It is my belief that every baker worth their salt (perhaps that should be sugar?) should have one no-fail biscuit recipe in their arsenal.
Until recently, mine had been a recipe from the very first cookbook I owned, a present from my Nan one Christmas when I was about eight. The Chumblies recipe gave instruction for 12 gaudily decorated, sugar-laden biscuit folk and I thought it was wonderful. It was probably the first thing I ever really made, and apart from my too-small hands hampering my dough moulding ability and requiring mum’s assistance, I had weighed the ingredients, mixed, rolled and cut out all by myself.
There was something rather poetic in the idea that my go-to biscuit recipe had come from my very first recipe book, a book eight-year-old-me had read in bed like it was a novel, had cooked with it and smeared butter in the pages, ground flour into the binding, flicking through to find which recipe I would try next.
Perhaps that’s why I never updated my biscuit recipe and perhaps that’s why I never made biscuits very often- it was, in truth, not a great recipe. It’s taken me a little while to find a good recipe, and this one is my new favourite. It’s a very simple recipe that uses plain flour, so the biscuits won’t spread or lose their shape whilst cooking, the semolina adds a crunch, and they’re not too sweet, which means you can cover them in sugary icing.
I’ve recently discovered a love of royal icing, which dries hard, whereas glace icing dries sticky, and I find royal icing is great on piped biscuits. This ghost design is a fun and easy way to master the ‘flooding’ piping technique, achieved by piping an outline and then filling in with icing. Whether you give them out to the trick-or-treaters or whether you switch the lights off, pretend you’re not home, and scoff them all yourself is up to you!
* * *
MAKES 12 biscuits (depends on size of cutter)
PREP 15 mins, plus 20mins chilling time
COOK 20 mins
▪ Will keep in an airtight container for three days
200g plain flour
40g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla essence
75g Royal icing sugar
A few drops of water
Black food colouring
1 Preheat the oven to 160°c/320°f/Gas Mark 3. Line two baking tray with greaseproof paper.
2 Sieve the flour into a large bowl and add stir in the semolina and caster sugar. Rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
3 Add the vanilla essence and work the mix into a dough. When it starts to come together, tip onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and soft. Form into a ball and wrap in clingfilm, then chill for 20 minutes in the fridge.
4 Roll the dough out on the lightly floured surface to a thickness of about a £1 coin. Cut out the ghost shapes using cutters (if you have these). If not, print out ghost clip art shapes (you can find these on google) about 5cm tall and lay on the dough then cut around the shapes using a blunt knife.
5 Place the biscuits onto the lined baking trays and cook in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until the dough is no longer soft and is a pale straw colour. Leave on the tray to cool for about 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack.
6 Once fully cooled, you can decorate the biscuits. Make the royal icing using royal icing sugar and add water, a few drops at a time, until it is a thick, smooth paste. Add a couple of spoonfuls of the icing into a piping bag and cut off the tip to make a small hole, then pipe a white outline around the edge of the biscuits. Leave for a couple of minutes to dry, then fill in with the leftover icing using a teaspoon. Push the icing to the edges of the outline using a cocktail stick. Make up a small amount of royal icing following the instructions above, colouring this black, and use this to pipe small eyes and mouths onto the ghosts. ▪