Sunday, May 31, 2009

Speedy baking

Following on from my recent post about easy-to-prepare meals that will feed you quickly and healthily without the need to resort to takeaway, I've discovered some speedy baking recipes that will give you a delicious bite of sweetness in the same time it would take you to get in the car and drive to the supermarket to pick up a packet of tasteless mass-produced biscuits.

Although baking (and here I'm referring to baking cakes and biscuits, rather than meals) tends to be a reasonably quick preparation process - it doesn't take long to beat up some eggs, butter, flour and sugar - it can take some time in the oven. Some cakes will be done in 30 to 45 minutes, but most require about an hour, meaning that they can't always satisfy you, or unexpected guests, as quickly as you would like.

Biscuits, on the other hand, usually can. A short mixing process and about 10 minutes in the oven will see your first batch ready and cooling on a wire rack while the next batch bakes.

In the past week, I've twice found myself in a situation where I've needed some sweet nibbles at very short notice. It might sound crazy but, if I'm short of time, I find it more convenient to quickly bake something than I do to buy something from the supermarket. By the time I load up the car and then negotiate supermarket aisles with a wonky trolley and a baby and a toddler, it really is much easier to cream butter and sugar and add some flavourings such as chocolate chips!

So, in the past week, two new super-quick and easy recipes came to my rescue. In about 15 to 20 minutes (the same time it would have taken me to buy a packet from the supermarket), I had some fresh honey biscuits ready to eat. These biscuits, made up of only four ingredients (honey, butter, flour and ground ginger), were from a recipe by Matthew Evans, published in the Good Weekend magazine of the Saturday Age. I've collected Matthew's recipes for years but unfortunately don't try as many of them as I should. This one was a winner and filled the kitchen with a sweet perfume that lingered long after the biscuits were devoured.

The second recipe, for nuvoletti (little clouds) came from Rosa Mitchell's new cookbook My Cousin Rosa. I've eaten several times at Journal Canteen, where Rosa is behind the stoves, and the food has always been excellent (especially the divine mulberry tart I had there one day, made with mulberries freshly picked from Rosa's tree). This is a delightful cookbook, with old family recipes interspersed with Rosa's childhood memories of Sicily. Nuvoletti are made with eggs, caster sugar and flour but the end result is so much more than these simple ingredients: moist, slightly chewy biscuits that have a fluffy, airy texture. Perhaps this is what a little cloud would taste like if you were able to nibble at its edges. These biscuits symbolise something that I love most about baking: that you can take simple, everyday ingredients and transform them into something else with a minimum of effort. Eggs, flour and sugar don't sound like much on their own, but they are basic ingredients found in most pantries. Combine a few simple ingredients with some imagination and you have a snack without a preservative or artificial flavouring in sight!

Honey biscuits
From "The weekend cook" column by Matthew Evans in Good Weekend

100g butter
100g honey (a good floral version is best)
135g plain flour
1/4 tsp ground ginger, or use a generous pinch of mixed spice

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter with the honey over low heat until just dissolved. Don't let it get too hot. Tip in the flour and ground ginger and stir well until the mixture is smooth.

Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper and dot dessertspoon-sized bits of biscuit mix in rows, leaving room for them to spread and not touch.

Bake for 5-10 minutes (it will depend on the thickness of your dough) or until well-tanned but not dark. Cool on the tray for a couple of minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container.


Suzie said...

I couldn't agree more, and it is even faster if you save a log of uncooked dough in the freezer for emergencies. The other benefit is that homemade cakes and biscuits taste better than most you can buy.

Melinda said...

Hi Suzie - yes, you can't beat the taste of homemade cakes and biscuits. Good tip about the freezer dough - it's definitely another good time-saver.