It may be the years and years of studying and working crazy hours which has lead me to believe we actually haven’t had a summer in England since I left school. This year, basking in the glory of a 9-5, Monday to Friday job around the corner from my home also has allowed me to bask in the glory of a great big sun which seems almost ever-present.
At the moment, I walk to and from work with the sun kissing my cheeks wearing my sun glasses plus we’ve even had some weekends with the sort of never-ending summery days I relegate to the memory of infrequent holidays abroad only. Each and every moment I get to spend in the golden rays outdoors is welcomed with open (bare) arms and I try to stop for a second whenever I can to appreciate what a good life I have.
There is nothing quite like stepping out into the warmth of a 20-something degree summers day, lifting your face to the sky, closing your eyes and taking a long, deep, quiet breath to make a sun baby like me grateful, calm, happy. Seeing that an English summer appears to be a distant memory, it is perhaps understandable that I link such days to childhood treats.
You already heard about my Arctic Roll – the next memory which has been reignited in me is of Neapolitan ice cream. A trifecta of childhood happiness in the form of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. Only this time, I have created something which won’t entirely melt in my sweltering kitchen before you get the chance to enjoy it.
It was a little while ago that a page I follow on Facebook called Sam’s Kitchen posted her photograph of Neapolitan biscuits. I was smitten with the idea and tucked it away for when I had the opportunity to bake some of my own. At the time Sam didn’t share her recipe but no matter – my friend Pam’s book Brilliant Biscuits held the recipes I wanted to use anyway.
Pam created her recipes out of a love of decorating biscuits, not to mention quite a special talent for doing so, and what she came up with is a rather magical blend of totally delicious biscuits you really want to eat that also genuinely never spread on baking. She has a lot of tips in her wonderful book and I encourage every one of you to get yourself a copy. She is a biscuit genius.
Another lovely lass I’ve got to know through her baking blog and the baking supplies shop she runs to accompany it is Jemma – of Iced Jems. A treasure trove of anything the home baker could want to decorate and dress up cakes and cookies, I often find myself there adding things to my basket, even when payday is long off and I can’t hit the check out button!
One item I did treat myself to was a biscuit shaped plunger cutter – it reminds me of my all-time favourite, bourbon biscuits and also those cream filled rich tea fingers I recall from my younger years. Frilly and cute plus perfectly proportioned for a good old fashioned British Biccie. What’s not to love?!
Back in my childhood, Neapolitan ice cream was usually purchased from the chiller cabinet of my local sweet shop, Tom’s, in a large rectangular cardboard package. You were presented with stripes of chocolate, vanilla and baby pink strawberry to be served in slices either on a plate or if you were extra lucky, in a lesser-known form of the ice cream cone – a rectangular one with a flat base so it could stand up unaided.
As if it would be left to stand for more than a moment to take the iciness away when it was fresh out of the freezer!
Displaying the OCD trait I have from a young, young age, you will probably not be surprised to learn I preferred to eat my slice with a spoon from a side plate, trying to eat flavour stripe without having any of them mix. So to complete my biscuit analogy of this much loved icy treat, I needed to come up with a strawberry filling. I actually made my own butter from a tub of double cream which needed to be used up but I don’t suggest you go to such lengths!
In fact, it may have been the combination of the high heat and humidity in my kitchen but my buttercream was very soft until it spent a night in the fridge. Like I did with my strawberry milkshake cookies, I used freeze dried strawberry pieces to give both colour and the taste of my most favourite fruit. In a suitably childlike manner, I feel these biccies demand to be eaten prized apart, with equal amounts of buttercream on each half. Which only goes to show how much I’ve grown, as I no longer have to eat one flavour at a time… ;)
- 100 g soft butter
- 60 g caster sugar
- 140 g golden syrup
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 30 g cocoa powder
- 140 g plain flour
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 45 g wholemeal flour
- 125 g plain flour
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 80 g butter
- 160 g icing sugar
- 2 tbsp freeze dried strawberries pieces or ready ground
- Optional – a drop or two of pink food colouring I omitted this
Cream the butter and sugar then beat in the vanilla, egg yolk and golden syrup. Divide into two bowls – you may weigh it and divide by two if you must.
To the vanilla bowl, sift over the flours and baking powder and mix with a spatula until a cohesive dough forms – just. Bring together, pat into a disk, cover with cling and chill.
To the chocolate bowl, sift over the flour, cocoa and baking powder and proceed as for the vanilla dough. Chill both for 20- 30 minutes.
Roll each disk of dough to a rectangle 5mm thick. I like my biccies to have substance. Either use a plunger cutter to cut the biscuits out, ensuring you tap the plunger up and down several times firmly, confidently to ensure you get a good imprint of its embossed pattern. If you don’t have a cutter (even a plain, non-plunger style one) then simply cut out rectangles of dough about 2x5cm – as long as the are all the same size, it doesn’t matter exactly what dimensions they are. Try to make even numbers of both vanilla and chocolate biscuits.
At this point, transfer your biscuits on to a lined baking tray (I use a silicone sheet for preference) and transfer to a fridge for at least an hour. Over night is fantastic as you can be very confident the next day that they will be firm enough that they won’t spread on baking.
Preheat your oven to 180°C. Take your biscuits directly from the fridge and put on the centre of the preheated oven and bake for 10-14 minutes until dry to the touch and a little puffed up. They shouldn’t have browned and a *gentle* prod will not leave an imprint.
Leave to cool on a tray until warm enough to slide on their lining paper (silicone or otherwise) onto a baking rack to cool – they are too tender to remove one by one at this stage but it is important to get them off the baking sheet which will retain heat and risk the biscuit continuing to cook when they should be cooling.
When cold, make the buttercream – whiz your strawberry pieces in a spice grinder for a few seconds until it turns to the texture of icing sugar. Beat the butter, icing sugar and strawberry powder for a good 5-10 minutes until light and fluffy. Add food colouring if you prefer a deeper pink a dot at a time.
Either using a piping bag with a plain nozzle with a 1cm opening or simply cut off a corner of a heavy duty food bag, pipe two rows of buttercream onto one of the vanilla biscuits then top with a chocolate one. Be generous – it’s a joy to be able to prize them apart and eat each half, with a good measure of buttercream on each.
Adapted from the wonderful book by my friend Pamela Giles, Brilliant Biscuits
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