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Wordsworth Biscuits

Morning tea hasn’t happened in my house for a while. We’ve had plenty of afternoon teas. We’ve had cakes and scones and sandwiches. We’ve had cookies, but they’ve been big fat cookies, the kind of cookies that are good to munch during a long night in, at the end of an otherwise too small lunch, or in response to the hunger pangs that arise on the walk home from school. So today I made hazelnut biscuits, perfect for placing on the saucer next to a cup of tea or good coffee.

The recipe I adapted from Stephanie Alexander The Cook’s Companion. She calls for thinly sliced candied peel to be added but I switched for dried cranberries (as below) and increased the quantity of ground hazelnut and decreased the almond meal of the original recipe.

2 eggs
200 grams castor sugar
a few drops of vanilla essence
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
60 grams chopped dried cranberries (although perhaps not chopped next time)
180 grams ground hazelnuts
120 grams ground almonds
½ teaspoon baking powder

Beat eggs, castor sugar and vanilla until the batter is paler than when your started and it is coat-the-back-of-a-spoon thick. Fold in remaining ingredients. Using a piping bag with no nozzle, pipe the mixture in fingers onto baking trays line with paper. Bake for 30 minutes in a 140º C oven. Once out of the oven dibble a thin icing made from:

1 cup pure icing sugar
juice of one lemon

The original recipe did call for the egg and sugar batter to be beaten until ‘pale and thick’. This instruction lead me to a quarter hour of frenzied beating but the batter never would get as thick as I thought it should – nowhere near as thick as egg yolks will go if they are beaten alone. Hopefully my instruction, while less elegant, may help avoid any extraneous beating. Candied peel might give a more exciting tang to the biscuit but I never really like peel. Cranberries certainly add a similar sour flavour, and a somewhat Christmassy look, but perhaps fresh peel might be a nice change next time.

The amoretti biscuit that one occasionally receives with coffee at an Italian cafe always fill me with happiness. When I see them. When I eat them, I often find that they are dry, over-crumbly and contain too much almond extract or they are just too small. Wordsworth biscuits are much more satisfying but still light enough for a morning tea. Also, compared to some of those other almond biscuits, these are really, really easy to make.

Scones of Destiny – 28th June 2005

Scones can be wonderful – fluffy and light on the inside, with a thin yet crispy outside. They can also be terrible – baking-soda tasting, gluey and dough-centred, with rock-like crusts. After experiencing the former yesterday at Always Sunday, a gorgeous cafe on the Royal Mile, and the latter I won’t say when or where, I decided that an entry on the craft of scone-making mightn’t be a bad idea.

In 1996 the Stone of Scone (otherwise known as the Stone of Destiny) was returned to Scotland. This 152kg rock, the traditional coronation stone of the Scottish Kings and Queens, was stolen by English King Edward the first 700 years ago. While I applaud the symbolism of its return to Scotland, I am simultaneously wary that several Scottish bakers have mistakenly taken this geological marvel as a model baked-good. Ladies (because if men won’t eat quiche then they sure as hell won’t bake scones) please remember that your scones should NOT resemble hunking chunks of rock. Note also that a gooey dough in the middle of your scone is no means of recompense.

In order to achieve the light fluffy glory of a Devonshire tea (and avoid anything resembling the Scone Stone) please remember:

Measure carefully
Too much raising agent and your mouth will taste like a well scrubbed steel sink. Too much oil or water and your scones will spread all over the shop.
Knead gently
Your dough will be tough and stringy if you mix too vigorously or too long. Mix until it is just combined, even a few seconds before that point.
Roll out to 2cm thickness
Any thinner and your scones will be flat and unable to support the necessary jam and cream.
Watch them while they bake
Ovens vary so keep and eye on your goodies. A gentle tap on the bottom of the scone will let you know if it’s done. The scone should sound hollow and the base should be slightly brown.

I have a lovely recipe for a Park Hyatt Scone which I will let you in on at a later date. Promise.

29 percent of California women mistakenly believe that a cold or flu should be treated with an antibiotic

I have a cold this week, which includes a sore throat and a delicate tum. Hail the conquering ginger. I have been living off this tea (sometimes with, but mostly without, the whisky.)

Ginger (peeled and sliced)
Lemon (juiced)
(a wee slosh of whisky) optional

Simmer the ginger in hot water for at least 10 minutes. Strain into a mug. Add honey, lemon (and whiskey) to taste.

I’ve also found that Anna’s ginger thins help after an otherwise bland, feed-a-cold meal.

Back Seat Chef

Pride in ones culinary talents and an Indian boyfriend do not sit particularly well together. Although a deft hand at most western cuisines and capable as concerns certain East Asian dishes, the food of the Indian subcontinent still remains elusive.

No matter how perfect my soufflés (and in all modesty they’re Mary Poppins perfect) nor how tasty my moussaka, nor how crack-free my sponge-roll, my creations will never match the dhal and parantha of my boy’s grandmother. Foolishly, after several requests from P, I attempted a “simple” chicken korma. After two hours spent in the grinding of herbs and the frying of oily pastes, I had what seemed to be a very decent curry.

P strides in, waxing lyrical on the heavenly scents in the corridor. Ego: up one. He walks to the stove, lifts the lid and smiles all over his face. Ego: up another one. He reaches for the spoon and prods at the chicken, frowning. Irritation: up one. He squeezes a piece of the succulent meat between his fingers, getting sauce on his cuff. Irritation: up two. He looks at me and says: “You should add some more water. It’s too thick.” Ego: down four.

Remind me next time to serve the food on a plate, looking wonderful. Remind me not allow any more back-seat chef’s into the kitchen.

Gripe over, P actually loved the food. Despite his usually bird-like appetite, he ate enough for three or four decently sized people.

Intent on improving my Indian culinary techniques, I plan on a visit to the Indian Cookery School in Goa sometime in the near future.
See to join me there.

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed

Admittedly, when I first tried haggis, all I could cope with was the table-spoon-sized, no-thank-you-portion of my childhood. I soon became a convert. These days, my week is not complete with out a visit to the Half-Way House (my spiritual local) for a dish of haggis, neeps and tatties.

Nevertheless, I can sympathise with those who squirm at the plethora of offal that constitutes a haggis:

1 sheep stomach
1 sheep liver
1 sheep heart
2 sheep lungs (called “lights” in Scotland)
1 sheep brain
(plus oats, spice etc)

While I do understand the reluctance to try this dish, I do not understand how any dislike can be so vehement as to translate into government law banning its importation or production.

In both the US and Japan, the consumption of sheep-lung is illegal (as is brain and stomach in some states of the US).
That sheep-lung is considered unfit for human consumption seems to stem from an age of rampant tuberculosis and less-than-rigorous farm hygiene. Health officials apparently feared that eating infected sheep-lung tissue might cause a human to contract the disease. These countries now enforce strict farming hygiene. Eradication of TB in these countries is almost complete. A little haggis will not hurt anyone. (Just wait for my rant on the ban of unpasteurised cheese in Australia!)

If you’d like to have a go, there are plenty of haggis recipes around (including some Americanised versions without the sheep’s lung) or you could always buy a MacSween haggis like the rest of us.

You must eat haggis with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes) – it is plain wrong not to.
Gather a crowd of people around when you go to slice open the haggis – watching that little sucker give birth is better than Alien.