Deida’s Butter Biscuits, Crisp Cheddar shortbread and Hazelnut Meringues

I want to start with an explanation of how from week to week I decide what to write about. Sometimes it’s about an event I’ve done, occasionally about somewhere interesting we’ve been, but mostly it’s about food. What I cook is dependant on a number of things; seasonal produce from the market, as I’m always inspired by what’s available now; recipes for my children, who often ask me how to make something; memories from my childhood; and you, who sometimes ask me for specific recipes, to which I’m always happy to oblige. This post though, is inspired by my childhood memories, and the need to write family recipes down for my girls, so they won’t have to wonder, as I sometimes do, how the hell did my mother do that?

As a child I remember there was always some little treat in the kitchen, be it sweet or savoury: usually something my mother had baked that day – whether a new recipe that she wanted to try, or an old favourite. The same at my grandparent’s house, but there, more elaborate rich cakes, except for these butter biscuits, my Russian grandfather ‘Deida’s’ favourite. I guess he craved something simple to nibble on with a cup of tea, other than the very rich, creamy and buttery cakes that are so common in Russian cuisine. I love baking these as they take no time at all, and are light, crisp, and it’s so difficult to stop at one. My grandmother would put half a glacé cherry, or an almond on top. I prefer half a pistachio nut, then a little sprinkle of Himalayan pink salt. I think my grandfather would have enjoyed this variation too.

Deida’s Butter Biscuits

This recipe was my grandmother’s, and originally in ounces, so I have kept it that way.

  • 4oz castor sugar
  • 5oz self raising flour, sifted
  • 4oz unsalted butter
  • 1 medium sized egg
  • Pistachios, cut in half
  • Himalayan pink salt

Put sugar and flour into a bowl. Melt butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat until it starts to foam and smell nutty. Immediately pour it over the flour and sugar and mix until combined. Now break the egg into the bowl and beat well into the other ingredients. Preheat oven to 170C, line a baking tray with baking paper, and drop little spoonfuls of the dough onto the baking sheet, about 5cm apart as they will spread. Top with half a pistachio nut and a sprinkle of salt, and pop into the oven for 8-10 minutes. When golden, take out, and cool on a rack. These are buttery, crisp, and delicious. Even better, it takes 15 - 20 minutes from start to finish.This dough can also be rolled into little balls, (fun for a child to do) placed on the baking sheet, and then squashed down with a finger.

My daughter Hayley adores these cheese biscuits. As a small child, when staying with my parents, my father would bring her and her sister a bowl of these in the morning with a mug of tea, and there they’d sit, propped up against their pillows, nibbling on them, and sipping their hot sweet tea. Now my Hayley is grown up, and although still enjoying several with a cup of tea, is more inclined to grab a handful to accompany a vodka martini. As far as she is concerned, life should never be without an enormous jar of these on the kitchen bench and I tend to agree with her. I like to use a sharp, crumbly cheddar, but feel free to use whatever you have in the fridge.

Cheddar Shortbread

  • ½lb/ 225g butter cut into small cubes, room temperature
  • ½lb/ 225g grated cheese
  • ½lb/ 225g self raising flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper, optional

This is such an easy recipe, and takes no time whatsoever to make in a food processor. Just divide the ingredients into 2 even piles, and process until a dough forms, about 1 -2 minutes. Remove from food processor, and repeat with remaining ingredients. Now, on a lightly floured surface, divide each ball of dough in two even sized pieces. Roll each ball into a sausage, about 2.5cm in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours, or freeze. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 170C, line a baking tray with baking paper, and cut each cheese sausage into 1cm thick slices. Place on baking tray, leaving a little room between each golden, pastry coin, and bake for 8 -10 minutes. Remove from oven, and cool on a wire rack before serving.

What do you think of meringues? I’m not really a big fan, and I don’t like Pavlova, that gooey centre is all wrong for me. If I’m going to eat meringues, and it’s not very often, they’e accompanied by a small cup of very strong, black, sugarless coffee. This recipe is inspired by something my mother and aunt Tamara used to make, it’s my own adaption: unfortunately, I don’t have the recipe. They used to make small, rustic hazelnut meringues, and sandwich them together with a coffee buttercream, Tamara used to make a rather beautiful and large gateau, my mother, sandwiched two meringues together with the rich buttercream. What I loved about their meringues was that they were perfectly imperfect, but the buttercream was always beautifully piped with a star tip.

Hazelnut Meringues with Coffee Buttercream

  • 11/4 cups/170g toasted hazelnuts, skins removed
  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 cup/ 128g icing sugar
  • Pinch Himalayan pink salt

Preheat oven to 170C degrees, and line a baking sheet with baking paper. In a food processor, pulse hazelnuts until finely ground. Now, combine egg whites, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a medium stainless steel bowl. Set bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, about 5cm deep, and whisk constantly, until warm to the touch, about 3 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and using an electric mixer, beat mixture on a high speed until thick and glossy, about 3-4 minutes. With a rubber spatula, fold in hazelnuts. Using a teaspoon, drop meringue onto the baking sheet in little mounds, 5cm apart. Place on the middle shelf of the oven, about 18-20 minutes, until the meringues are cracked on top, and slightly caramelised. Turn off the oven, and let meringues cool in the oven, leaving the door slightly ajar. These will keep nicely for 2 weeks in a sealed jar.

Coffee Buttercream

  • 350g icing sugar
  • 175g unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature
  • Pinch Himalayan pink salt
  • 1 1/2tbsp very strong espresso, cooled

Process the icing sugar in a food processor until there are no lumps, add the butter and the salt and mix until well combined and smooth. Pour in the espresso, and pulse to mix it into the buttercream. Use immediately.