And so, this is the week before Christmas. How on earth did it come around so fast? I’m in a state of shock, most likely because I’m flying to Italy on Saturday, and haven’t packed or prepared a single thing yet (there’s Friday night for that, right?). Earlier today, the realisation that I still haven’t eaten a single mince pie this year also gave me the chills. That’s silly, and I can only blame myself for having left it this late, as there sure as hell are no mince pies for me back home (unless I bring some with me; now that’s a good shout).
What I have eaten is biscuits. Plenty of biscuits. If you’ve happened to read my blog this time of the year before, you might know where this is going, and the words Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap will make sense to you. If they don’t, I urge you to do some research: we’re talking the more sugary and fulfilling version of your average Secret Santa, with parcels of biscuits being shipped all over the country throughout November and the beginning of December.
A lot of bakers see the Cookie Swap as the cue to start testing Christmas-themed recipes; I take it as an opportunity to get better at making biscuits, which have never been my forte, and looking for new flavour combinations I like. The one I found this year was a case of love at first sight: as I flicked through the pages of the Hummingbird Bakery’s Home Sweet Home cookbook, and saw a recipe for biscuit batter made with ricotta cheese, I knew I’d met my match. I’d have loved to try the original recipe, flavoured with lemon, but the mere thought caused a stir in my living room.
– Boyfriend: I don’t like lemon-flavoured biscuits, can you make them with something else?
– Me: Wait a sec, you don’t have a say in this – they’re not for you!
Of course they were; I always make an extra share for us to keep. And so I replaced lemon with almond, and learnt some interesting things along the way. First off, that it might take a fair bit of lemon zest to make a tangy cookie, but it only takes a few drops of almond extract to create a rich, bold flavour. The first batch was the one we kept for ourselves, and affectionately dubbed “beta-biscuits” (does anything such as a biscuit beta-tester exist, and if so, how do I get that job?). I got size and texture right straight away, although the glaze, which I made with one spoonful almond extract too many, overpowered everything else.
I think I reached my ideal balance with the biscuits I sent to Becca, Marsha and Karen: both the biscuit itself and the icing have the right amount of flavouring, and you can enjoy both the buttery notes in the former and the sweetness of the latter. Here’s my recipe; give it a try, and let me know how you like it.
Soft ricotta cookies with almond icing
(makes 36 medium-sized cookies)
For the cookies:
- 210g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 60g butter
- 200g caster sugar
- 1 egg
- 100g ricotta cheese
- 1 1/2 tbsp almond flavouring
For the icing:
- 50g icing sugar
- 1 – 1 1/2 tsp almond flavouring
- 1/4 glass cold water
Recipe (adapted from the Hummingbird Bakery’s Lemon and Ricotta Cookies)
Make the cookies:
- Place the sugar and butter in a large bowl; cream them with a handheld whisk or electric mixer until light and fluffy.
- Add the egg and mix well.
- Add the ricotta and almond flavouring, and mix until combined.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate container. Gradually add them to the bowl with the wet ingredients, and mix until combined.
- Pre-heat the oven to 170°. While it heats up, line a baking tray with greaseproof paper or a silicone baking sheet, and spoon the dough onto the tray (half a tablespoon / one level tablespoon of dough per cookie). Leave some space between each cookie, as the dough will flatten while baking.
- Bake your biscuits for around 15 minutes, or until golden brown in colour. Set them aside to cool down completely once you’ve taken them out of the oven.
Baker’s tip: Don’t risk putting in more than one tray at the same time if your oven is anything other than flawless. I baked my cookies in three separate batches of 12, to make sure my oven baked both the tops and the bottoms evenly.
Make the icing:
- Pour the icing sugar in a small, deep bowl; spoon in the almond flavouring, then gradually add water, and stir until you obtain a smooth mixture.
Baker’s tip: add the water in very little quantities: the difference between a thick yet workable icing and a liquid glaze that gets soaked up by the biscuits is a matter of a few drops.
- Grab a biscuit, turn it upside down, and dunk the top in the bowl with the icing. Alternatively, you can spread the icing on top of each biscuit with a teaspoon.
- Once glazed, place the biscuits back on the tray, and leave them aside until the icing is completely set.
Baker’s tip: leave the glaze to set overnight. It will look ready much sooner than it is, and if you store your cookies away too soon, it will come away very easily (especially if you put the biscuits in a box, layered on top of each other). Try tapping on the icing with the point of your finger: if it gives in to your touch, it’s a good clue that it needs more rest.
- Store the biscuits in an airtight container, where they will keep well for up to a week…or have them straight away, they pair very well with a cup of coffee.
Wait, there’s more!
A round of special thanks goes to the three blogging bakers who sent me their dozen of cookies this year.
Victoria sent me Rosemary Brown Butter Dark Chocolate Cookies with Smoked Salt. First of all, I’m a fan of Victoria’s recipes: her blog is one of the very first I hit “Follow” on. Secondly, but no less importantly, I have a thing for sweet recipes perked up with sea salt – and so her parcel put a big, ear-to-ear smile on my face. Or, more aptly, the three days in a row I’ve spent munching on her cookies. My only regret is I devoured my share far too quickly…
Claire sent me Cranberry, Almond, Caramac and Christmas Spice cookies. I’ll make a confession: I had no idea what Caramac was, until I looked it up after receiving Claire’s package. Google tells me it’s a caramel-flavoured chocolate bar; talk about learning something new every day. Well, now I know – and I also know it works a treat in cookies.
Gill sent me Pecan and Toffee Thumbprint Cookies. Two funny coincidences here: I sent a batch of biscotti to Gill on my very first Cookie Swap, and her recipe for this year is, too, taken from Home Sweet Home. That cookbook’s a chest of wonders – so much so, that I bought it as my Secret Santa gift for a baking mad colleague. I know Gill’s biscuits will be my next experiment from it; they sound wondrously simple to do, and I need a larger supply of them in my life.