Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the kitchen and do a bit of Christmas baking, Sydney gets hit with a heatwave and it’s difficult to work out what you can possibly bear to eat, let alone turn on the oven and bake Christmas biscuits. In the humid heat of early December, it gets hard to uphold those northern hemisphere Christmas food traditions. Sure, some of them are best let go of, like roast turkey and baked vegetables for lunch on a hot summer’s day. Then there’s plum pudding and brandy sauce (how anyone could think that was a good idea, even in the middle of winter, is beyond me), but the annual baking of Christmas biscuits to give to family and friends is a hard one for me to let go of. In amongst all that feasting and excess, it’s very nice to sit down with a nice cup of tea a couple of bikkies, after all, it is Christmas.
There’s only one solution to the climatic inappropriateness of our Christmas baking season and that is the refrigerator biscuit. These aren’t ‘no bake’ biscuits, you still have to turn on the oven at some stage, but you can make and shape your dough into logs, then refrigerate or freeze your biscuit dough until needed, or the weather is cooler. When my mum first made refrigerator biscuits in the seventies, we kids were entranced by the whole ‘slice and bake’ novelty of them. The idea that you could have freshly baked biscuits, any time you felt like it, seemed like the epitome of modernity and convenience.
To be truthful, my mum’s refrigerator biscuits were pretty bland tasting but, in fact, almost any rollable biscuit dough can be shaped into logs, refrigerated or frozen and baked later, at your convenience. For those hard-core Christmas nuts amongst us, it means you can stock up enormous amounts of biscuit dough that can be baked off, as required, to give out to family and friends.
Last Christmas, I made two new recipes as refrigerator biscuits. The first: chocolate sable cookies comes from the Miette Bakery Cookbook. Miette is a famous bakery in San Francisco and their chocolate sable cookie is inspired by the even more famous Pierre Hermé’s chocolate sable in Paris – slivers of dark, soft chocolate are encased in a delicate, crumbly, biscuit, with a sprinkling of sugar on top to offset the intensity of the chocolate. I used Lindt 70 per cent chocolate because it was half price at my local Coles supermarket a few weeks back, and I stocked up in anticipation of my Christmas baking.
The second recipe: lemon shortbread is adapted from I Can Bake by Agnes Chang and comes via a Singaporean food blog – Baking Library – that extolled the virtues of this particular recipe for its ability to withstand the humidity of Singapore and not go soft.
With both of these recipes, the dough can either be: shaped into logs, refrigerated or frozen, then sliced and baked later – or chilled for half an hour, rolled out to about 1 centimetre thickness and cut into shapes before baking.
Both these biscuits have good keeping qualities which, to my mind, is essential for any Christmas biscuit. At this time of year, with such enormous amounts of food being made and exchanged, it is sometimes difficult to know when your friends will get around to eating your lovingly prepared food gift.
I have also found hard biscuits, like these, keep much better in a tin than in an airtight plastic container.
Chocolate sable cookies
- 1 cup of all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup of unsweetened natural cocoa powder
- ½ teaspoon bicarb soda (baking soda)
- 125 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2/3 cup of sugar plus more for sprinkling
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 100 grams 70 percent cacao chocolate, coarsely grated (in Sydney;s humidity, I found that when I grated the chocolate it just melted. so I slivered and chopped it finely)
- Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and baking soda in a bowl and whisk together so everything is combined.
- Beat together butter, sugar, salt and vanilla until lightened (about 4 minutes)
- Add sifted flour, cocoa powder, grated chocolate and baking soda to butter. Mix until just combined.
- Shape into square or round logs, 2.5 cm in diameter, chill until firm and slice into 1 cm thickness. If the dough is very cold, it may need to be softened a little before slicing.
- Place on a tray about 4 cm apart and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake in preheated oven about 175°C or 350°F for 10–12 minutes until they are firm. I have a fan-forced oven that runs quite hot so I baked these just under 150°C.
- The sables should be firm but still quite soft when they come out of the oven, let them cool for ten minutes on tray, before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. They are a delicate biscuit if you remove them from the trays too soon they will crumble and fall apart.
Makes about 36 x 2.5 cm square cookies.
It’s important not to overcook these sable biscuits as they can become dry. They also seem, like most shortbreads, to taste better a day or two after they are baked.
These biscuits will keep up to two weeks after baking, stored in a biscuit tin.
Dough logs can keep wrapped airtight in glad wrap for up to week in the refrigerator or three months in the freezer.
- 125 grams unsalted butter
- 70 grams caster sugar
- 120 grams plain flour
- 60 grams rice flour
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- Finely grated zest of one lemon (grate zest over sugar and squeeze in to sugar)
- Demerara sugar for sprinkling (optional)
- Sift both types of flour and salt into a bowl and whisk together until evenly combined.
- Beat butter, sugar and zest together until mixture lightens.
- Add flour to butter mixture and mix until just combined.
- Turn dough onto baking paper and roll dough into 2.5 x 2.5 square or round log. Refrigerate until firm and slice into 1 cm (1/2 inch) slices. (If log is too firm it may need to be softened outside the fridge to slice without shattering).
- Place on biscuit slices on baking tray lined with baking paper, sprinkle with sugar.
- Place in preheated oven 170°C or 150°C fan forced. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until lightly colored.
- Remove biscuits from tray and cool on rack.
- Store in a biscuit tin when completely cool.