I am a huge fan of decorated biscuits.
They were a big catalyst for my current obsession with baking, and I have made endless batches to give as gifts, to impress guests, or for the sheer enjoyment of creating something beautiful and then devouring it!
I genuinely believe that food makes the best gift. And if it’s something that is going to be beautiful to look at, thoughtfully made, and it isn’t going to spoil in a matter of days, so much the better!
I saw the idea on Pinterest, or Reddit, or somewhere, to write thank you notes for teachers on decorated biscuits. It was so genius, I can’t believe it never occurred to me before! So I resolved to make them for the teachers at my daughter’s school at the end of the year.
The biscuit recipe that I use to make my decorated biscuits is adapted from a simple sugar cookie recipe. It’s not going to win any competitions for taste, but it does hold it’s shape pretty well, even with a large cookie. It’s got a very small amount of leavening, to help reduce any spreading.
200g castor sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
325g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
Cream together butter and sugar.
Add vanilla and egg and combine.
Add flour and combine.
Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 45 minutes, or longer if you can.
Pre-heat oven to 200c
Dust work surface with plain flour. Roll out dough to 3-4mm thick.
Cut our shapes and transfer to baking sheet with a palette knife.
Bake for 10 minutes, then leave on baking tray to cool for 6 minutes.
Transfer to cooling rack.
The most important step in my recipe is to chill the dough well before rolling out. I sometimes double this recipe and store half the dough in the freezer. To be conservative, I would say the dough would keep in the freezer for a month, but I’ve used it after much longer and nobody has got sick yet! It’s very common to chill the biscuits directly before cooking, but as my fridge is tiny and has no space to fit a baking sheet, I’ve been forced to do things this way. If you use the dough from cold and knead it until is *just* stops cracking, you will be able to avoid too much spreading without a second chill.
I wanted my biscuits to look like a sheet of A4 paper, so I rolled the dough out onto some parchment (that I could transfer directly to the baking sheet), and used the largest square cutter I had. I then used a large knife to trim off a piece of the edge to approximate the proportions of a sheet of paper. I totally eyeballed this, and I think it worked out fine. I bake my biscuits for about 10 minutes, but try to take them out before the edges darken (looks like I discovered some hot spots in my oven this time!).
If the biscuit has spread a little, you can poke and prod it with a spatula directly after baking to help maintain the correct shape. I was furiously slapping the sides of these biscuits with a large fish slice to make the edges as straight as possible…
You can also use a microplane zester to neaten up the edges. If you’re assembling a cookie sculpture this is a really good idea. For single biscuits I generally don’t bother, as it can look ‘tampered with’ and just make the biscuit look imperfect in a different way.
I like to leave about 24 hours before decorating my biscuits, because I find the fat can leak out and spoil the appearance of the icing. I like to separate mine with kitchen paper, and will find the paper reassuringly coated with grease the next morning! This step is especially important when using light coloured icing, as any imperfection will be more noticeable.
Iced biscuits are best decorated with royal icing, as it sets very firmly with a smooth finish. If you want to make your own royal icing, you can use egg whites or meringue powder – after years of making decorated cookies I prefer to use a boxed royal icing that just needs water added. It’s a little more expensive, and feels a little like cheating, but totally avoids the faff – and I know I could make my own very easily if I wanted to 😉
I would also recommend getting yourself some white icing colour, or some titanium dioxide powder. Even if you’re not colouring your icing a light colour, it will give your icing a nice opaque finish, rather that the slightly translucent look you get with water icing.
I’ve just noticed that this food colour went off in 2014. Barf. Oh well! 😐
I sift my icing powder and add water bit by bit, stirring it by hand. If you beat your icing in a stand mixer, you will find that it puffs up and becomes unworkable. Start with a few drops of flavouring (if using) and some water, and use your instincts from there. You’ll want the outlining icing to be fairly stiff, but still soften a little around the edges, so that it’s easy to pipe. Experience is the best teacher for establishing the correct consistency.
First you need to pipe outlines to the areas you wish to cover with icing. This biscuit is very simple because there’s only one area! My top tip for piping straight lines, is to attach the icing to the biscuit, and then pull away, allowing the icing to fall into place, rather then by pushing it onto the biscuit. It’s a lot easier to control the flow of the icing this way, as makes it much easier to end up with the shape you were aiming for!
Once you have piped all of your edges, I like to return all the icing back to the original bowl and then thin it down with water to create a consistency that flows more and will ‘flood’ the enclosed area you just created. You want it to be runny enough to flow and flatten out easily, but use as little water as possible so that it dries quickly. Again, it’s a balancing act that comes best with experience.
When your biscuits are flooded, you’ll need to leave them to dry for several hours. I usually end up flooding my cookies in the evening, and leaving them out overnight to dry.
I have one of those netting covers that I like to place over them, to stop any dust or insects (gross, but it’s happened!) getting to the icing while it dries. Your grandmother probably had something like this – if opens up like an umbrella but is made out of fine mesh fabric. If you have a dehydrator, you could also try using that – I haven’t got one myself, but I’ve heard great things about them.
Once the biscuits are dried, you can start to draw on you details with edible marker. I wanted to make my biscuits look like a sheet of school notepaper, so I used a ruler to create the lines and margin. I think it worked rather well!
Once that was done, all I needed to do was write the thank you notes.
I asked my daughter what she thought about her teachers, and edited the feedback I got into something complementary and concise! I wrote the majority if the note myself, but got her to sign her own name. I think she did a rather good job considering she’s only 4!
For the sake of hygiene, I put the finished biscuits into individual plastic wraps and taped them shut. It might be a nice idea to tie the bags with a pretty ribbon too, but I didn’t have large enough bags for that to work.
Happily, the biscuits were really well received 🙂
Something thoughtful, homemade AND edible?! What more could a teacher want?! 😀