Money can’t buy you love, or happiness, and it certainly can’t guarantee good food.
When I am in the kitchen at Tyrannell one of my favourite occupations is baking. Biscuits both savoury and sweet are great crowd pleasers . The most important considerations are top quality ingredients – without exception or compromise – and patient attention to detail (not my strong suit, but it matters in the two recipes below). The result will be good food bringing happiness to those you love.
This is adapted from a Women’s Institute recipe which requires two egg yolks and leaves you with unwanted whites. This is a nuisance, in my opinion. Although, when I trialled the straws with full eggs side by side with the traditional recipe, the family could tell the difference, they liked both versions equally well. You will not be able to identify the mustard in the final result but it adds a pleasing zing. We can buy a lovely cheese locally; it is called Colliers, but any good mature cheddar will do fine.
200g plain flour, a pinch of English mustard powder, 150g diced, cold butter, 150g finely grated cheddar, 1 egg.
Rub the butter into the flour by hand or using a mixer until you have a fine, crumby consistency. Add the other ingredients to your bowl and mix everything together until you have a smooth stiff dough. Bring it together into a block then either cut slices then cut again into straws or roll first then cut. Either method is good but the first helps if your dough – or your kitchen – has become chilly – quite usual in the mid Wales winter.
Lay the straws , (if you want to be fancy, giving each one a twist) on a flat baking tray lined with baking parchment. A small distance between is enough as they do not spread much. At this point you may freeze some or all. They can be cooked from frozen (add two or three minutes to the cooking time) and are invaluable for unexpected guests.
Now for the baking. In the Aga I use the middle shelf in the hot oven. In a gas or electric oven be careful of uneven heating. Cook for ten minutes at gas 6, 200 Celsius and check, turning if necessary. The straws may take up to five minutes more. Be aware: you are aiming for a golden yellow colour, even a hit of brown will introduce a bitter edge to the flavour.
When they are cooked, slide the straws, along with the paper, onto a cooling rack. While these are most delicious straight from the oven they will store in a tin for a few days, as long as the location of the tin is a secret.
Chocolate Caramel Shortbread
You will find many recipes for this, often called millionaires’ shortbread, but that seems to me a foolish name. To make these, and to appreciate them, you need not be rich. You need only take care to choose the best ingredients. The ones often sold in cafés with claggy biscuit, gritty toffee and greasy topping unworthy of the name of chocolate show the results of cutting back on quality.
For the shortbread base: 120g butter, 60g golden caster sugar, 180g whole-wheat spelt or rye flour
For the caramel: 120g butter, 90g golden caster sugar, 2 level tablespoons golden syrup, 190g tin of full fat condensed milk
For the chocolate topping: 100g best quality plain (dark) chocolate
Spelt and rye flours give a wonderful nuttiness to the base and fairly traded, unrefined sugars taste incomparably better and more interesting than plain white. Butter is the only suitable fat for biscuit making and be sure always to use the best chocolate available. Dark chocolate works best; I find that milk chocolate is too sweet to go next to caramel.
When measuring syrup I find that scooping as much as you can on to a tablespoon actually equals 2 tablespoons full. Do try it if you don’t believe it! I always slice my shortbreads into small fingers instead of the great slabs sometimes seen. The quantity and dimensions given produce a thin, crunchy result which my family prefers. They are a delicious treat for a special tea party, not an everyday snack!
With your fingers or an electric mixer combine the flour and butter until it looks like sand. Stir in the sugar. Shake this mixture into a shallow tin of about 28 by 35 cm, lined with baking parchment, pressing lightly and evenly with your hand. This may look a bit crumbly, but don’t worry! Bake at gas 4, 180 Celsius, Aga baking oven for about 25 minutes, checking and turning if needed to achieve an even, light golden colour.
Meanwhile, make the caramel. Put all the ingredients into a small heavy bottomed pan on a medium heat. Stirring all the time, melt gently first and then and cook until you can see little brown flecks rising from the bottom and the whole mixture is noticeably darkened; it may take about ten or twelve minutes. You must concentrate! Hold a book in your non stirring hand if you are easily bored, but stay at the stove and stir constantly to avoid burning.
When the biscuit base is cooked and the caramel ready, set the chocolate in a metal bowl over a pan of very hot water. Aga owners can use the top of the stove or the warming oven for this.
Pour the caramel evenly over the base. Allow it to solidify while the chocolate melts. Pour over the chocolate, smoothing it very gently with the back of a spoon. As the chocolate begins to firm it is a good idea to mark your slices with a knife so as to avoid shattering and squashing the finished product although do wait until it is all completely cool before carefully sliding out of the tin as it is fragile when warm.
Chocolate Caramel Shortbread stores well in a padlocked tin.
See our recipe for lemon drizzle here.