Kitchen Project #49: Christmas biscuit bonanza
Are you ready to get your bake on?
Welcome to today’s edition of Kitchen Projects. Thank you for being here!
I am SO thrilled about today’s edition because it’s all about one of my fave subjects ever: BISCUITS. And not just any biscuits, it’s a bumper Christmas biscuit selection edition, perfect for home made gifts. In todays newsletter, we’ll be deep diving three from the selection. The rest I’m sharing over on KP+ - click here to read!
I launched KP+, the paid version of the newsletter earlier this year.Subscribing to KP+ costs just £5 and you get loads of extra content + get to support the newsletter so click here to check it out:
OKAY, let’s do it.
Lots of love,
PS. Here’s last year’s florentine playlist for some CHOICE christmas tunes
Biscuits are for life. Not just for Christmas
(Disclaimer: These ones actually are for Christmas)
There aren’t many things I love more in this world than biscuits. I come from a long line of biscuit lovers. The Lamb Family - we are biscuit people. There was always a tin filled with every sort, but especially chocolatey and caramel ones, along with the classics (custard creams etc.). My after school snack, when it was up to me, was usually a glass of milk and 3-6 assorted digestive biscuits. My Dad is currently going through what any sane person would describe as a full blown addiction to the whole Bonne Mamman range. My sisters and I feel personally victimised if we come home and there isn’t choc leibniz in the biscuit cupboard. At Christmas, we eat at least three or four of the M&S selection (a classic).
My love for biscuits is genetic. So, when I decided to embark on making my own biscuit selection, it had to be good. Compared to some countries, Christmas biscuits in the UK don’t tend to be delicately decorated or even tarted up for Christmas much at all. In fact, I’ve noticed that biscuit selections don’t actually change their insides much for Christmas - the packaging just gets some kind of Christmas graphic added.
But marketing ploys aside, the perfect Christmas (or any time of the year) selection comes with a few pre-requisites: The selection needs to be outstanding on their own but work within a team, be a variety of shapes, there needs to be at least one crunchy one, a range of flavours to suit everyone, at least one pretty one and several properly chocolate ones.
So, I scribbled down about 30 biscuit flavour ideas and whittled them down and ended up with a list that ended up being inspired by some of the most important women in my life. Biscuits are my love language, afterall. So, here’s the line up:
From L-R, top to bottom
Brown butter jammy viennese
Brown butter viennese
Double chocolate shortbread (recipe on KP+)
Plain vanilla shortbread (recipe on KP+)
Burnt sugar shortbread with crunchy burnt sugar chocolate coating (recipe on KP+)
Burnt sugar shortbread (recipe on KP+)
Vanilla shortbread with grapefruit glaze (recipe on KP+)
Ultimate ginger & oat biscuit, with optional chocolate (aka my “Gum” biscuit)
Mince pie biscotti (aka the “Elizabeth” biscuit) Recipe on KP+
Malted chocolate crinkle (aka the ‘Diane’ biscuit)
On the KP+ edition, I’ll also make a schedule in case you want to make all of these in one marathon bake!
A note on recipe development for this week
For some reason, I seem to always think that biscuit recipes are easy to create. Maybe it’s their small size, perhaps it’s their limited ingredients (butter, flour, sugar, maybe eggs, then some flare), but I’m always led into a false sense of security. The problem with a biscuit formulation is that there is nowhere to hide. Simplicity, as we often hear, is the most difficult. Baking sins can be easily found in biscuits - too soft? Too crunchy? Too spready? Too nothing-y? All is revealed.
Throughout this edition I’ll be sharing details on how you adapt each of the recipes for your own tastes. I cannot wait to see what you bake!
A note on quantities
All of todays biscuit recipes make between 15-30 biscuits per recipe. The reason there is such a range is because I wanted to keep all the biscuit recipes that use egg to use minimum 1 whole, as I HATE asking you guys to halve eggs etc. But if you want to reduce the batch size, you can whisk the egg up then scale it (25g for half an egg)
How to store
All of these biscuits have a long shelf life, at least 2 weeks - 1 month but you NEED to store them with respect. Proper airtight tins guys. Even if they are soft, they’ll still be nice but lets treat our biscuits like the MVPs that they are.
Alright let’s do it!
Brown butter viennese(s)
Piped biscuits are a whole category of lovely. I call them viennese biscuits but they are also known as spritz cookies (US) or pasta frolla (Italy). Piped biscuits need to do a few things - firstly, be delicious, secondly they can’t spread too much when baking and thirdly, the dough needs to be soft enough to be pipeable. Unfortunately, points one and two are kind of mutually exclusive. When it comes to flavouring your biscuits, butter is the MVP. But butter - it melts and spreads. So, limiting the overall proportion of butter without losing flavour or texture is KEY.
My first job was to get the recipe dialled in. Because the aim was to create a biscuit that didn’t spread, I took a classic ‘sugar cookie’ recipe - you know, the kind that doesn’t spread and is best used for intricate cut-out shapes. Let’s compare the two:
The major differences are in sugar and egg, but let’s go through them. The higher proportion of egg - which adds moisture and flavour and leads to the melt in the mouth texture. The proteins present in the egg also coagulate which helps give our biscuits a defined shape. The proportion of the fat is a bit lower, but not significantly. The sugar is much lower in the piped cookie - this will result in a less sweet, more butter forward flavour, but it also results in a less crisp, but more buttery texture.
So, what do you do when you can’t use as much butter as you’d like? UP THE OG FLAVOUR. Enter: brown butter. Although this was a simple enough solution, I forgot one of the cardinal rules: Moisture replacement. And due to the proportionally higher percentage of fat, the biscuits spread. A lot. They were gorgeous, but a bit too fat for my liking.
As you guys know, butter is approx 82-84% fat, 1-2% milk solids and the rest is water. Although for recipes like frangipane, the moisture isn’t so important. But for something as simple as biscuits, every percent counts. So, for this formulation we’ll be replacing the moisture with milk.
This recipe also contains baking powder. As we’ve discussed before, baking powder is not necessarily for making things rise - a small quantity simply helps lighten the texture as the chemical reaction of the raising agents aerates the biscuit from within.
As well as this, the Depth/Height that you pipe the biscuit will affect how much it spreads. I use a 1.5cm tip which spread to about 2cm. If you want a really defined biscuit, use a small (<1cm) piping tip and pipe ‘W’ shapes or wiggles. As the batter isn’t as ‘deep’, it won’t spread as much in the oven leading to very sharp looking biscuits. This dough also makes fantastic thumbprint-esque jammy viennese, too.
Tips for success:
Be aggressive when you brown the butter - this is the predominant flavour of the biscuits
Use this dough right away - it doesn’t hold well
Use the whisk attachment to get the best texture and prevent curdling when you add the egg (I didn’t the first time I made these and that was a mistake!)
Super easy adaption ideas that won’t affect the formula too much
Play around with the piping/shaping/piping nozzles
Add vanilla or fruit zests into the dough
Mess around with the flour - wholemeal could be good here
Change up the jam flavour for the jammy viennese, or to be really Christmassy, pop a spoon of fruit mincemeat in there
Dip ends in white or dark chocolate and sprinkle with a different combo of nuts or freeze dried fruit
Makes around 20 x biscuits
125g brown butter, fully set (method here)
75g icing sugar SIFTED
225g plain flour
2g baking powder
1g maldon salt
Chopped pistachios for decorating
Milk chocolate to dip
Jam for piping
Pre-heat oven to 180c fan
Cream brown butter, icing sugar and milk until VERY fluffy. You can use whisk or paddle. I think a whisk is easiest
Add egg and whip to emulsify
Whisk the plain flour with baking powder and salt
Mix the flour into the butter/egg mixture in three additions. You can do this by hand or with a paddle
Transfer mix into piping bag with a 1.5cm star tip
Pipe 5-6cm lines for plain viennese
For jammy, pipe 4cm circles then a small amount of dough in the middle. With a wet finger, smoosh dough in the middle and spoon in a little jam (max 1 teaspoon)
Bake for 14-15 mins until golden
Leave to cool
Melt chocolate - temper it if you can be bothered! - and dip one end then sprinkle with chopped pistachios
Ultimate ginger oat biscuit aka my Gum biscuit
I have a soft spot for oaty biscuits. They always seem to deliver. For this selection, I also wanted to include a biscuit to represent Gum, my grandma, who has sadly passed. Gum, passionate about many things in life, was seriously dedicated to ginger. Every Christmas, I’d go in search of something - anything - with ginger in it to give. Usually it was a crystallised ginger and dark chocolate combination - those were always a winner. Enter: This super spicy, oaty biscuit of joy.
To get this recipe, I started by adapting my 3pm oat biscuit. The 3pm biscuits are pretty buttery and tender, melt in the mouth style, but for these I wanted something more toothsome and packed full of ginger. So, to get to land on the bite I was after, I knew I had to increase one thing by a LOT: Sugar.
Sugar, as it cools, returns to its crystallised structure resulting in a crisp biscuit. Obviously you need to bake it long enough, too, if it’s snap you’re after. Instead of just adding more crystallised sugar, I took inspiration from crunchy anzac biscuits which have a much higher proportion of sugar and also use golden syrup which, when baked. Also, golden syrup and ginger, it just WORKS, right?
To achieve the level of spicing, I’m using crystallised ginger and ground ginger. I originally thought I’d use fresh, but the effort it took to grate it was not worth it in the end. Because ground ginger is so strong, you need a LOT of fresh ginger in these biscuits to make it worth while, which then can throw off the formulation. So, ground it is! These biscuits are PUNCHY.
Tips for success:
If the dough is hard to work with, leave it to chill for a moment so the butter re-solidifies so you can get neater shapes
Super easy adaption ideas that won’t affect the formula too much
If you want BIG ginger cookies, go for it! 25g works for the small biscuits, but this recipe works at any size
You could mix chocolate chips into the dough rather than dipping afterwards
For a chewy biscuit, bake for less time (12-13 mins). For a crunchy cookie, bake for longer (18-20 mins). You are the master of your own biscuit destiny!
Zest orange into your chocolate before dipping for extra orange/choc energy!
Makes 20 x small-ish biscuits
50g golden syrup
2g bicarbonate of soda (about ½ tsp)
75g light brown sugar
110g plain flour
1g maldon salt
6g (about 2 tsp) ground ginger
80g crystallised ginger, chopped up
1 orange zested
100g dark chocolate, melted
Pre-heat oven to 170c fan
Mix together chopped crystallised ginger, plain flour, light brown sugar, oats, salt and ground ginger
Melt butter with orange zest and golden syrup in a pan. Whisk in the bicarb. It might go frothy. This is fine!
Mix the butter mixture with the dries to form a dough
Divide into 20-25g balls and place on a baking sheet
Bake for 15 mins for a crisp edge, slightly chewy biscuit (my fave), or 20 mins for a fully crisp biscuit
Leave to cool
Temper your dark chocolate (if you can be bothered, here’s a useful guide or I wrote my own guide in the miso buttercrunch recipe) then dip the bases and leave to cool completely
Malted chocolate crinkle aka ‘Diane’ cookie
Christmas cookies are a big thing in America but speaking generally, the recipes tend to showcase bright colours and decoration. So if you’re looking for a perfect sugar cookie with gorgeous icing, I’d definitely look for a US site for guidance - Susan Spungen’s on the NY Times are some of my favourites. That being said, I'm taking inspiration from the US today. I have a UK/US household, which means my heart has been opened to US style cookies as of late. That means this selection includes (SHOCK HORROR) a decidedly soft biscuit. I know. I know. It’s a lot to take in.
Today’s decidedly soft biscuit is based on a recipe generously shared with me by my boyfriend’s Mum, Diane, who grew up and still lives in the Midwest. Unlike a lot of crinkle style cookies which only have cocoa powder, Diane’s recipe used melted chocolate. If you know me, you know I take umbrage with baked goods that claim to be ‘chocolate’ when they only have cocoa powder in the recipe. The result is a deeply chocolatey, brownie-esque melty cookie. Yes, we’ll also use cocoa powder for deep and earthy flavour undertones, but these are assertively chocolatey.
Although I use a small proportion of flour in my recipe, you could use a GF flour mix here and still get great results.
Because there is a lot of sugar in this recipe, inc the fact it is ROLLED in (twice) sugar before baking, I used a really dark chocolate for the base.
Tips for success
Chill dough properly but leave it for 10-15 mins at room temp before trying to shape or you will HURT YOUR HANDS. Owing to the high proportion of chocolate, this dough hardens a LOT in the fridge so it is a bit hard to work with
For very bright white crinkles, go hard on the icing sugar. You need a really thick layer that doesn’t melt in the oven for it to stay bright white. A thin layer will melt and go grey/yellow. It still looks good, but not as dramatic
Super easy adaption ideas that won’t affect the formula too much:
Nutty: Fold 20g-30g chopped nuts into the mix
Cacao-y: Fold 25g cacao nibs into the mix for extra deep chocolately crunch moments
Fruity: Zest 1 x orange
Mocha-y: Add a tsp of espresso powder
Minty: Add a tsp of peppermint oil
Makes around 25-30 x 25g cookies (You need to do half an egg if you want to make less)
10g cocoa powder
2g baking powder
1g maldon salt (a pinch)
100g dark chocolate (I used 100%!)
30g malt syrup
115g caster sugar
Granulated sugar for rolling
Icing sugar for rolling
Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt
Melt chocolate and butter together over a bain-marie
Once melted, whisk in the malt syrup caster sugar and egg
Finally, stir through all of the dries
Place in a low shallow container and cover. Leave in the fridge for 2 hours or up to three days
When you are ready to bake, pre-heat oven to 170c (fan) and remove your dough from the fridge
Leave on the counter for 15 mins to soften slightly otherwise its a pain to work with
Use a spoon/scoop to make 25g balls
Round the balls of dough in your hands - your hands are gonna get messy. No way around it
Drop into a container of granulated sugar and coat
Then coat (thickly) in icing sugar
Place on a baking tray and bake for 10 minutes, leave to cool completely
Want more biscuits? Check the rest of the recipes out on KP+!