While I love baking, there are definitely qualifications I have to make to that statement. I wouldn't consider myself an all-round baking lover. There are some things I just don't have time for in the kitchen. One: any form of fussy dairy-based confection, like a mousse, bavarois, parfait (the exception being ice cream, which I love to make). Two: most things involving chocolate, like ganache or tempering - I don't have the patience and I don't like chocolate enough to make it worthwhile. Three: making things like puff pastry from scratch. Four: individual things in moulds that have to set. Five: sugarwork - fancy caramels or spun sugar. These things just don't appeal to me in the same way that making a beautiful big cake does, or a rustic crumble or pudding.
Until yesterday, I would extend that qualification to biscuits too.
I used to love baking biscuits as a child. Specifically, one type of biscuit, which I believe used to be termed an 'Aztec biscuit' in our family. A quick google of the term, however, turns up something totally different to the biscuit I am thinking of. These were a bit like flapjacks in circular form: a heady mixture of butter, oats and golden syrup, studded with raisins and baked until they spread out deliciously in a kind of brandy snap pattern. I would eat them hot from the oven while they were still gloriously pliable, draping gently over each other on the cooling rack, their bumpy surface glistening invitingly.
I'm pretty sure I used to eat about ten in a single go as a child. Sometimes I want to go back in time, find my seven year-old self and shake her by the shoulders, crying 'DON'T YOU KNOW HOW LUCKY YOU ARE TO BE COMPLETELY IGNORANT OF THE ENTIRE CONCEPT OF CALORIES?'
Neurotic waistline issues aside, I just don't eat very many biscuits these days. I have a total weakness for Hobnobs and Digestives, but I'm generally pretty good with willpower at not letting myself near these things. The simple reason being I know I won't stop; they're just too addictive and I will eat half a packet and then hate myself and want to curl up into a small ball, weeping with frantic abandon and clawing at my midriff.
Perhaps it's for this reason that I haven't baked biscuits in years, or perhaps it's just because I would often much rather bake a cake. I feel like you get more reward from a cake; it's more squidgy, moist, gooey, buttery. Biscuits often seem unnecessarily fiddly. I never seem to get the proportions right, and they either spread out and conjoin like some massive alien amoeba or are so small that they dry out before they're cooked.
Except for these ones, where you basically throw some things (okay, mostly butter) into a mixer, beat it up for a little while, roll it into two logs, chill and then slice when ready to bake. They're probably the easiest biscuits in the world, and are one of those great recipes where the effort to reward ratio is vastly skewed in favour of the latter. Plus they don't spread out much during cooking, so there's no risk of making one giant, tentacled shortbread monster.
I was inspired to make these by the acquisition of an exciting new ingredient from JustIngredients: orange peel powder. This is, as you'd imagine, dried orange peel that has been ground to a pretty sandy-coloured powder. It has a deep musky aroma reminiscent of potpourri, much more savoury and earthy than the fresh snap of grated orange zest. I've never come across such a thing before, and have already written an exciting little spider diagram in my recipe notebook of all my ideas for it. (I'm not painting the best picture of myself in this post, am I?)
However, for some reason, my mind immediately landed on shortbread. The inclusion of citrus aromas in shortbread is a wonderful thing - that melt-in-the-mouth buttery texture with the perfume of lemon or orange is a fabulous combination. I also decided to add some cardamom, because recent kitchen experimentation (such as this treacle tart) inspired by my travels in the middle east has led me to believe that anything sweet is hugely benefited from the addition of a few ground cardamom pods.
These shortbread biscuits are gorgeous. They have the most wonderful light, almost powdery texture, turning to buttery deliciousness as soon as you take a bite. There's a subtle perfume of cardamom and an earthy orange flavour, but neither is too overpowering: this is still shortbread, at its core. They're incredibly easy to make, and there's something deeply satisfying about slicing a chilled log of golden dough into pieces that will soon become crunchy buttery morsels of joy. An added bonus is that you can keep the dough in the fridge or freezer until you need it, then just slice and bake - almost instant home-made shortbread, for when you want to impress people (and I feel we should try and impress people in life more often).
Unfortunately, they're possibly even more moreish than Aztec biscuits, and the recipe makes about fifty. You have been warned.
Orange and cardamom shortbread biscuits (makes around 50):
250g butter, at room temperature
100g caster sugar
7 cardamom pods, husks removed and seeds ground to a powder
2 tsp orange peel powder, plus more for sprinkling (or zest of 1 orange)
250g plain flour, sifted
130g cornflour, sifted
Using an electric mixer or hand whisk (or a wooden spoon and some serious muscle!) beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cardamom and orange peel powder/zest. Gradually add the flours, mixing between each addition, until you have a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead until it just comes together.
Divide the dough into two pieces. Roll each into a log shape, about 1.5-2 inches in diameter. Wrap these in clingfilm and chill for at least half an hour in the fridge.
When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 160C. Slice the logs of dough into circles about 5mm wide, then arrange these on a baking sheet lined with non-stick parchment. Sprinkle a little orange peel powder over each one (skip this part if you used zest), then bake for 15-25 minutes until they have just turned golden (watch them closely - they can go from raw to burnt very quickly).
Remove, leave to cool, then eat.