Baking is a comfort activity and eating the result is also comforting. I love to bake on a lazy, Sunday afternoon, especially in rainy or cold weather. Then I feel justified in being indoors not exercising in the sunshine. It’s hard in Australia where the sun is rather relentless, but my fallback position is baking in the early morning.
Why bother baking?
I suppose I adopted the baking habit as years ago in Australia there were no coffee shops or even coffee other than instant powder. Australians were a nation of tea drinkers due to their British heritage. But then in came wonderful multiculturalism in the 1980’s and suddenly we had it all, especially coffee shops and patisseries along with kebab, pizza and Asian restaurants.
But despite the plethora of yummy food in Australia’s cities, I still bake. It’s for me, enjoyable, creative, economical and I feel in control of the ingredients. I know there is real butter or good quality oil, fresh flour and I adjust the sugar to minimize if I can. For biscuits this can be tricky as the sugar gives the crunch.
My favourite easy-anyone-can make recipes may not be the healthiest but they work so I don’t waste food or get disappointed after all the effort. Another factor in my decision to bake is that store bought biscuits seem to go stale very quickly in the humidity of our tropics. Even when fresh they don’t taste as good as home-made.
Best and worst parts of baking
The best thing about baking is the tasting afterwards (or during) and sampling the end product with a cup of tea or coffee. The worst thing about baking is the washing up. The easiest way, I find, is to fill the biscuit mix bowl with hot soapy water and throw all the cutlery, spatulas and measuring cups in. This makes the wash much easier.
Today, I also include a recipe for a wonderful parmesan cheese biscuit that is great with a cold crisp wine and a crisp sweeter crunchy biscuit.
The History of Biscuits
Before I do, I’ll just share a bit of a language titbit. Did you know that biscuit comes from the French word biscuit which means cooked twice.? You see, cuire is the French word to cook, hence cuisine is cooking, and also the French word for kitchen. Cuit is the past participle of this verb and bis means twice or two, like in bicycle, binary etc. French traditional biscuits are very buttery and like shortbread.
Biscuits used to be cooked then dried out in a slow oven to they would keep. Hence the cooked twice idea. Europeans made biscuits this way. They were more like a rusk or bread stick. The modern definition of a biscuit is’ a baked good typically made with flour, egg, sugar, and some type of shortening such as butter or cooking oil, and baked into a small, flat shape.’
Biscuits from around the world
Americans call them cookies not biscuits, as in ‘accept all cookies.’ It is amazing how the traditional biscuits from around the world differ. Here is a table of traditional biscuits from each country. Sorry, as it is from Wikipedia they call them cookies. I note with interest that Australia and New Zealand share the ANZAC biscuit as their iconic biscuit. What is an ANZAC you may ask , especially if you are young and not Australian.
Well, Anzac stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. These were the combined fighting units that fought and mostly died at Gallipoli in World War One. Wives and mothers back home sent these oat-based biscuits to the troops in tins. They are made of oats, flour, coconut, sugar, butter and golden syrup. Eggs made for a shorter shelf life and were rationed anyway so the biscuit is eggless.
Sure, we still make these on Anzac Day particularly but there are many more favourite bikkies in Oz. Like the TImTam, a chocolate covered sandwich style biscuit with chocolate in the centre. Apparently, it is named after a race horse. So the Tim Tam is part of the history of the famous Arnott’s Biscuit Campany of Australia.
Cheddar cheese biscuits
These easy cheesy biscuits make the perfect little snack to serve with drinks before dinner. Especially good with a cold white wine. No extra cheese on top needed.
- 1 cup (150g) plain (all-purpose) flour
- 2 tablespoon self-raising flour
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 125 gram (4 ounces) butter, chopped.
- 2 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
- 1 cup (120g) grated cheddar cheese
- 1 tablespoon water, approximately
Method ; Cooking time 20 minutes, makes 70
- Cheddar cheese can be substituted with more parmesan or even all parmesan for a tangier biscuit. Chopped chives or rosemary can be included when mixing dough. Cayenne pepper not essential.
1/Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F. Oil oven trays or line with baking paper.
2/Sift dry ingredients into medium bowl, rub in butter. Stir in cheeses and enough of the water to make a soft dough. Knead dough on floured surface until smooth. Shape dough into 38cm (15 inch) sausage shape, wrap tightly in foil; refrigerate 1 hour.
3/Cut dough into 5mm (¼ inch) thick slices, place 3cm (1¼ inches) apart on oven trays for 15 to 20 minutes until light brown. Cool then store for up to a week at room temperature or longer in fridge in a glass airtight jar.
Crunchy Sweet Biscuits
This recipe is from my sister, and she doesn’t know where it came from as has been making the biscuits for many decades. Apologies to source for not crediting.
8 Tablespoons softened butter.
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
I cup plain flour plus 1 teaspoon baking powder.
Optional additions of either 1 cup shelled peanuts or 60g chopped chocolate.
Preheat the oven to 350 degreesF and line baking trays with baking paper.
In a largish bowl, cream the butter and sugars by hand or with a mixer until mixed, smooth and pale. Add vanilla and egg. Beat well. Add flour and powder and extras if decide on peanut or chocolate version. Plain is still yummy though.
Drop rounded teaspoons of batter onto trays and bake about 10 minutes until biscuits light brown. Cool before placing in air tight glass jar.
Happy baking and enjoy. Let me know how it goes.
Slashio Photography on Unsplash
Joni Scott is an Australian author with three published novels: Whispers through Time and The Last Hotel and Colour Comes to Tangles. Joni also co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.