I spotted a recipe for simple vanilla biscuits and decided to whip up a batch for when the children arrived home “starving” . I had no issues with the recipe ( to quote Jeremy Clarkson “How hard can it be?”) I used real vanilla bean paste rather than essence because I think it is a far superior product and gives a true vanilla flavour. I substituted salted butter rather than unsalted simply because that is what I had available (and from experience a bit of salt doesn’t seem to distract from the final result too much) the biscuit dough worked out just fine the trouble started when I remembered an old biscuit press that had been passed down to me from Elizabeth’s Mum. I had never used one before so had a quick look at the instructions then made the first attempt…squeezed hard and lots of little caterpillars of biscuit dough inched their way out through the holes no good at all, next attempt I held the press down on to the baking sheet squeezed again lifted up the press … no biscuit.. looked at the bottom of the press and found my biscuit dough had all squished out but had not stuck to the baking paper, after several more attempts I tried different cutters and all sorts of techniques, I even read the instructions properly. I was finally successful (somewhat) in getting biscuit dough to form and stick directly on the baking tray but gave up in the end and simply cut rounds of the now overworked biscuit dough. Does anyone actually use these things? or are they just another gadget sold to unsuspecting husbands who are sucked in by slick salespeople and part with precious dollars take it home to the cook who is delighted (but places the useless contraption at the back of the cupboard). Sadly I can’t ask Elizabeth’s Mum if she ever used it, but I know I wont bother next time!.
Vanilla butter biscuits
Adapted from Good Taste – March 1999, Page 58 Recipe by Dimitra Stais
- 125g salted butter, cubed, at room temperature
- 75g (1/3 cup) caster sugar
- 1 tsp Queens vanilla bean paste
- 115g (3/4 cup) self-raising flour
- 100g (2/3 cup) plain flour
- 2 tsp milk
- Line 2 baking trays with non-stick baking paper or use non-stick trays. Choose shallow or flat baking trays as this will allow the heat to circulate more evenly. Use electric beaters to beat the butter, caster sugar and vanilla essence in a medium bowl, scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary, for about 1 minute or until just combined. If overbeaten, the dough will become too soft, making it difficult to handle when rolling into biscuits.
- Sift together the self-raising and plain flours into a bowl. Add 1/2 the sifted flour to the butter mixture and use a wooden spoon to mix until combined. Add the milk and mix well. It is best not to use electric beaters for this step because they tend to overwork the mixture, making it difficult to roll and resulting in tough biscuits.
- Add the remaining sifted flour and when the mixture becomes difficult to mix with the wooden spoon, use your hands. Mix to a soft dough that leaves the sides of the bowl and doesn’t stick to your hands. If the mixture appears dry, add an extra 1 tsp milk. Because all flours absorb different amounts of liquid, some doughs may require just a little bit more. There should be no dry bits of dough in the bottom of the bowl.
- Roll tablespoonsful of dough into balls and then place about 4cm apart on the baking trays (this allows room for the biscuits to spread during cooking).
- Flatten the biscuits slightly with a floured fork, dipping the fork in a little flour every second or third time. You can also flatten the biscuits with a lightly floured hand or fingers, the base of a glass or the side of a grater. Any decorative edge can be used to press a pattern into the top of the biscuits. Place the tray of biscuits in the fridge for 20 minutes to chill. Chilling the dough ensures that the biscuits retain their shape when cooked. This is especially important in warm weather when the uncooked biscuit dough is soft. If it is too soft, the biscuits will spread too much while in the oven. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 160°C.
- Bake the biscuits in the middle to top half of preheated oven for 10 minutes. Swap the trays around and bake for a further 8-10 minutes. Try not to have the trays directly underneath each other. This, as well as swapping the trays around during cooking, allows even circulation of heat and even browning. When they are ready, the biscuits will have risen, the tops will be slightly cracked and they will be light golden underneath. To check underneath, use a spatula to carefully lift a biscuit, preferably from the centre of the tray. The biscuits will still be a little soft, so be very careful lifting them. If they are not ready, bake for a further 1-2 minutes. When ready, remove the biscuits from the oven and set aside to cool for about 3 minutes before using a spatula to transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.