Showing posts with label shortcake. Show all posts
Showing posts with label shortcake. Show all posts

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Russian Shortcake

After making many sponge cakes – both big and small - with rich buttercreams and frostings, I had a hankering for something simpler and more biscuity this week.  I must confess from the off that I don’t know whether this is a Russian recipe or whether it’s acquired that name somewhere along the line.  I can’t see anything about the recipe that screams “Russian” at me but it’s as good a name as any and makes it sound more exotic than sultana spice slice!

I was disappointed with my topping when I made it – it looked ugly and I scrapped the first batch (my fault for not sifting the icing sugar).  I was ready to advise you to make a simple glace icing instead...but then I tasted it.  Yum.  It doesn’t look particularly elegant but boy does it pack flavour and it also has a gentle sugary crunch to it which is surprising given its butteriness.

The biscuit part isn’t crisp – I was expecting shortbread (foolish, given that it’s called shortcake!) – it’s a halfway house between biscuit and cake.  This is the sort of bake that you sit down with a cup of tea and think, ‘I’ll just have one or two’, and then realise you’ve eaten half the batch!


For the base:
145g unsalted butter
145g light brown sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
260g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
150g sultanas

For the topping:
30g unsalted butter
60g icing sugar – sifted (NB.  I never sift anything but you must here, otherwise your topping will look lumpy and gross)
10g caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon – you can also use ginger, if you prefer


Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan oven 170°C/375°F/gas mark 5.

Grease a 30cm x 20cm tin – I used a disposable foil one.

Start by making the base: melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup together until the butter is just melted.

Leave to cool.

Beat the egg and vanilla together.

Add the melted butter mix, flour, baking powder and sultanas and mix well.  Don’t expect a biscuit dough texture – it’s more like the shiny gloopiness of gingerbread.

Spread into the prepared tin and level the surface.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the base feels firm.  Mine took exactly 20 minutes.

About halfway through the cooking time, start making the topping: melt the butter and then stir in the remaining ingredients.

Stir well and spread over the hot base as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Leave to cool before cutting into fingers.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.


Sunday, 1 August 2010

History corner – Normandy short cakes

“The Housewife’s Referee”, subtitled ‘A treatise on culinary and household subjects’ was published in 1898. Written by Mrs de Salis, who you may remember from other books such as “Tempting Dishes for Small Incomes”, “New Laid Eggs”, and “Dogs and their Ailments”, it takes a rather unimpressed view of the modern woman.

This is my favourite bit from the introduction. I quote word for word because to edit it would be a crime:

The silly ignorance of so many gentlewomen is astounding. Let me give an example: I was present at a lecture a short time since at one of the recent cookery exhibitions, where Miss Young was teaching pastry making, when a lady among the audience asked,

“Must we put out bare hands into the dough?”

“Certainly,” replied the teacher; “you cannot make it otherwise.”

“Oh, then,” remarked the questioner, “perhaps that is the reason why I failed when I made my last tart; my gloves did seem in the way!”

I consider this a very good example of the terrible ignorance which prevails regarding the knowledge of the cuisine.

I think we’ve all learned a valuable lesson there – the number of long white evening gloves I’ve wasted! Also, while Mrs de Salis is keen to point out the failings of others I would like to expose her, for this recipe undoubtedly contained a typo. She says to use the same quantity of flour as the sugar and butter; any seasoned biscuit maker will tell you that you need a lot more flour in order to bind the dough. Further, her instructions tell you to add flour until you have a stiff dough and then roll it out - so the dough is obviously not meant to be as soft and sticky as it was. The amounts set out below are what I actually used rather than her flawed recipe!

The whole tone of the book is rather high-handed and Mrs de Salis or Harriet, as she would no doubt not let me call her, can’t ever resist slipping in some heavily italicised French whenever the chance arises. These are actually called
Sables Normands with the English provided as an afterthought.

I didn’t want to add too much flour and lose the buttery focus of the biscuit so I made a decision to roll little balls of dough between my hands rather than add more flour so I could roll it out and use a cutter. I think that was that right way to go as the texture was great – crumbly but rich and flavoursome.

As is often the way with old recipes there is no cooking time or temperature given. We are told the oven should be “brisk” which I’ve interpreted to mean medium-hot. You will note from the rather scanty ingredients list below that the biscuits are not flavoured. Personally, I’d be tempted to add some vanilla but wanted to keep them as the recipe stated for this first attempt.


3 eggs
230g/ 8 oz caster sugar
230g/ 8 oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
460g/ 1lb plain flour – don’t be afraid to use more if the dough is too sticky


Preheat the oven to 180˚C/fan oven 160˚C/350˚F/Gas mark 4.

Line 2 biscuit sheets with baking paper.

Place the eggs, sugar and butter in a bowl and beat until well combined.

Using your hands (remember ladies – no gloves!) add the flour a little at a time until you have a thick and firm paste. I never actually achieved this state and my dough remained too soft to roll.

If your dough permits it, roll out the paste between two sheets of floured baking paper and use a cutter to cut out biscuits. As my dough was soft and I didn’t want to over flour it and diminish the butteriness I took walnut sized balls and rolled them between my floured hands.

Place on a baking sheet, leaving a little room for expansion. If you’ve rolled balls, flatten them slightly.

Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes until the biscuits have turned pale golden.

Remove and leave to cool on a wire rack. Remove the biscuits from the baking sheet when they have cooled – they are far too soft when straight from the oven.

Bask in the glory of the wonderful thing you have created.