The rich tea biscuit is everything that a decadent chocolate chip cookie is not - it's light as a feather and is perfectly capable of just blending into the background. They are probably just a step up in terms of standout ability from cream crackers. In fact, until about a year ago, I always thought that rich tea biscuits were made from tea extracts or something along those lines.
It's funny how these things quietly sneak up on you - one day after having my very first rich tea biscuit out of lack of choice, I fell helplessly in love with the simple wallflower of a biscuit. To think that I had been missing out all this while.
So if you, like me pre-rich-tea-enlightenment, always pick the more attractive looking cookies from the middle shelf at the supermarket over the plain janes stacked in the bottom row, I say give those plain janes a go - you might be pleasantly surprised.
"I'm coming over to bake cupcakes"
And that was that - another Wednesday afternoon spent in the kitchen with Ju Vern attempting to turn out adequately attractive cupcakes for someone's birthday and a charity bake-off. The cupcakes came from a simple recipe from her mum, quirky-ly titled "Queen's Cupcakes". While it slipped my mind to get the recipe from her, I did manage to find a similarly named recipe with the help of good old Google (really, what would the world do without google?).
Queen Cupcakes, taken from Bake Space with a cream cheese frosting
75g castor sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
milk to taste
Cream cheese frosting:
75g butter, softened,
75g cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
sugar to taste
Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celcius.
Sift flour and baking powder.
Cream butter and sugar until light and creamy before adding the lightly beaten egg to the mixture.
Add vanilla essence and fold in flour and baking powder. Add milk until the batter has a soft dropping consistency. Mix in raisins.
Fill 3/4 of each cupcake shell with the batter and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
To make the frosting, cream butter, cream cheese, vanilla extract and incremental amounts of sugar. Adding sugar a bit at a time and tasting as you go along gives you control of how sweet you want your frosting to be.
Allow cupcakes to cool before spreading the frosting.
The cupcakes are a breeze to make - the perfect recipe to fall back on when you need to make a quick dessert. It's also a good basic recipe to play around with (I suspect that adding some lemon or orange juice in place of milk would be a good twist). The bit that we didn't find so easy, however, was the decorating of the cupcakes. While cream cheese frosting is absolutely delicious (yes, even on its own) it's quite tricky to work with. Colouring doesn't mix very well with it and it doesn't have that stiff consistency that usual frosting or icing has.
So some lessons learnt that afternoon:
- Mixing more and more food colouring into cream cheese frosting does not make it look better - in fact, what you get is crazy looking, psychedelic frosting.
- Cream cheese frosting dissolves makeshift paper funnels.
- It may be a good idea to invest in a basic cake-decorating kit.
I've come away from the experience wanting more than ever to spend some time experimenting and learning how to make my food look gorgeous. Perhaps I've watched one too many episodes of Masterchef or read far too many amazing food blogs - whatever it is, I think it's time I learnt a thing or two about presentation.
Any suggestions on where to begin?
Before moving to the UK, apples were well, just apples. I could never tell one variety of apple from another, all types just merging into one. To be completely honest, apples were never really my thing. The thing is, you can't help but know your apples (at least some of them) in this country and after three years, I've decided that apples are in fact, my thing especially those lovely, sweet gala apples. So it doesn't come as a surprise when I decided one afternoon that the only cure to the brain-muddling that came with trying to decipher equation after equation was apple pie.
Adapted from LEHOUX's Apple Crumble Pie Recipe and B1BMOM's Easy Pie Crust Recipe
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons milk
5 apples, thinly sliced (I used gala, of course)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 200 degrees celcius.
Place all pie crust ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
Pat mixture into bottom and up sides of a 9 inch pie pan. Using a fork, pierce the bottom and sides of the crust lightly.
Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until light brown.
Once the baked pie crust is sufficiently cool, arrange the apple slices in the shell.
Mix 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over apples.
Mix 1/2 cup sugar with flour and mix in butter until crumbly (your fingertips are the best tools for this).
Spoon the crumble mixture over the apples and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until apples are soft and crumble is a golden brown.
And yes, apple crumble pie does wonders for the muddled brain.
Some time during the peak of the chocoholic's chocolate chunk cookie baking madness, I decided that we needed something, anything, to break the all-consuming chocolate cycle. I was craving something a bit lighter, something with a bit of acidity and zing to it.
I scouted around for something simple and quick to whip up and thought that lemon shortbread cookies sounded absolutely perfect.
Adapted from Debster's Lemon Shortbread Cookies Recipe
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 cups sifted flour
zest of one lemon
zest of one orange
juice of one lemon
castor sugar for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 325 degrees celcius.
Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer.
Add lemon juice, zest and flour. Mix well on low speed.
Drop cookie dough balls on an ungreased baking sheet.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cookies are light brown
Sprinkle some castor sugar onto the tops of the cookies as soon as they are removed from the oven, while they are still soft.
Some of the comments about the original recipe involved the cookie being not lemony enough and because I really wanted something with a punch, I increased the amount of lemon zest and juice. After deciding that I would use the zest of two lemons, I discovered that we only had one lying around in the kitchen so I thought some orange rind would be a good substitute and it was - the orange zest gave the cookies a more well-rounded flavour. Sprinkling some sugar on top of the cookies while they were still soft let the sugar set a little - the sweetness of the slightly crunchy sugar was a lovely complement to the sharp, bold cookie.
Light, buttery, uplifting - perfect with a cup of tea.
So there we go, the antidote to too much chocolate - orange-lemon shortbread cookies.