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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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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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Anzac Biscuits – in Denmark and Australia

Quintessentially Aussie – ANZAC Biscuits

Merle is an Aussie Grandma and a fantastic cook who released a book of Australian recipes, and one of the all-time favourites is reproduced here albeit with a few alterations.

The recipe is posted here, as it was Anzac Day, yesterday.


Every year on 25 April, Australians remember the Anzacs in memorial services in every suburb, in every city in Australia, and it is a national holiday. I would venture to say a sacred day in the consciousness of all Australians.

Anzac biscuits are named after the Australian and New Zealand Army troops who fought on the side of Britain during WWI. They were unfortunately slaughtered in an mistaken decision made by the British command.

Churchills error in the Dardenelles against the Turkish forces resulted in an atrocious loss of life and the soldiers who fought there have since achieved saint-like status in the minds of Australians and Kiwis.

These biscuits/cookies keep well for an extended period of time and were sent in tins to the troops fighting in the filthy trenches at Lone Pine and Anzac Cove in Turkey, by the mothers and sweethearts of those brave young men.

Mel Gibson immortalised the Anzac soldier’s spirit in the 1981 film “Gallipoli”.

I cooked the Anzacs at 180 degrees C… sorry Merle love, my oven is happier working at a higher temperature than yours.

Feel free to post what temperature worked for you, if you try the recipe…

Anzac Biscuits

Ingredients  

  • 1 cup plain flour (approx 4 ounces)
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup desiccated coconut
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 2 tbsp boiling water
  • 1 tsp bicarb soda
  • 160 g butter, melted

Preheat Oven 170 Celsius

Method
1. Sift flour, ginger in a mixing bowl and add coconuts, oats and sugar. Make a well in the centre
2. Stir in Golden syrup, boiling water and bicarb in a small bowl until combined. Add to the dry ingredients, along with the melted butter. Mix well
3. Take heaped teaspoons of mix and roll into small balls. Place on trays and flatten gently. Bake 6-7 minutes ( I baked them for 10 mins)
4. Cool on tray 10 mins til they firm up slightly.

The supreme sacrifice of those men in the cause of freedom, is truly something to eternally ponder about. “Lest we Forget”  

Now you can also try these biscuits, and tell me what you think.

Reproduced here for the Danish island school and the children who some years back organized an Australian morning tea as part of their tuition from their fabulous teach who unfortunately passed away some years ago.

RIP Teacher Andrea.

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Time for Tuscan Bean Soup

The beauty of this soup is that it works with most leftover vegetables. I chop up things I find in the fridge at the Home by the Sea, such as the leftover broccoli stalks or slightly limp-few days old -beans and add them in. The soup will taste just as good, if not better.

The addition of chickpeas adds a lot of fibre to this recipe and balances out the carbs hidden in the pancetta/bacon.

A hearty soup perfect for an easy family dinner.

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Tuscan Bean Soup Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons cold-pressed Olive Oil
  • 2 medium Brown Onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
  • 200g Speck, or good quality Bacon or Pancetta, coarsely sliced
  • 2 -3 Carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 3 Celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 1 can Diced Tomatoes*

I didn’t have a can of chopped Roma Tomatoes, in the pantry, so I boiled up 8 fresh Roma tomatoes, chopped them roughly, then boiling them in a saucepan till soft, [about 8 -10 minutes on medium heat].

  • 1/4 head of Cabbage, shredded coarsely
  • 1- 2 Zucchinis, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons Thyme
  • 2 cups Chicken or Vegetable stock
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1 small can of Chickpeas, in vinaigrette, rinsed and drained
  • 1 new Potato, coarsely chopped
  • 1 whole Celery stalk with leaves attached
  • Chives, a handful sliced plus some extra for garnishing

Serves 6

Tuscan Bean Soup

Method

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan
  2. Cook onion, celery, garlic, and selected cured meat, such as Pancetta, stirring until onion and celery is soft (about 5 minutes)
  3. Add carrot, undrained tomatoes, cabbage, zucchini, potato, thyme, stock, drained chickpeas, water and the whole celery stalk, with leaves attached.
  4. Bring to boil
  5. Simmer uncovered about 30 – 40 minutes [go for a nice walk whilst it is simmering]
  6. Remove the whole celery stalk with leaves
  7. Add finely sliced chives and garnish with a sprinkle prior to serving.
  8. Serve with a crusty bread

If you are a soup lover, you might also like Lemon Broccoli Soup

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Easy Salmon Pie with Cheesy Crust

Salmon is low in fat and high in protein. Not to mention it is a good source of B12, potassium, iron and vitamin D. No wonder the Scandinavians enjoy it.

Making pastry can be a pain but it’s a breeze with this recipe as the kitchen food processor blends and forms a delicious, cheesy pastry shell.

Cooks Notes:

This recipe is substantial and makes a filling pie great for serving the family or group. The pie cuts easily and holding its form brilliantly on the day of cooking as well as the next day for a summer lunch.

Salmon Pie Recipe

Preheat Oven to 180 C (350F)

Cheesy Pastry Crust Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups Plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Paprika
  • 125 g Butter
  • 1 cup grated Cheddar or firm Cheese (substitutes are fine as long as it isn’t a cheese that melts too much such as mozzarella)
  1. Rub the butter into the flour using a Food Processor but not so much that it turns into a ball (keep it crumbly)
  2. Add the grated cheese and mix through the pastry.
  3. Set aside 1/4 of the mix to reserve for the pie topping
  4. Press the remainder into an 8-9 inch pottery, or glass, pie dish until it covers the base and sides to form the pastry shell.

Filling Ingredients

  • 220 gram (around 8 oz) can cooked Red or Pink Salmon, preferably boneless
  • 3 Eggs
  • 375 grams Sour cream (13 oz)
  • 1 Onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Chives
  • 2-3 drops of Tabasco sauce (optional)
  • 1/2 cup grated Cheese (extra)
  1. Drain and flake salmon and combine with the rest of the filling ingredients
  2. Place the combined mix into the pastry shell
  3. Crumb the reserved portion of the pastry crumbs on top
  4. Bake 40 – 50 minutes at 180 C (350 F) or until golden brown on top

Delicious served hot or cold the next day with a green salad.

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