Sometimes I just want a sweet treat. You know how it is, you eat your tea and it was nice, but for some reason you’re still hankerin’ for something and you can’t quite put your finger on what. It’s in these times of trouble that I’ve learnt to turn to the baking cupboard. Rustling something up off the cuff can be hard when it comes to baking, more often than not you need specialist flours, sugars or flavours. That’s why we all need one fail-safe option up our sleeves, something you know you’re always going to be able to make. This simple biscuit recipe is mine.
You don’t need nothing fancy, just butter, sugar, flour, vanilla and one egg yolk. Simple stuff, right? Buy one set of all these ingredients and they’ll last you a while (just remember to refresh your eggs!), they’ll work in loads of other recipes, and you won’t need to pop out to the shop when you fancy something sweet. The biscuits come out like shortbread, buttery and crumbly, and are the perfect base to add extras too. That half a lemon that’s shrivelling in your fridge door? Zest it! A 3/4 used block of cooking chocolate? Throw it in! Chopped nuts? Check! Dried fruit? Don’t mind if I do! You get the picture… it’s a yummy vehicle for more yumminess.
Don’t get me wrong, these guys are fine on their own, but I like a sandwich. Twice as nice, right? This time around I kept my biscuits plain and I chose another use for that half a lemon from the fridge that’s going a bit brown around the edges… buttercream! While I was in there I grabbed something else that was looking a bit ropey. Leftover from the sunday roast, half a packet of fresh thyme. I’ve used lemon thyme in baking before so I figured lemon + thyme = lemon thyme, right? Well not quite, but kinda. You can add more or less thyme dependent on your tastes, or just keep the buttercream plain old lemony. Personally, I like a herby kick. Next time I’d like to add a splash of booze to the mix. Maybe use orange zest and Cointreau with a chocolate chip biscuit. Nice.
Ingredients (Makes 16 large sandwiches – whoopee pie style!)
For the biscuits:
250g Unsalted Butter
140g Caster Sugar
2tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Egg Yolk
For the buttercream:
100g Unsalted Butter
200g Icing Sugar
Juice of Half a Lemon
1/2tsp Thyme Leaves
1. Cream the butter together with the sugar. If you’ve got a mixer, great, but otherwise just use the back of a spoon and use those biceps. Make sure your butter is softened and you should have a fluffy consistency in no time. Next, beat in the vanilla and egg yolk.
2. Sift the flour in a little at a time (not sure why you’re sifting? Have a read of Joy the Baker’s Baking 101 post!) and fold it in with a wooden spoon. The mixture will go a little bitty, but once it’s a rough ball take it out of the bowl and shape it into a ball with your hands. It should stay together without a problem.
3. Wrap the dough in cling film and stick it in the fridge for half an hour. This step isn’t essential but a colder, firmer dough will make it a lot easier to handle. Preheat your oven to 170ºC.
4. For this next bit, I got a bit technical. I like to keep things as simple as possible but after one too many incidents with separate cookies blending into one big plank in the oven, I like to make my biscuits uniform. I separate the dough into little balls and weigh each one on my digital scales until they’re all a matching 40g. This helps keep them roughly the same size and shape when they bake. It seems like a lot of trouble but it’s actually pretty easy and the look of the finish product makes it well worth the time.
NB: feel free to cut the measurements down to 30g and use a cutter to cut the biscuits – they’ll look a whole lot prettier than the “rustic” look I’ve gone for.
5. I baked mine in batches. I placed 6 balls on my baking sheet in alternate spaces (see picture) so they each have their own space to spread. I created the pattern in the top just by pressing down with a fork to form a cross. I don’t really know why; my mum used to do it so I guess it’s just habit! Keep an eye on them but 10-12 minutes had them turning brown at the edges for me.
6. While the biscuits are in the oven, beat 100g of unsalted butter together with 200g of icing sugar. If you’re using a mixer, turn it up to the highest speed. By hand? Work up a sweat. For plain buttercream I’d add 2 tbsp of milk at this point, but here the lemon juice does that job. Once the mixture gets to a whipped texture, add the juice and the thyme leaves. Whip until fluffy (wahey!) and the butter should turn from yellow to a lighter, creamier colour.
7. Cool the biscuits on a wire cooling rack. They’ll be flimsy when warm so go steady. Once they’re completely cooled, the biscuits themselves will stay crispy for 2-3 days in a sealed container. If you’re making them for a special occasion, don’t sandwich them with the buttercream until the day you intend to eat them, it can make them a little squishy in the middle if they sit for a bit.