Shortbread

Chocolate peppermint bars

chocolatepeppermintbars

I don’t often buy magazines but this one shouted ‘buy me’ from the rack in WHSmiths. Take a look at the headings at the bottom and you’ll see why.

Simplethingsmagazine

It’s quite a sweet magazine which I enjoyed reading. I do appreciate the simple things in life so this idea appealed to me greatly – although there was still a heavily consumerist angle which seemed to contradict their ethos somewhat (although I accept that this is how magazines survive). Printed media is having a huge resurgence (rather like vinyl) and there are some really beautiful publications around at the moment.

Anyway, I spied and saved this ‘hand-me-down recipe’ to try (which I believe was from Rachel Allen – in cutting it out I lost the reference).

If you like the peppermint/chocolate combination (think After Eights, mint choc chip ice cream etc) then you’ll love these. I would describe them as a cross between millionaire’s shortbread and Kendal mint cake. However, unlike millionaire’s shortbread these are pretty easy to make.

I’m the only one in my family who is not a mint choc chip fan so I thought I’d be immune to temptation with these. Memories of making vile peppermint creams at primary school has put me off the smell of peppermint essence forever.

However, having tried a small bite of one (for the sake of research) I have to say they are surprisingly delicious – which is both good and bad at the same time.

Chocolate peppermint bars

Makes 12-18 bars depending on how big you cut them

For the shortbread

  • 225g of plain flour
  • 75g of sugar
  • 150g of butter

For the peppermint cream

  • 75g butter
  • 300g of icing sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of milk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of peppermint essence

For the chocolate topping

  • 150g of dark chocolate

Line a 20 x 20 cm square tin with baking parchment.

Preheat your oven to 180oC fan.

To make the shortbread, measure the flour, softened butter and sugar into a bowl and rub through your fingers until well incorporated and breadcrumb like. Press the mixture into the tin and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until golden. Leave to cool completely (you can speed this up by putting it in the fridge if necessary).

To make the peppermint cream, add the 75g of softened butter, icing sugar, milk and peppermint into a bowl and beat with a hand held electric mixer until fluffy. Spread the mixture onto the cooled shortbread using a palette knife dipped in warm water to get the surface as level and even as possible. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, or in the microwave. Tip this over the top of the peppermint cream and level off with a palette knife and place in the fridge until hardened.

Cut into squares with a very sharp knife as neatly as possible. You’ll notice that mine are a bit messy but this didn’t seem to ruin the taste.

chocolatepeppermintbarsandcoffee

A random photo of my first crop of homegrown basil which has just been whizzed up into pesto. Try to ignore the slug holes.

basil

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Millionaire’s shortbread

millionaires shortbread
I know I’ve written about this before, but I maintain that dieting in January is a rotten idea. We need tasty treats (and the occasional glass of wine) to make the dark mornings and freezing cold days bearable. These Millionaire’s shortbreads are just the thing to make life feel like it’s worth living and help you soldier on until spring.

And if you cut them really small there’s no need to feel at all guilty.

There are a few processes involved so I would not describe this recipe (which comes from Peyton and Byrne’s British Baking) as easy, but it does make a large amount so you will have enough to giveaway and share the love, as well as keeping some for yourself.

Millionaire’s shortbread

Makes about 30 small squares

Shortbread

  • 200g butter, softened
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g semolina
  • 200g plain flour

Caramel

  • 300g butter
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 75g golden syrup
  • 397g can of condensed milk

Chocolate

  • 300g of reasonable quality plain chocolate

Preheat your oven to 170oC fan.

Lightly butter and line a 33cm x 23cm Swiss roll tin or shallow baking tin.

Combine the shortbread ingredients in a bowl and mix with your fingers until the butter is evenly distributed and the mix starts to come together into a crumbly dough. Press the dough into the tin and prick it all over with a fork. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until a light golden brown. Place on a wire rack to cool.

For the caramel, combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan over a low heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the butter has melted. Turn the heat up to medium so that the mixture starts to simmer and keep simmering and stirring the mixture until it turns a deep golden brown and looks like thick caramel fudge (for me this took 15 minutes). Don’t be tempted to leave it for a second as it will catch on the bottom of the pan and burn. Pour over the top of the cooled shortbread in an even layer and leave to cool and set.

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering walker or on a low heat in the microwave (which is what I do). Pour over the caramel layer and spread as evenly as you can with a palate knife. Leave to set and then cut into small squares (about 3-4 cm squared) with a very sharp knife.

They keep very well in a tin for up to 5 days (if they last that long).

Simple shortbread biscuits

I love shortbread but couldn’t make it to save my life until I was passed this super simple recipe by my friend Melanie. These are the easiest biscuits to make as they only involve three ingredients, butter, sugar and flour. They make great impromptu gifts. I buy see-through presentation bags from Lakeland and then tie with a nice piece of ribbon. At Christmas you can use Christmassy cutters – bells, Christmas trees and simple fairies work well (nothing too intricate). Simple rounds with half the biscuit dipped in melted plain chocolate and then set in the fridge also look good.

Makes about 24 (you’ll need two square baking trays, mine are 33 cm square without sides)

  • 250g pack of butter (salted), or just add a good pinch of salt to unsalted butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 360g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 170oC fan.

Melt the butter in the microwave or in a saucepan on the hob. Add the flour and caster sugar and mix to combine with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a ball.

Tip the dough onto a well-floured work surface. Flour a rolling pin and roll the dough out until it is half a cm thick. Then cut out the biscuits with a 6cm round cutter and lift carefully from the work surface onto a baking tray with a pallet knife.

Collect up the remaining dough and form into another ball and repeat the process, rolling and cutting until all the dough is used up.

Bake the biscuits for 10-15 minutes. You want them to be a light golden colour and not dark around the edges so I check frequently after the 10 minute mark. Remove the biscuits from the tray with a pallet knife onto a cooling rack and don’t store them away in a tin until they are completely cool.

When I said ‘super easy’ I may have exaggerated just a little bit. The slightly tricky part of this recipe is that the dough is very sticky so you will need to work quite quickly and use plenty of flour on the work surface and rolling pin. If the biscuits do stick don’t panic, just scrunch the dough up into another ball and start again. Unlike pastry this shouldn’t ruin the result.

The original recipe.

The original recipe.

Mixing the butter, sugar and flour to form a dough ball.

Mixing the butter, sugar and flour to form a dough ball.

Cutting out and transferring to a baking tray with a pallet knife.

Cutting out and transferring to a baking tray with a pallet knife.

On the tray.

On the tray.

The end result cooling on a rack. A little messier than usual (I'd make more effort to be neat if these were for a present rather than to be eaten all up by my family in less than a day.

The end result cooling on a rack.
(A little messy – I’d make more effort to be neat if these were for a present rather than to be eaten all up by my family in less than a day).