard, too soft, way-too-spread-out, or hard enough to use as a cricket bat?

cooking anzac biscuits

My investigations into this blight on the Home Baker led me to conclude that baking is a science, and pastry cooks and chefs who are required to replicate the exact same foods with the exact same textures and tastes every single time, have my endless admiration. For the path to creating the perfect biscuit is laden with pitfalls, and endless variables that are bound to confuse, frustrate and annoy the most patient and placid of us.

Not only do you have to achieve consistency at technique, control the uncontrollable variations in oven temperature and heat distribution, you also have to conquer such variables as appropriate shelf height and heat setting in multi-functional ovens, incorrect weighing/measuring of ingredients, the endless debate on whether to fold or beat, cover or uncover the cooked item, and the list goes on.

Something as simple as using low-fat butter or milk can drastically alter results. Nevertheless, it is useful to consider why things may have gone wrong. http://www.sunset.com had some answers for me:

  • Low-fat butter or margarine spread, which has about 20% more water, used in place of regular butter or margarine is often the culprit. Low-fat products can’t be used interchangeably with regular fats for baking without recipe adjustments.
  • Cookies also spread when you drop high-fat dough onto a hot baking sheet; the heat melts the dough, and cookies spread before they’re baked enough to hold their shape.


The way they measure ingredients and the real temperature of their ovens are the usual reasons cooks get different results from the same recipe.

Flour should be stirred to loosen and fluff it, then spooned gently into a dry-measure cup (the kind you fill to the rim), and the top scraped level. If you tap the cup or scoop flour from the bag, the flour gets packed down, and you can easily add 2 to 4 extra tablespoons flour per cup.
You can scoop up white sugar; it doesn’t pack. But you should firmly pack brown sugar into a dry-measure cup and scrape the top level.

Dry ingredients should not be measured in heaped-up cups or spoons; scrape dry ingredients level with the surface of the measuring tool.

Measure liquid ingredients with liquid-measuring (usually glass or plastic) cups.

Sunset.com

Controlling Spread in Cookies with Baking Soda:

Cookies spread across a cookie sheet when they have too little structure and cannot hold their shape. Whether this is desirable or not depends on what kind of cookie you wish to bake.
There are many ways to increase cookie spread: One way is to add a small amount of baking soda, as little as .25 to .5 ounces (5 to 15 grams) for 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of cookie dough. This increases the pH of the dough, weakening gluten, and also weakening egg protein structure. With less structure, cookies spread more and have a coarser, more porous crumb.
Since moisture evaporates from a porous crumb more easily, baking soda often provides for a crisper crumb, as well.
Measure baking soda carefully. Baking soda increases browning significantly, and if used at too high a level, it leaves a distance salty-chemical off flavour. When working at high altitudes, omit baking soda from the cookie dough. The lower air pressure at high altitudes already encourages spread.

How to Ensure Baking Success in Using Ingredients

  • Check the expiry date on egg carton and other ingredients too.
  • Eggs should be at room temperature. The emulsion can be ruined if eggs or other liquids are too cold or too hot when they are added.
  • Measuring Flour: Too much flour can make some cookies rock-hard. When in doubt, err on the side of less flour. Use a scale if the recipe offers a weight equivalent. Spoon the flour into your measuring cup and sweep a spatula across the top to level it off. Don’t use the measuring cup as a scoop, or it’ll pack the flour, and you’ll end up with more flour in the cup than intended.
  • Nuts:  Smell and taste nuts before using. Oils in nuts can turn rancid quickly. Store any leftover nuts in the freezer for longest shelf life. 
  • Butter:  Make sure your butter is at room temperature, otherwise it won’t cream properly with the sugar. The terms “room temperature,” “softened” and “soft” mean different things. The temperature of the butter can make a difference in the recipe. Most cookie dough recipes depend on the emulsion that occurs when you cream butter and sugar together. This emulsion will not happen if the butter is too hot or too cold.
  • Room Temperature Butter: It should be pliable enough that your finger can leave a mark in it, without being soft and greasy. Set the butter out at least one (1) hour in advance.
  • Softened Butter: Will feel a little warmer to the touch, and it will be much easier to leave a deep indentation, but it should still be firm enough to pick up without falling apart.
  • Soft Butter: Will be too soft to pick up.
  • Microwave Butter: Do not try to microwave your butter as it will just end up too soft. If you don’t have an hour’s lead time, increase the surface area by cutting the butter into small pieces or shredding it on the large holes of a grater. It will then come up to temperature in approximately 10 minutes.
  • Unsalted Butter: Unsalted butter is generally recommended because some salted butters have more sodium than others.  Do not use low fat butter/margarine. Low fat margarine has 20 % more water.
  • Salt:  Use the full amount of salt called for in a recipe, especially is using unsalted butter. If you use salted butter, only use 1/2 the amount called for in the recipe. Don’t skip the salt, as salt brings out flavours and balances the sweetness in a recipe.
  • Sugar: The type of sugar used in your cookies can promote spread in baked cookies. To understand this, you need to know that sugar is a tenderiser which interferes with the formation structure. Sugars with a finger granulation promote more spread, (probably because they dissolve sooner, and only dissolved sugars will tenderise). Powdered sugar (confectioner’s sugar), when it contains cornstarch, prevents spread in cookies despite it finer grind.

Source: whatscookingamerica.net/Cookie/CookieTips.htm

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Cooking Tips – Honey

If you enjoy the flavour of honey and want a snack food that is healthy, this recipe for Honey and Oat Cookies, (Biscuits in Australia), may fit the bill. Or perhaps Quinoa Salad with its Honey and Lemon dressing is more your preference. Measuring honey leaves for one sticky clean up. Is there an easier way?

Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV on Pexels.com

Measuring Honey or Syrup

To prevent a sticky measuring cup or spoon when cooking with honey, oil the measuring cup with a thin smear of cooking oil and rinse in hot water before using.

You won’t be left with a sticky cup or measuring spoon to wash!

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Home made Honey and Oat Cookie Recipe

Honey has been on my mind, lately, as I was interviewing an expert on Beekeeping, in my job as a reporter, for a community magazine.

I can now tell you loads about the complexities of a bee colony, what threats they face, how they are heavily regulated by themselves and the bees and the process of making honey.

Whilst beekeeping can turn into an obsession, I am more obsessed with honey and its use as food. I sourced a wonderfully tasty Immune boosted raw Honey from the Beekeeper himself. This honey has all sorts of health benefits as the bees graze from a wide variety of food sources.

Apart from having one teaspoon of this delicious food from the Gods, each day, I made some Honey and Oat Biscuits, (or Honey and Oat Cookies if you are American), using a favourite recipe of mine, that I will share here:

Honey and Oat Cookies (Biscuits) Recipe

  • 1 cup Self Raising Flour, (or all-purpose flour with 2 teaspoons Baking powder)
  • 3 tablespoons custard powder
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup (125 g) or softened butter
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 cup wheatgerm or bran

Method

  1. Blitz the flour and custard powder
  2. Add sugar and oats and blitz again
  3. Add butter through the chute as processing til blended
  4. Add honey and process till well combined
  5. Roll teaspoonfuls of the mix into balls and toss lightly in the wheatgerm/bran
  6. Place on baking tray and flatten lightly with the back of a fork
  7. Cook for 10 – 12 minutes in a moderate over 180 degrees C (350 F)
  8. Allow to cool on tray

Makes about 15- 18 cookies

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Lemon Cake

This is a recipe published by the Australian Women’s Weekly Magazine some years back. In my and my family’s opinion, this is one of the best lemon cake recipes around. Perfect to have with a cuppa.

Australian Women’s Weekly Lemon Cake Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon rind
  • 1 cup (220g) caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (150g) self-raising flour
  • ½ cup (75g) plain flour
  • ½ cup* (125ml) milk – *fill to within 1/4 inch of the brim of the cup measure, with milk, then top up to the brim with lemon juice
  • Cinnamon and walnuts to sprinkle on top (optional)

Topping

  • ½ cup (125ml) lemon juice
  • ¼ cup (55g) caster sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to moderate (180°/160°C fan-forced). Grease a deep 20cm round or large loaf pan, then line the base with baking paper.
  2. Beat the butter, rind and sugar in a small bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until combined between additions.
  4. Stir in the sifted flours in two batches with the milk.
  5. Spread the mixture into the prepared pan.
  6. Sprinkle cinnamon and a handful of walnuts on top of the mix.
  7. Bake in a moderate oven for about 35- 45 minutes or until the cake is cooked when tested with a skewer.

The topping is optional as the cake is sweet enough without, but if you wish to make it here it is:

  • Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a jug; stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Pour the topping over the hot cake
  • Allow cake to stand for 15 minutes before turning the cake onto a wire rack to cool.

This cake is suitable to freeze but not suitable to cook in the microwave.

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Chocolate Cake with Zucchini Squash

At the Home by the Sea, I am always looking to incorporate more vegetables in our diet.

If you have read this blog before you might be aware of my penchant for sweet treats. Especially those with brown sugar, walnuts and cinnamon, such as the Danish Spice Cake, or Walnut Streusal Cake.

Fellow blogger Sandy just had to go and post a delicious recipe of Chocolate and Zucchini cake with just those aforementioned ingredients that I love so much.

Clear the hallway! I said when I read the post.

“I am headed for the kitchen.” No sooner had I read the post then the cake was in the mixing bowl.

Here is the result:

Sandy’s Chocolate and Zucchini Cake

zucchini chocolate cake with walnuts

Health Benefits of Zucchini or Squash to your Diet

Zucchini is low in calories, fat, and sugar and is a great source of antioxidants and Folate. It also contains Vitamins (A, E and C) that improve skin integrity, alleviate puffiness, build collagen and fight damage from free radicals. So Zucchini make us look younger!

Recipe

I reduced the zucchini – I use 2- 3 zucchini amounting to about 500 ml shredded – squeezed it out a little then added a 2- 3 tablespoons of extra flour to Sandy’s recipe.

Find the Full recipe at Sandy’s blog post.

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Edamame and Avocado Smash on Beetroot Hommus

Ingredients:

  • 1 Slice Sourdough or Rye bread toasted
  • 1/2 small can of cooked Edamame beans
  • 1/2 ripe Avocado
  • 2 tablespoons of Beetroot hommus
  • Spinach leaves and Cracked Pepper to garnish
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Hot Crab Dip or Cold Crab Dip

I have had this small tin of crab meat in my pantry for (mumble, mumble) quite some time now. I really did not know what I was going to use it for.

I think it was originally destined for a party, hanging out with other Swedish sandwich cake ingredients, but things did not work out between them, and so the crab meat, was left on the shelf… literally!

Image
Crab Dip

Inspiration hit me one night when the Moth aka hubby and I were on our own, no family to cook for and decided on a light meal to end the week. Surfing the net always provides inspiration and along the way I found a recipe for Hot Crab Dip.

As one always does, there were adjustments I just had to make, serving it cold, and adding some extra vegetables for crunch. As I like fresh and crunchy celery, cucumber and capsicum, I chopped these up and added them in. The dish has some added Vitamin C and fibre this way.

But credit goes to Will Cook for Smiles for the essence of the recipe. She baked hers in the oven, whilst I often prefer my seafood cold, so I didn’t. It is totally agreeable either way.

It is just your own preference.

Here is what I mixed to make this superb light meal/appetizer/dip/wine & cheese accompaniment.

Crab Dip Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 130 g tinned Crabmeat
  • 40g spreadable Cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup Sour cream
  • 1/4 cup Mayonnaise
  • 2 stalks of Spring onion, finely chopped and diced.
  • 1 Garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup of shaved Parmesan cheese, to mix in
  • 1/4 cup of shaved Parmesan cheese, for topping
  • Salt & fresh cracked Pepper

Optional Extras if serving it cold:

  • 1/2 medium Yellow and Green Capsicum, chopped & diced.
  • 1/2 small Lebanese Cucumber, chopped & diced.
  • Celery – 1 stalk – only if you like it very crunchy

Method for Serving Cold Crab Dip

Mix all ingredients together. Serve with crackers, fresh bread or baguette.

To Serve Crab Dip Hot:

  • Preheat the oven to 170 degree celsius or 340 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Combine all the ingredients, top with the second 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese.
  • Bake 20 minutes
  • Serve with crusty sourdough bread or crackers of your choice.

It was hard to stop nibbling this more-ish mix with my water crackers!

Next time I’s serve it hot with some fresh salad and a secondary dish.

Enjoy.

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