Wholemeal Sea Salt Chocolate Thins

wholemeal sea salt chocolate thins

My colleagues keep asking me when I’m next bringing in some home-baking.  I told one of my colleagues today that I’d made some INCREDIBLE biscuits.  Nope, I hadn’t brought them into work.  Cue – sulky face.  Admittedly, these chocolate thins are so good that I’m not sure that they’re going to make it out the front door.

preparing to cream together the butter, sugar and salt

I took in my coconut, lime and malibu drizzle cake into work one Friday to lift morale.  This is the kind of thing that people do, wherever I’ve worked.  However, apparently not here.  Ever since that Friday, (and I am exaggerating slightly) my colleagues seem to have turned into cake hungry toddlers: I’ve seen some sulky pouting faces when a Friday goes by without cake and I’ve not heard the end of:

“Friday is cake day *hint* *hint*” – to which I answer, “Oh, what are you bringing in?”

“When are going to bring in some more cake?” — “When you buy me some butter/eggs/flour.”

“I haven’t seen biscuits for a while.” — “There is a supermarket down the road…”

What is this?  A simple act of voluntary cake sharing kindness erupting a longing for home-baked sugar filled delights.  They even complained that I didn’t bring in a mushy, underbaked banana cake because they’d have appreciated it in any form.

soft dough for wholemeal chocolate thins

Anyway, I do find my colleagues’ reaction hilarious and affirmative.  And … well, as they opened the door to trying out my baking experiments, successes and disasters, I brought in some spiced chocolate banana cake that had gone wrong.  It looked like a brownie but it tasted medicinal, like cloves and nutmeg.  Not all of them were impressed with that offering.  Not that that was a deliberate move at all.  But they had requested the disasters… So, *teehee* I wonder how long their enthusiasm for my baking will last?

take a spoonful of chocolate wholemeal dough

As there are rather a lot of us english teachers at the school, not everyone gets a piece of whatever’s been baked.  One day, one of my colleagues realised that she’d missed out on all of my cakes.  Fortunately for her, she feeds me cakes and biscuits from her ‘ot loi’ (khmer for no money) shop.  So, when she asked me to bake something for the end of term and I’d run out of eggs to bake a cake, I came up with idea of baking these gorgeous chocolate wholemeal thins, that I’d seen on the back of Allinsons Plain Wholemeal Flour.

roll it lightly into a ball

Once I’d baked one batch, I realised that I very quickly needed to make another.  They’re so wholesomely, deliciously more-ish and have that glorious nutty flavour imparted from the wholemeal flour.  So, I did.   Then later that day, I had this flash of brilliance that by adding sea salt would lift them to the realms of epic and add even more nutritional value.  That’s how my brain works late at night.  So, into the mixture went a conservative quarter teaspoon of fine sea salt.  That’s all the recipe needed for the sea salt to bring out the chocolate flavour and add a touch of sophistication.press down lightly with a fork

A cautionary note if you want to try this recipe but don’t have any sea salt.  Table salt has a much stronger flavour than sea salt.  I haven’t tried it with table salt, but from previous experience, I’d add half the amount when using table salt.

Jonathan and Emily in Cambodia
Jonathan and Emily, who travelled many, many miles to adventure in SE Asia, were taste-testers for this bake.

You can bake these without the sea salt.  Just omit the salt.  They’re really good.  But just so that you know.  I trialled both recipes on my resident taste-testers last weekend, Emily and Jonathan who were visiting!   There were barely enough biscuits left to test out on a family of 6 later on, who I watch the GBBO together with.  They unanimously preferred the sea salt chocolate thins.

Wholemeal Sea Salt Chocolate Thins

Wholemeal Sea Salt Chocolate Thins, adapted from the back of the Allinsons Plain Wholemeal Flour Packet.  Thankfully can also be found on Baking Mad.

Makes between 24-26 chocolate thins

Ingredients

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt and a bit more to sprinkle on top later
  • 125g plain wholemeal flour
  • 25g cocoa powder

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170ºC/ 340ºF/Gas Mark 5

2. Cream together the butter, sugar and the sea salt until light and fluffy.  This normally takes between 3-5 minutes.

3. Add the cocoa powder and wholemeal flour and mix until it comes together in a soft dough.

4. Cover and let it rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

5. Prepare a baking tray with baking paper.  Take a teaspoon of the mixture (roughly between 12-16g) and lightly roll it into a ball between the palms of your hands.  I say lightly to avoid overworked dough, resulting in tough wee biscuits.  And hey, they don’t have to be perfect balls.  You’re going to be pressing them down with a fork anyway.

6. Use a fork to press each ball down.  If the mixture starts to stick to the back of the fork, lightly flour the back of the fork and that will prevent it.  Sprinkle a wee bit of salt over each biscuit.

7. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes.  Check at 10 minutes, in case you’re oven bakes things super fast.

8. Leave to cool on the baking tray until the biscuits are cool.  Then gently transfer onto a wire rack to cool completely.  They’ll keep in an airtight container for at least 3 days.  They’ve never lasted past the 3 day mark with me and in my experience, they get a bit crumblier as each day passes.

Did my colleague who pushed for an eggless bake get one?  Oh yes.  She got a biscuit when I handed them out on the last day of term.  Then she cheekily reached out and took another.

The alternative bake: wholemeal chocolate thins without sea salt
The alternative bake: wholemeal chocolate thins without sea salt

When Han–Na baked Chocolate Macarons (with a SPLASH of Baileys)

Item no. 25 on my 30 for 30 list is: bake macarons.

(That’s not a typo, by the way. Remember the song: “You say eether, and I say eyether.” Well, “You say macaroons, and I say macarons...” I’ve taken to saying macarons to describe these delightful creations because whenever I called them macaroons, people automatically assumed that I meant coconut macaroons.)

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not many photos (yet!) of these chocolate macarons. I was too busy focussing on getting them right.

Anyway, back to the subject of macaron baking. These chocolate baileys macarons were the first batch of successful macarons that I baked and I was so pleased with myself. You see, I decided to bake macarons as a birthday cake of sorts for Sarah (of the White Chocolate, Rosewater and Cardamon cake episode) because she likes things that are a bit different. However, I had a disastrous first attempt making white chocolate and raspberry macarons from the Pink Whisk because I over-folded the mixture. Thus, when I added the bright pink mixture into the piping bag, it all ran out of the piping nozzle… and there was no stopping it. What. A. Fail. The sides of my mouth dropped a few centimetres as I scrapped the pink batter into the bin, and my bottom lip came out a bit. No joke.

Well, on the plus side, at least I know what over-folded mixture feels like. However, that’s not much of a consolation prize when the clock is ticking.

The following day (which was the day I needed to present them), I decided to try another macaron recipe. I was still feeling somewhat deflated by the previous evening’s disastrous attempt so decided to skip the grinding together of the almonds and sugar. That’s why the macaron shells look rather rough and grainy, rather than smooth, on the photos. (I have done this for all subsequent macaron baking.) I was understandably slightly cautious when folding in the almonds and icing sugar into the eggwhites. I halted all folding action the second the batter slid slowly off my spoon in a somewhat ribbony fashion. No river of sugary, chocolatey, almond goo fell out of the piping nozzle this time. Success!

They (I don’t know who precisely ‘they’ are) say that chocolate macarons are harder to make than normal ones because the cocoa powder drys them out. So maybe I lucked out with this. But I’ll always remember them as the first batch of macarons that I baked successfully.

Ingredients for the chocolate macaron shells from Green and Blacks: Chocolate Recipes

  • 125g/4½oz ground almonds
  • 25g/1oz cocoa powder
  • 250g/9oz icing sugar (225g in with the almonds + 25g with the egg whites)
  • 100g egg whites, which is between 3-4 large egg whites
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/gas mark 9 and line 3 baking sheets with non stick baking liners, such as Bake-O-Glide. Fit a large piping bag with a 1cm plain circle nozzle. Twist the piping bag and push the twist into the nozzle so that the mixture doesn’t spill out of the nozzle. Stand it in a large receptacle, such as a pint glass.

2. Measure out the icing sugar and ground almonds. Put them into a food processor to grind down to an even finer mixture. I use my Bamix Dry Grinder and have to do it in 3 batches. When you’re finished add in the cocoa powder then sift the almond, sugar, cocoa powder mixture and leave out the residue of ground almonds that weren’t ground fine enough. (I always find that there can be up to a tablespoon of ground almonds leftover.) Then leave the sifted powders to one side.

3. Measure out the eggwhites and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until they are thick and glossy. (I sound like I’m describing hair for a shampoo advert!)

4. Use a spatula to gently fold in the almond, icing sugar and cocoa into the egg whites in a figure of eight. It will feel really dry at first and you’ll wonder whether it’ll ever come together, but don’t worry. It will. It’s important not to over-mix (see above) so stop when you feel like the mixture is dropping off the spatula in a thick ribbon. This is the tricky part to get right and it even has a name – macaronage.

5. Pour or use the spatula to spoon the mixture into the prepared piping bag. Once it’s full, gently untwist the piping bag and begin piping the mixture onto the baking sheets. With the nozzle perpendicular to the baking sheet, squeeze out the mixture until it forms the circular size you’re after. Firmly flick up your nozzle and move onto the next one. Leave 2cm of space between each circle, in case the macaron mixture spreads a bit.

6. Next, here’s the noisy part. In order to remove spare air in the macarons, bang the baking trays firmly on a flat surface. Let them rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour for a film to form on the macarons. They’re ready when you can lightly press your finger on the wet macaron circles and your finger comes away clean. This is also a good time to press down any remaining peaks on your macarons. Something that I clearly forgot to do with the one in the top photo.

7. Put the baking trays in the oven to cook at 240°C/475°F/gas mark 9 for 1 minute, and then reduce the temperature to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and bake the shells for another 10-12 minutes. The shells should still be soft to touch but not gooey.

8. Let them rest for a minute on the baking trays and then remove them gently from the baking sheets to cool on a wire rack.

Ingredients for the chocolate baileys ganache filling

  • 100g double cream
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 2 tbsp baileys or an irish cream liquor substitute (or more splashes of baileys if you prefer)

Method

1. Break up the chocolate and put it into a heat proof bowl.

2. In a small pan, bring to boil the double cream and then pour the double cream on top of the chocolate. Leave for 2-3 minutes so that the chocolate starts melting of it’s own accord.

3. Gently stir the cream into melting chocolate to encourage the remainder of the chocolate to melt away. Add in the baileys for flavour.

4. Let it cool completely and put it into the fridge to harden for at least an hour, or preferably overnight.

To assemble the macarons:

1. Lay out the macarons so that the flat side is looking at you, and pair up similar sizes – you can tell that I’m a novice macaron baker.

2. When the ganache is ready, you can spoon the ganache onto the shells using a teaspoon, or better still, transfer the ganache into a piping bag, fitted with a 1cm nozzle, and pipe the chocolate ganache onto half of the shells. Sandwich them together with the other half of the shells.

3. Ta DA!

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How does the story end with Sarah’s birthday treat? Is it happily ever after? Oh no – my list of things that went wrong in baking macarons didn’t stop there. Once I’d arranged the macarons and the candles on the plate, I decided to hide them in the bottom oven. And then I used the top oven to warm the bread. You already know how this story ends, right? Yup, you’ve guessed it – when I took the plate out to surprise Sarah, virtually all the candles had bent over like the tops of walking sticks. Only three of them had survived the oven. We were all amused!

Oh and the verdict on the macarons? Tasty, of course. Sarah was really pleased with the alternative birthday ‘cake’. Now, if you were patient enough to eat one 3 days later – heavenly! The flavours had matured and melded together. Elegantly scrum!

Figgy, Lemon Shortbread (and my longing for the summer to begin)


figgy lemon shortbread 1

I am ready for the summer to begin… or at least the spring! What’s with the hail and icy winds in Coventry… in May?!? Waaah! Where’s the sun?

So here I’ve baked a little something to try and remind myself of the summer: figgy, lemon shortbread.

Figs and lemons remind me of the mediterranean and the sun. I ate an abundance of both when I was in Turkey. It must have been the right season or something. And last summer, my friends and I picked sun-ripened figs on the sea-side town of Baynuls-sur-Mer, and snacked on the delicious fruits the entire week that we were there. To be honest, I think that Jenny tired of them towards the end, but Sarah and I couldn’t get enough of them. Unless you grow the figs yourself, I’ve yet to buy fresh figs in the UK that taste remotely like the sun-ripened variety.

figs in baynulsfigs in baynuls 1

There’s a couple of lemon and fig cookie recipes out there, but I’ve yet to come across any recipes that combine the two together in a shortbread. When I was thinking up with this recipe, I toyed with the idea of adding another flavour to it, like cardoman or black pepper. I didn’t add any this time round, but I rather like the idea of experimenting with some finely-chopped fresh rosemary or dried lavender. Having baked and tested them out on my students and colleagues, I think that the two flavours work rather well together in a shortbread. The flavours aren’t overpowering and the end result is a bit more of a delicate, crumble/melt-in-your-mouth experience. It’s really interesting asking my colleagues for their feedback on what flavour hits them first, the lemon or the fig. The consensus is that it’s a rather subjective experience.

So, let’s get on with this recipe. It’s a really easy one to make. Two things to prep the night before. 1. Take out the butter so that it’s soft. 2. Put the figs in a bowl and cover with some water so that they’re plumped up. I adapted Fiona’s shortbread recipe, to come up with my own figgy, lemon shortbread. This time I substituted some of the cornflour for semolina. I was improvising, to be honest, because I ran out of cornflour in the middle of measuring out the ingredients. But why semolina? A friend of mine had mentioned the use of semolina in a shortbread before, so it wasn’t an entirely new idea. I thought that it would add a bit of bite and crunch to the shortbread and I think, I think, I think that it does. Give it a go and tell me what you think.

Top tip: When it comes to making shortbread, use real butter and always take it out the fridge the night before to soften. If you try and cheat to soften the butter by zapping it in the microwave and causing it to melt, you’ll affect the baking process. The end result is a biscuit that splays out all over the place when it’s baking in the oven giving it a harder, brittle texture.

Ingredients for my Figgy, Lemon Shortbread. I used 5cm cutters and produced about 55 pieces of shortbread.

  • 250g salted butter, softened and cubed
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • 100-115g chopped dried figs
  • 250g plain flour
  • 75g cornflour
  • 50g fine semolina (if you don’t have semolina then use cornflour, so in total you’re using 125g cornflour)

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/340°F/ gas mark 3. Line a few metal baking sheet with baking paper. Put the dried figs in a bowl and cover them with boiling water for at least 15 minutes to plump them up. I left them overnight and then chopped them up really finely with my pampered chef food chopper. I think that you could experiment with how finely (or not) you’d like your figs to be.

2. In a big bowl, cream together the sugar and the butter, then add the lemon zest. Finally add in the chopped, dried figs. I use an electric mixer, but if you don’t have one, then beat it together with a wooden spoon.

figgy lemon shortbread 2figgy lemon shortbread 3

3. Measure out the flour, cornflour and semolina in another bowl. Then sift the dry ingredients into the sugar and butter in 4 batches. I add it in batches to make sure that the flour doesn’t fly out the bowl. Combine well until it’s a sticky mixture.

4. At this point, it’s best to flour your hands before gently kneading the mixture until it is combined into a smooth texture. I forgot this bit and ended up with sticky fingers. It’s important not to overwork the mixture because it will make it a tougher, less crumbly biscuit. Once it has reached that just smooth texture, then wrap it up in a piece of clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This will make it easier to roll out later.

5. Roll out the shortbread mixture on a floured worktop so that it’s about 0.5-1cm thick. I like to use a glass chopping board and have a large piece of clingfilm between my rolling pin and the mixture. I think that it makes it an altogether cleaner operation. No bits of dough sticking to the rolling pin, and less flour flying everywhere.

6. I then used 5cm round and daisy-shaped cutters to create my cookies. Maximise the space on the dough. Roll up what’s left and start again. I may be wrong, but I found that the biscuit is a bit tougher when I roll out the dough a second and third time. I don’t know whether it’s because I’ve baked them in the oven for a bit longer accidentally or what… so I’ll keep comparing.

One of my colleagues asked me to bake a larger piece of shortbread next time… like you get on the pettitcoat tails. I’ll try another time and let you know how that turns out.

shortbread doughflower shortbreadfiggy lemon shortbread 3

7. Place them on sheets of greaseproof or baking paper and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, turning them round half-way through baking. They will be a light golden colour when they’re done, like the colour of golden caster sugar, rather than a darker brown, like the colour of demerara sugar. Take them out the oven and immediately sprinke some granulated or demerara sugar on them. Leave them to cool for a few minutes on the tray before transferring the shortbread onto a wire rack to cool completely. Put them in an airtight container and they’ll probably last 3-4 days. Monica assures me that they’ll keep for a month.

These ones that I baked have pretty much all gone within 24 hours. I took some freshly baked shortbread to my students to test it out on their discerning tastebuds. I don’t know whether they were just being nice, but here are their thoughts on the recipe:

“Perfect!”

“It’s like shortbread.” (10/10!)

“I wouldn’t change a thing.”

“They just melt in your mouth.”

“Maybe a bit more lemon and fig, but I like my biscuits to be really fruity.” – if you think that this would be you, then add a bit more lemon zest and try chopping the figs into bigger chunks to see whether that helps.

I await to hear your verdict.

figgy lemon shortbread 4

Fiona Cairn’s Shortbread

FionaCairnsShortbread

Have I told you before that I grew up in Scotland? Now that you know, then you’ll understand why baking the most delicious shortbread is on my list of baking to-dos. That taste and sensation of buttery biscuit crumbling in your mouth is, when you get it right, eye-poppingly delicious! Yet, it only made its appearance on my list very recently. As the name suggests, there’s a lot fat that goes into it (shortening, in its most generic sense, is any fat that is solid at room temperature) and that kinda put me off. However, I think that began to change when, firstly I tasted THE best shortbread ever two years ago and didn’t want to eat any other lesser tasting brand. Then I finally happened across a pretty convincing shortbread recipe in Fiona Cairn’s book.

The best shortbread, the one that changed things, is Duncan’s shortbread. (Incidentally they’re made in Deeside, Aberdeenshire, which is near the area where I grew up.) They are pretty much the perfect shortbread for me: crumbly and indulgent. However, they are pretty hard to track down in the supermarkets south of the border. So, when you’re next in Scotland, I’d recommend visiting any Morrisson’s supermarket and buying a packet so that you can delight in them too.

While I’m rating shop-bought shortbread, I’d recommend Dean’s shortbread too. They’re more widely available and were my favourite before I had a taste of Duncan’s. And how about Walkers shortbread? Everyone has tasted Walkers shortbread right? They’re everywhere with their tartan branding. I grew up eating them and asked my mum to bring to the US so that I could nibble on them whenever I wanted a taste of home. A classic but I find that they are too dense and aren’t crumbly enough.

I do try different brands but Duncan’s is the benchmark. If they don’t come close, then I don’t thing that they’re worth eating: shortbread is pretty calorific. So, I admit. I’ve become a bit of a shortbread snob. Now that I check out the ingredients list on the back of the packet to hunt down the perfect recipe, perhaps, we should modify that to ‘shortbread-snob-on-the-hunt-for-the-perfect-homemade-shortbread-recipe’. I’ve already tried searching for the Duncan’s recipe but it is a closely guarded family secret. It says so on their website. What I do find really interesting about Duncan’s is that they don’t use butter!! No, siree, on the backs of their packets, they list blended pure vegetable fat as their fat ingredient. Well, maybe they’re onto something since shortening is associated more with vegetable or animal fat, rather than butter.

But this blog post is about when I baked Fiona Cairn’s shortbread recipe and I have to say,

It trumps all the shop bought varieties.

My sister paid me the biggest compliment when she said that my shortbread was better than Duncan’s. (I asked her and her husband to do a taste test.)

This is such a fantastic recipe. I haven’t modified anything because it is, well, perfect just as it is. The only thing that I did was to halve the recipe because it looked like it was going to make an awfully big batch of shortbread, and I didn’t have enough freezer space…

Top Tip: use your favourite-tasting, best-est quality butter because the taste varies on the quality of the butter. Oh, and bake on baking paper, so that the baked shortbreads are easier to take off the baking tray.

Fiona Cairn’s Shortbread, from Fiona’s cookbook, Bake and Decorate, as baked by moi.

Ingredients

  • 250g salted butter, softened and cubed.
  • 100g golden caster sugar, plus some more for sprinkling post-baking
  • 250g of plain flour
  • 125g of cornflour or rice flour*

*Fiona included this gem of a detail that you could use either rice flour or cornflour, which gave it a crumbly texture, and her scottish grandmotherused rice flour. But do you know, cornflour is used in Duncan’s secret recipe, so no guesses for which one I opted for.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/340°F/ gas mark 3. Line a metal baking sheet with baking paper. I’m a BIG fan of pampered chef stoneware and normally use stoneware in baking. However, my friend, who has had some experience with baking shortbread, assures me that they taste better when baked on metal, rather than stone.

2. Cream together the butter and the sugar together first. You’ll get there fastest is if you use an electric whisk or mixer.

3. Then sift in the flour and cornflour and mix into the butter and sugar. I’d add the flours in three batches to stop the flour flying out of the bowl. Combine well until you get a sticky mixture.

4. Flour your hands so that the mixture doesn’t stick to your hands for this next step. In the mixing bowl, gently knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until it is smooth. (Fiona says ‘do not over-work’ – that doesn’t mean much for a non-experienced dough kneader such as I? So this was my guess).

shortbread_dough

5. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and pop it into the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This will make the dough easier to roll out.

6. I floured a glass cutting board, but you can use any floured board, to roll out the dough evenly with a rolling pin. You want to aim for about 5-7mm thickness.

rolling out shortbreadcutting shortbreadcutting shortbread

I quite like my method of rolling this kind of dough out with a piece of baking paper or clingfilm between the rolling pin and the dough. I find it’s cleaner this way and somehow, the dough mixture rolls out smoother and doesn’t stick to the rolling pin.

7. Cut out, roll out, repeat until you’ve used up all the mixture. I deliberately bought some really cute small-mini cutters to make this shortbread. Funnily, I just felt that I couldn’t make them until I had bought these cutters!

8. So, perhaps there are too many to bake in one go? No problemo – freeze them. Fiona recommends that you freeze them unbaked, so that you have a ready batch of these to bake whenever you want or need them. They just need to be defrosted for an hour before baking. Then, she includes this tip:

lay the biscuits between sheets of baking parchment in a freezer container.

which is absolute genius! So, you arrange the shortbread on a piece of baking paper and place it gently to fit the container, then you add the next layer of baking paper with the shortbread etc. This means that when you come to take them out to defrost, they are 1. easy to get out and 2. ready for you to put them on the baking tray for you to bake. Just remember to let them defrost for an hour…

storing raw shortbreadshortbread hearts

9. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar, then let them cool for 10 minutes.

Tada! Careful you don’t demolish them all in one sitting.

You already know what my sister thinks of this recipe. I’ve also baked these as a birthday present for my friend Helen and for the Welcome Team at church, as a treat for visitors. They loved them. Blimey, if the rest of Fiona’s recipes are as good as this one, then we are in for a treat.

fiona cairns shortbread