Galettes Bretonnes

Sometimes, when I feel like pottering away in the kitchen but making a whole cake sounds like a gargantuan challenge (not to mention most of the times there is already one staring back at me on the window sill), I prefer to make something quick, easy and intriguing. Biscuits or brownies are my choice of preference and these make no exception. In French, ‘galette’ has a plethora of meanings. To quote Monique from Miel & Ricotta,

‘Galette’ is the fourth most popular word in French. Liberté, egalité, fraternité and galette. In France, round things are referred to as ‘galette’. The famous cpes are called ‘galettes’, as are frangipane tortes, waffles, a piece of bread and these biscuits. Then you move away from food and you discover that some cushions are called ‘galettes’, a vinyl is a ‘galette’ and the word also indicates the weigh of a dose of crack (now that you know this, you can be confident next time you order some). The spare wheel on cars is a ‘galette’, money is referred to as ‘galette’ and if you fall down while skying, then you also made a ‘galette.’

I love these biscuits as they could be considered a salty version of standard shortbread, and yet they are much more than that. First of all, the dough is quite sticky and needs swift hands to work it due to the higher ratio of egg and butter to flour. Then, the addition of both sugar and salt really lifts the flavour as the saltiness tingles your tongue and makes more akin to a sweet cracker. Lastly, the shiny coating on top provides an extra layer of texture when you bite into them. In a word, moreish.

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Ingredients

  • 60g caster sugar (golden or plain)
  • 100g softened salted butter (preferably Guérande) OR unsalted butter + 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 140g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg yolk + 1 tsb double cream (for the coating)

Method

  1. Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, then beat together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolk, vanilla extract and flour, and mix until combined.
  2. Turn out onto a work surface and briefly knead to incorporate all of the ingredients. Be quick as the dough will be sticky. When done, shape into a ball, flatten it to a disc and warp in clingfilm. Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Roll out the dough between two sheets of baking parchment to approximately 4mm thick, then remove the top one and use a 6-7cm fluted cookie cutter to stamp out as many shapes as you can, without removing the biscuits. Cover the stamped dough with the other baking parchment sheet and return to the fridge for at least 20 minutes. This will ensure the dough firms up, so it will be easier to remove the cookies before baking.
  4. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment, then remove the cookies from the stamped dough and arrange on top. Considering you will need to re-roll the dough and chill it in between stamping and moving the biscuits to the lined baking tray, you might want to either wait to bake them all together or use smaller trays and alternate baking with chilling.
  5. Once you are set to bake, pre-heat the oven to 210C.
  6. In a small bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolk and the double cream. Use a knife to create a criss-cross pattern on the cold cookies, then use a brush to cover them in the yolk mixture. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until deep golden brown. Remove to a wire rack and let them cool completely. Enjoy!

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Red Velvet Melting Moments

I have to be honest with you: there’s not much red going on in these and neither is there any velvet. The recipe is from Edd Kimber, the first winner of the GBBO series, who states he decided to combine two of the main classics: melting moments and red velvet. The thing is, these remind me more of whoopie pies and, as I said at the beginning, the red hue does not come through once baked, possibly because these are too dark. That said, they are very nice and I have had quite the positive feedback from these, including my hairdresser, who is usually subjected to pictures of my creations but had never got a chance to taste them herself.

The decoration on top is highly optional. I do like the ridges as they add an extra dimension and I had eyed this type of cookies a while ago, so wanted to give them a try. The filling is a standard cream cheese one, but feel free to use your favourite butter icing recipe instead or substitute that for an equal amount of jam, for instance. The original recipe also called for lemon extract in the filling, but I decided to ditch that and keep it nice and simple instead. A gentle dust of icing sugar at the end would probably increase the dramatic effect.

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Ingredients (for the biscuits)

  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • red food colouring
  • 225g plain flour
  • 35g cocoa powder
  • 85g icing sugar
  • 30g cornflour
  • 1 tbsp milk

Ingredients (for the cream cheese frosting)

  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 50g full-fat cream cheese

Method

  1. Line two baking trays with parchment.
  2. To make the dough, put the butter and vanilla into the bowl of a freestanding mixer equipped with the paddle attachment, then beat on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add enough colouring to tinge it a deep red, then sift the remaining biscuit ingredients into the bowl and mix until it comes together to form an uniform dough. Add the milk if you see the mixture is too dry.
  3. Using your hands, roll the dough into small balls (even number!) and place them onto the prepared baking trays, leaving some space in between them. Dip a fork in plain flour, shake the excess off, then press it lightly onto each of the biscuits, leaving an indent and pressing the biscuits a little flatter.
  4. Transfer the trays to the fridge for at least 30 minutes. I like to give them an extra 5 minutes in the freezer right before I bake them.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 160C.
  6. Bake each batch for 20-25 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool on the trays before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. To make the filling, cream the butter with the icing sugar and vanilla, then beat together until light and fluffy. Add the cream cheese and beat until just combined. Transfer the filling to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle, then pipe a good dollop onto half of the biscuits and sandwich with the remaining ones.

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Melting Moments

In the past, I have always steered clear of very buttery biscuits. I didn’t like the taste and the crumb you get when you first take a bite: too much butter, not enough chocolate. Even now, I have breakfast the exact same way I used to when home in Italy, with milk and (chocolate) biscuits. However, little by little, I have come to appreciate a good buttery shortbread, as long as I can find someone willing to eat them all if I ever make some! These are delicious, crumbly and, to be technical, very ‘short’. The recipe uses the same amount of flour and butter and makes up the difference with icing sugar and cornflour. They also have a very strong vanilla scent, which I found perfectly marries the filling.

On that note, this recipe comes from the first GBBO book and was made on the show in 2011 by Mary-Anne Boermans. She called the unusual filling a ‘Depression Era buttercream’, thus referring to the fact it is mostly made of milk and flour cooked on a stove and a little bit of butter and sugar added retrospectively. The recipe comes from a time when butter was in shortage and you really needed to make the little you had go further. You can read further insights directly on Mary-Anne’s blog. Mary’s decorative idea, that is painting the inside of the piping bag with gel food colouring, is a very creative one. I have seen it done to meringues and this way the piping provides some lightly coloured shells which are more original and enticing.

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Ingredients (for the biscuits)

  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 250g plain flour
  • 60g cornflour
  • gel food colouring

Ingredients (for the buttercream)

  • 125ml full-fat milk
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 125g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp redcurrant jelly (the original recipe stated raspberry jam)

Method

  1. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, combine the butter and the icing sugar, then beat until pale and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract, then beat for a few seconds. In a bowl, combine the flour and the cornflour, then sieve the mixture into the bowl and mix until smooth.
  2. Using gel food colouring, paint a straight line on the inside of your piping bag, then insert a star shaped nozzle at the end. Spoon the biscuit mixture inside the bag.
  3. Pipe the mixture into approximately 32 swirls on baking trays lined with parchment, then chill in the fridge or the freezer for at least 30 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, prepare the filling. Heat the milk and flour in a pan, whisking constantly to avoid lumps, until the mixture boils and thickens. In my experience, this happens quite suddenly, so make sure you are whisking the mixture. Transfer to a shallow plate, cover tightly with clingfilm and leave to cool completely.
  5. Beat the butter and the sugar together in a freestanding mixer until pale and fluffy, then add the vanilla extract and the flour and milk mixture and beat on high speed  for a good 5 minutes, until light, creamy and almost white. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a star-shaped nozzle.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  7. Bake the biscuits for 12 minutes, until they are slightly golden on the top, then set aside to cool completely.
  8. Once cold, pipe a circle of buttercream on half of them, then fill the circle with the jam and sandwich with another biscuit to seal the filling inside.
  9. If you want to, you can serve them lightly dusted in icing sugar.

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Baci di Alassio

Do you have your boarding card? Have you packed your suitcase? Perfect. So let’s fly to Liguria, a coastal region of north-western Italy which is probably known for pesto, Genoa and the aquarium. Very few do know that these region is also well known – at least in my country – for these sweet little ‘kisses’, as the name goes, which come from Alassio, a city on the western coast of the region. Lore states that they were invented in the ’20s by Rinaldo Balzola, the then patissier of the House of Savoy, who modified the traditional recipe for Baci di Dama. The biscuits then became very popular, so much that by the end of the ’50s, every single bakery in the region had their own version. What with the authentic recipe being a jealously guarded secret, the different interpretations all differ because of the quantities and the ingredients used.

These Baci are oval-shaped and composed by two biscuit halves, which are then sandwiched together with a whipped ganache. The biscuits are made with hazelnuts (possibly from Piedmont), sugar, cocoa, egg whites, flour, butter, vanilla and aromas. The ganache is ‘whipped’ because the quantities of cream and chocolate are 1.5:1, which allows to whip the ganache and make it into a mousse-like consistency. The recipe below is one of the many adaptations available and I found it in an Italian recipe book about biscuits. I modified the recipe slightly and adapted the cooking times. Traditionally these biscuits are left to dry out overnight or for at least 12 hours. If you want to skip this step, like I did, follow the recipe below. Otherwise, increase the temperature to 200C and bake for only 12 minutes.

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Ingredients

  • 150g ground almonds
  • 100g ground hazelnuts
  • 375g icing sugar, sifted
  • 40g unsalted butter, softened
  • 30g honey
  • 35g cocoa powder, sifted
  • 90g egg whites, at room temperature
  • 100g dark chocolate (70% cocoa content)
  • 150ml double cream

Method

  1. Line two baking trays with parchment and set aside. Equip a piping bag with a star nozzle and also set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or in a normal bowl), combine the ground nuts, icing sugar and cocoa powder. Add the egg whites and use the paddle attachment to mix the ingredients together. Once you have a homogeneous mixture, add the butter and the honey and keep on mixing until thoroughly combined.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag. It will be firm, so no panic there. Squeeze out little mounds or rose-shaped mounds on the baking parchment, then transfer to the fridge to set for at least 30 minutes.
  4. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  5. Once thoroughly chilled, transfer to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Check the biscuits: if you see any dark wet bits, return to the oven for a further 5 minutes at 150C.
  6. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. In the meantime, start with the ganache.
  7. Finely chop the dark chocolate either by hand or in a food processor. In a saucepan, bring the double cream to the boil, then remove from the heat and pour onto the chocolate. Use a whisk to mix the cream in and allow the chocolate to melt completely. Set aside and cool slightly but keep on mixing to avoid the mixture separating.
  8. When you are ready to assemble, either use a freestanding mixer of electric whisk (I did it by hand) to whisk the ganache. You’ll need a good 10 minutes and the result should be a light and mousse-like chocolate ganache. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle.
  9. Use the ganache to sandwich two biscuit halves together by squeezing some on one biscuit and topping this with another half. Repeat until you have used all of the biscuits, then transfer to the fridge to firm them up.

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Oreo Brownies

This is a recipe from Lorraine Pascale. In one of the episode of her TV series Baking Made Easy, she confessed to a full addiction to chocolate brownies. Despite the confession being a bit over the top, who could not relate to those words? If you like chocolate, and I do, then a good chocolate brownie will bring solace and comfort in the darkest and gloomiest days of your life. What could be better, then, than adding some cream cookies to it?

The addition of Oreos (but you could as easily use any other brands – Ringo will be very good too) provides for an extra sweet touch and a creaminess a normal chocolate brownie would not cater for. It also looks drop-dead gorgeous, so what are you waiting for?

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Ingredients

  • 165g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 200g dark chocolate, chopped, 70% cocoa solids
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 165g light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 x pack of chocolate and cream biscuits (Oreos)

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200C and grease and line a 20cm rectangular (or square) brownie tin with some parchment paper. Experience teaches me to leave the paper a bit overhanging at the sides so that it will be easier to take the brownie out of the tin once it has cooled down.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat, then remove from the heat and stir in the copped chocolate. Keep on stirring until combined, the leave on the side to cool slightly.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks with the vanilla extract until light and fluffy, then slowly add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, until fully incorporated and meringue-like in texture.
  4. Now pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl and slowly mix that in. You want to pour it from the sides so as to knock out as little air as possible. In a separate bowl, sift the flour with the cocoa powder and salt, then also stir that in. Roughly break up a third of the chocolate biscuits and add them to the mixture.
  5. Pour the batter into the lined cake tin, then level it out using a spatula. Break up the rest of the biscuits and use them to dot the surface of the raw brownie, then bake for 30 minutes, until cooked on the outside but still a bit squidgy on the inside.
  6. Remove from the oven, leave to cool on a wire rack, then remove from the pan and cut into squares. If you want to, you can dust the brownies with icing sugar.

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Lemon & Honey Biscuits

These are a new favourite of mine and a slight variation on the Orange & Honeycomb biscuits I posted in the past. It dawned on me that by changing a couple of ingredients, the result could be completely different. This time, I decided to ditch the honeycomb bar altogether and opt, instead, for the zing of lemon and the comforting sweetness and creaminess of white chocolate. The result is a very tangy and moreish biscuit which slightly resembles amaretti.

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Ingredients (for the biscuits)

  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 115g unsalted butter, diced
  • 115g honey
  • 3 tbsp white chocolate shavings

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 115g icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp white chocolate shavings

Method

  1. Line three baking sheets with baking parchment and set aside.
  2. Put the white chocolate bar in the freezer to firm up before creating the chocolate shavings.
  3. In a big bowl, mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda, sugar and lemon zest. Add the diced unsalted butter and rub it in until you get a breadcrumb-like consistency.
  4. Now add the honey and mix that in. (To make things easier, I put my bowl on the scales and weighed the honey as I was adding it, then mixed it in with a rubber spatula. You need however to give it a final mix with your hands.)
  5. Using a teaspoon, measure out equal amounts of the dough, then roll it up between your hands and put it on the lined baking sheet, pressing gently with your hands to flatten it down. Create alternate rows as the biscuits will expand as they cook. Use all of your mixture, then refrigerate the biscuits for at least half an hour before baking.
  6. In the meantime, take the white chocolate out of the freezer and use a potato peeler to create the necessary amount of chocolate shavings. Put them in a bowl, then refrigerate them until needed.
  7. When the biscuits only need a couple of minutes more in the fridge, pre-heat your oven to 190C.
  8. Bake the biscuits for about 10 minutes, by which time they will have turned a nice golden brown. Make sure to rotate the baking sheet halfway through baking.
  9. After 10 minutes, remove from the oven one sheet at a time and sprinkle the white chocolate shavings on half of the biscuits in each batch using a teaspoon. Return to the oven for another 3 minutes, then remove and leave to cool on wire racks. Repeat with all of the baking sheets you have.
  10. While the biscuits are cooling, make your filling. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or in a bowl), mix the butter with the icing sugar, then add the juice and increase the speed to high to make the filling nice and fluffy. Transfer to a piping bag.
  11. When the biscuits have cooled down, take the halves without the white chocolate shavings on top and pipe a dollop of the icing on them, then sandwich them with one of the iced halves. Repeat with the rest of the biscuits.

Note

  • You can put the sandwiched biscuits in the fridge to firm up the filling before eating, but make sure you serve them at room temperature.

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S-Rust-a-fusi

This biscuit recipe is inspired from the ‘scroccafusi’ one, a particular confectionery they make in the Marche region over the Carnival period. Traditionally, these biscuits should be boiled first and only then baked, although there seems to exist different schools of thought on the matter. Also, the name itself, meaning ‘spaccadenti’ (tooth-breakers) is only used in a specific part of the Marche region and, faithful to a wide regional variety, these biscuits have different name within the same area. According to the lore, if a foreigner or a future relative were to enter the kitchen while these biscuits were being made, the lady of the house needed to spit on the floor three times and trace a good luck symbol with her foot to banish the evil spirits.

Needless to say, this is a very personal interpretation of the recipe (and with no saliva spillage involved). Their weird name explains itself by how similar these biscuits are to baby rusts, small dry cakes used in the United Kingdom during the teething period to comfort toddlers. They are dense and yet rewarding, with a subtle almond and caramel taste. Traditionally, these biscuits should have been made with a dash of liquor, possibly Mistrà, a wine and anise liquor typical of the Marche region. The addition of Marsala, a fortified wine, works just as good. Also, quite remarkably, these biscuits do not need any fat or butter at all, which definitely explains their weird texture. They are also very easy to make, so you definitely have no excuses whatsoever.

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Ingredients

  • 400g plain flour
  • 150g soft light brown sugar
  • 230g golden caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp Marsala
  • 5 tbsp ground almonds

Method

  1. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, put the whole eggs and the sugar, then use the paddle attachment to beat them until foamy and increased in volume by at least 1/3.
  2. Slowly add the flour (in two batches), the Marsala and the ground almonds, until your mixture is still liquid, but very dense and thick.
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 180C and line two (or three) baking trays with parchment.
  4. Fill a bowl with some water and keep it next to you, then regularly wet your hands, let the excess water fall back in the bowl and take nugget-sized chunks of the mixture from the bowl, turning them round in your hands and then putting them on the baking tray. Repeat with the whole mixture. (The water here prevents the mixture from sticking to your hands). Leave some space between the blobs of mixture as the biscuits will expand in the oven.
  5. Bake for about 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before eating.

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Blueberry Swirl Cheesecake

I might have already said this, but I used to be scared of baked cheesecakes. Something to do with the water bath, probably. It’s funny how over time you grow more confident of what you can achieve and now, as it stands, I actually prefer baked cheesecakes to their non-bake cousins. A baked cheesecakes presents several advantages: first of all, it’s sturdier, which means I can get it off the tin base quite easily almost all of the time. Also, it’s firmer, meaning that with one night in the fridge the cheesecake lasts for a good 4-5 hours at room temperature without melting, while a non-bake one would probably be cream (cheese) after a mere 30 minutes. Lastly (but I’m sure there’s many more), you can play with fruit and ripple the cheesecake with sauces and different syrupy fillings because, as it bakes, the cheesecake will hold them inside. Pure bliss.

Anyway, this is a recipe I found in the July edition of the BBC Good Food Magazine. I merely amended some of the quantities and changed the tin. The original one looked stunning in a rectangular shape, but as I don’t have a rectangular tin with a removable base, I decided to opt for the more classic round one. Be aware, though, that these quantities yield quite a big one. I used a 26cm round springform tin and it was very full. It’s also a very rich cheesecake (if you have a quick look at the amount of cream cheese you will understand why), but not too sweet and extremely delicious. Ultimately, you can play with the design on top, which is always a bonus.

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Ingredients

  • 300g digestive biscuits
  • 140g butter
  • 250 + 25g golden caster sugar
  • 200g blueberries
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 900g cream cheese, full fat
  • 4 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200ml sour cream

Method

  1. Start with the base. If you have a food processor, tip the biscuits and the butter (even chilled is fine) inside, then whiz until you get a sandy mixture. If you don’t have a food processor, put the biscuits in a bag, seal it, then have a proper go at them with a rolling pin (or a big glass, but use the base and don’t smash it). Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat, then let it cool for a good 5 minutes. Transfer the biscuit crumbs to a big bowl, pour the melted butter on top and mix to combine.
  2. Pre-heat your oven to 200C. Butter your springform tin (especially the sides).
  3. Transfer the biscuit crumble to the tin and use the back of your hands to press it down firmly onto the base. Aim for an even layer.
  4. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  5. Move on to the blueberry sauce. Tip the 25g sugar and half the blueberries in a saucepan. Mix the cornflour with a tablespoon of water, then pour that in as well. Heat on a low to medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then increase to heat to high and let the mixture bubble away for a few minutes, until thickened. Keep an eye on it as it might stick to the pan. Once ready and jam-like, remove from the heat and leave to cool.
  6. In the meantime, prepare the filling. If you have a freestanding mixer, tip the ingredients in the bowl and use the paddle attachment. Otherwise, use a big bowl and electric whisks (it can also be done manually, but it will take time and patience).
  7. Put all of the cream cheese in the mixing bowl, then mix on low speed until the mixture is smooth. Add the remaining sugar and whisk again, then add the eggs, vanilla extract, flour and sour cream. Mix well to combine.
  8. Pour half of the cheesecake mixture over the now cooled base, then spoon over half of the blueberry jam and half of the leftover blueberries. Cover with the rest of the cheesecake mixture, then add the rest of the blueberry jam in big blobs and the remaining blueberries.
  9. Take a toothpick (or a skewer) and use it to ripple the blobs into the cheesecake.
  10. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 110C and bake for another 30 minutes.
  11. Turn off the oven (but don’t open the door!) and leave the cheesecake to set for 1 hour, then leave the oven door ajar and let the cheesecake cool for another hour.
  12. Transfer to the fridge for a good couple of hours or, even better, overnight.
  13. When ready, unmould from the tin and serve.

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Chocolate Chip Cheesecake

You know, I used to think baked cheesecakes were some sort of baking masterwork no-one could tackle. I’m not sure exactly what is was, maybe the idea of actually baking cream cheese, which I still find kind of hard to digest. However, I have to say that if you follow a few very easy steps, a baked cheesecake can be as easy as a non-bake one.

First of all, the oven temperature, which cannot be as high as for a victoria sponge. The reason behind it is that the cheese has been mixed up with eggs (and other ingredients, most of the time), so by increasing the temperature above 160 degrees Celsius you usually overbake the cheesecake and this results in cracks on the surface.

The same applies to the baking time. Bake it until the cheesecake still has a little wobble in the middle. I know it sounds off-putting, but the cake will keep on cooking upon cooling and the wobbly bit will set as nicely as the rest of the cake.

Last, the resting time. Allow the cheesecake to cool completely in the oven, then put it in the fridge and allow plenty of cooling time there. The cold of the fridge not only allows the cheese to become firm again, but also stabilises the whole cake so that when you try to unmould it the cheesecake doesn’t collapse and, most importantly, doesn’t melt.

This recipe is taken from the GBBO book, but can serve as a basic recipe to personalise your cheesecake and come up with unusual flavour combinations.

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Ingredients

  • 250g digestive biscuits
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 100g dark chocolate + some for the decoration
  • 50g white chocolate + some for the decoration
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 500g full-fat cream cheese
  • 250ml soured cream

Method

  1. Crush the biscuits to a fine powder. I find the easiest way to do this is in a food processor, but feel free to put them in a sealed bag and unwind all of your frustrations on them with either a rolling pin or the bottom of a glass. Once reduced to a fine crumb, combine with the butter to create a sand-like consistency. If using a food processor, add the butter directly from the fridge as it will combine better and the mixture will hold together. If doing it by hand, then use room temperature butter.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a 23cm springform tin and line both the base and the sides. Try and push the buttery crumbs up the sides as much as possible to create a crater-like biscuit base. Chill in the fridge until set.
  3. In the meantime, pre-heat the ovnen to 150 degrees Celsius.
  4. Chop the dark and white chocolate as finely as you can, the put on one side.
  5. Put the cream cheese, vanilla extract and sugar into a bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and mix those in until thoroughly combined.
  6. Stir in the soured cream and the chopped chocolate, then transfer the mixture to the prepared biscuit base and spread evenly on top.
  7. Bake for 1 hour or until set. As said, the cheesecake should still have a bit of a wobble to it in the centre. Turn off the oven, the take the cheesecake out of the oven and shut the door. Use a round bladed knife or a palette to run around the sides and loosen them, then pop back into the oven and leave to cool down with the door closed.
  8. Once cold, take out from the oven and pop in the fridge to set completely for at least 3 hours, if not overnight.
  9. When ready to serve, unmould the cheesecake and use a potato peeler to shave curls from the rest of the white and dark chocolate.

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Pan di Stelle

I have recently decided to master all aspects of baking, and starting from biscuits was the obvious choice – I have a sweet tooth, after all! This is another Mulino Bianco (see previous post) signature bake, the so-called Pan di Stelle (lit. “bread of stars”). It is a chocolate & hazelnut shortbread biscuits decorated with sugar stars and scattered with more granulated sugar on top. Very easy to make and infinitely tasty to have for breakfast dipped in milk (as I used to do when I was a kid) or as an afternoon snack. For the sake of precision, I used a 50mm cookie cutter and managed to get 5 trays’ worth of biscuits. I also burnt a whole batch, though, so in the end I didn’t end up with a massive amount of biscuits.

Ingredients

  • 500g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 30g dark chocolate
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 1 egg
  • 160g unsalted butter, softened
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 50ml milk
  • 20g peeled toasted hazelnuts
  • granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/s tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt

Method

1. Break up the dark chocolate and melt in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of slightly simmering water. Don’t let the bowl touch the water. Once melted, set aside to cool slightly.
2. If you’re using unpeeled hazelnuts, peel them and then toast them in a frying pan (by dry frying them for about 5-7 minutes). 
3. Once that is done, tip them in a food processor with 3 tbsp of granulated sugar and whiz until they form a smooth paste. The consistency should be fine and not coarse.
4. Line 5 baking trays.
5. In a big bowl, use a mixer (or a wooden spoon) and cream the butter with the icing sugar until soft and fluffy.
6. Add the hazelnut paste, the egg yolk (keep the white aside), the melted chocolate, milk and honey. Mix thoroughly (I used the electric whisk here as well).
7. Last addition, the flour and bicarb + baking powder. Use your hands and mix the dough/pastry together, scraping the flour which sticks to the bottom of the bowl and mixing it in. If you see the mixture is too crumbly and won’t stick together, add more milk one /teaspoon at a time and mix that in.
8. Tip the dough/pastry on to a floured working surface and bring together to form a round mould. Using a floured rolling pin, roll it out to about 2-3mm thickness. 
9. Using your cookie cutter (or a glass, for that matter) cut even shapes out of the dough/pastry and put them on the baking trays. See below (this is a new baking tray so I only floured it as it is a non-stick one):

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10. Re-roll the trimmings and roll them out again. Cut more shapes and use all of the dough/pastry until you can’t get any more biscuits out of it.

11. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degree Celsius.

12. Once all of the biscuits are on the lined (or floured) trays, lightly whisk the egg white you had put to the side before and brush them. Put 4 (or 5, as many as you want really) stars on top and then dust with some granulated sugar. Final result below.

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13. Put in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes. Please keep an eye on them and check they are not turning too dark. I also used the idiot-proof breaking test, that is taking one biscuit out of the oven and leaving it to cool for a minute or so, then trying to break it into half and checking whether it snaps.

14. Once baked, leave the biscuits in their tins to cool completely on racks, then carefully peel off the paper and put in a cookie jar.

Tips

  • When rolling out the pastry/dough, it is fundamental you keep your working surface well-floured as otherwise the biscuits will stick to it and getting them off the working surface will be a nightmare. 
  • In order to put the stars on the biscuits and ensuring an (almost) uniform result, I dipped my index finger in some of the egg white and used it to pick up the small sugar stars.
  • If you don’t want to use already made sugar stars and prefer to make your own instead, you can prepare some royal icing. In my case, I just couldn’t be bothered, although I spent an entire evening sorting through two small tubs of shop-bought sugar stars to separate the white ones from the pink, orange and yellow ones…