The blog has been quiet recently, I've been up in Leicester sitting with my Grandad as he's in hospital and very poorly. He doesn't appear to have much fight in him but then he's lost without my nan - they were married 74 years and absolutely adored each other right until we lost her last year. It's heartbreaking to see someone you love so much have to be cared for on such a major level and as I can't do much with the crutches all I could do was sit and talk to him. He's unfortunately finding it difficult to talk so instead I rabbited on a lot about things we did when I was child.
I'd stay for weeks on end at their little two up two down house in the beautiful Leicestershire village of Market Bosworth. Grandad would take me on walks to the park where we'd bird watch, feed the ducks and he'd tell me all about the inner workings of the trees. He'd point to the manor house just outside the park and tell me Mr Toad lived there - I remember being so excited by that. We'd hunt for snake skins in the fields (disgusting I know but I loved it!) and then we'd head back to the house where Nan would be baking in her little galley kitchen with the step everyone would always trip on. Nan was and remains the best baker I have ever come across. Her biggest show stopper was her short pastry - her mince pies were like nothing I've ever tasted. She insisted there was no secret to her baking magic but I think it might have been something to do with her ever cold hands. I haven't inherited her cold hands, nor her baking skills but I did come home this week with a desperate urge to bake.
I've taken a simple shortbread recipe and, because I appear to be addicted at the moment, I've incorporated the subtle taste of Earl Grey, set off with lemon.
This is a simple recipe adapted from this one by the ever infectious Donal Skehan but make sure you remember to get your butter to room temperature before you start making. If you're not enamoured with the idea of lemon and earl grey, you can flavour however you like, just omit the last two ingredients and replace with a few drops of vanilla essence, lavender, rose or whatever else floats your boat.
If you're prone to picking at the mixture (as I am!), try chewing gum or sucking on a mint while you do the rolling and cutting bit.
These are beautifully crumbly and, be warned, slightly addictive!
Lemon and Earl Grey Shortbread
- 200g unsalted butter - cubed and at room temperature
- 100g caster sugar
- 300g plain flour, sieved
- Drop of vanilla essence or seeds from one stick
- Zest of 1-2 lemons (I used two but I like very zesty biscuits)
- Tea from 3 earl grey teabags (cut them open). I used Teapigs Darjeeling Earl Grey and I put in a ramekin and added a large drop of hot water to the tea an hour before baking to bring out the bergamot.
- Preheat oven to 160c
- In a large mixing bowl, use an electric hand whisk (you can do it by hand but it will take a lot longer and you'll need strong guns) to cream the butter and sugar together. It should look pale, smooth and lump free.
- Add the lemon zest, vanilla and tea.
- Now work in the flour very gently, taking care not to over work the gluten in the flour as this will affect the texture of your shortbread.
- Using your hands, take the dough and work lightly into a ball with your palms. Now, I had problems with this, everything looked way too crumbly but just get it handle-able and onto your surface.
- Now transfer to a dough board or flat surface, now 'bunch' it all together and roll out to a 5mm thickness - you shouldn't need to flour the surface but I found it useful to flour the rolling pin. It also helped me to separate the dough into two.
- Using a cutter with perforated edge, cut out as many rounds as your dough will allow and transfer to your baking pan as you go (you may need a knife or palette knife to prize off your surface), then re-roll any left over dough to repeat and avoiding waste. I actually ended up re-rolling out dough a few times and it didn't affect the texture of the biscuits.
- Arrange your rounds on a baking tray, sprinkle with sugar and now chill for 15 mins.
- Bring them out of the fridge and put into the preheated over to bake until they start turning golden (about 15-20 mins). It's important you don't cook at any higher than 160c as they'll burn and the texture won't be good.
And because I like to keep it real, here they are in their tupperware. Who stores their biscuits in a rusty old tin anyway?!Today's baking soundtrack was courtesy Sigur Ros.
Formally Emma Gutteridge