Petticoat Tails

These thin, triangular, crisp, rich biscuits are thought to date from twelfth-century Edinburgh, and later on to have been a favourite of Mary, Queen of Scots. There is some dispute over the name and the recipe: it could derive from the French for little cakes, ‘petites gatelles’, or from ‘tally’, the word for a cut-out pattern. Writing in 1826 in her book The Cook and Housewife’s Manual, Meg Dodds says, ‘. . . we rather think the name petticoat tails has its origin in the shape of the cakes, which is exactly that of the bell-hoop petticoats of our ancient court ladies’, ‘petty cotes’ being a wide panelled skirt. The traditional pattern is made by cutting a disc in the centre of the shortbread round, then cutting the surrounding dough into segments.

The recipe is butter-rich and crisp. Caster sugar can be used instead of icing sugar, and you can use either cornflour or rice flour. The mixture can be left plain, or flavoured with caraway seeds or a few drops of almond extract. 

You will need
150g unsalted butter, very soft 
40g icing sugar 
200g plain flour 
50g cornflour caster sugar, for sprinkling 
2 baking trays, greased with butter a 5cm round cutter

Makes about 18 pieces
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4.

Beat the butter and sugar until light and creamy, using a wooden spoon or an electric whisk or mixer. Sift the flour and cornflour on to the mixture and work it in with your hands to make a firm dough. Knead gently to bring it together (some cooks add a very little milk in cold weather). Divide the dough in half, and shape each portion into a ball. Set each one in the middle of a greased baking tray, and gently roll with a rolling pin, or press out with your hands, to an even circle 18cm across and 5mm thick. Press in any stray crumbs or cracks, to give an even surface.

Pinch the outside edge of each circle to decorate. Press the round cutter into the centre of each disc, but do not remove the circle of dough. With a sharp knife cut the dough around the centre circle into 8 segments, without cutting into the centre circle.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 18 to 20 minutes, until lightly golden and crisp all over. If necessary, rotate the trays halfway through the baking time so that the shortbreads cook evenly.
Sprinkle with caster sugar and gently cut along the marked lines, but leave to cool completely before removing from the tray. Traditionally, the triangular segments would be served arranged in a ring, with the centre circle set in the middle.

Store in an airtight container.

For other cool baking stuff check out this.

Shortcake Biscuits

Crisp rich shortbread, with a hint of peanuts, is sandwiched with a rich creamy caramel flavoured with sea salt and more peanuts – a wonderful explosion of tastes and textures.

You will need
440g unsalted butter, softened 
220g caster sugar
4 tablespoons good-quality crunchy peanut butter 
680g plain flour
300g caster sugar 
5 tablespoons cold water 
100ml double cream 
100g unsalted butter, diced 
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt flakes, or to taste 
2 tablespoons salted roasted peanuts, chopped
100g caster sugar 
2 tablespoons cold water 
2 tablespoons salted roasted peanut halves 
a 6.5cm round biscuit cutter 3 baking trays, lined with greaseproof paper a baking tray, oiled a greaseproof paper icing bag

Makes about 24
 Put the butter and sugar into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a large food mixer and beat with an electric whisk or mixer until creamy. Beat in the peanut butter. When thoroughly combined, sift in the flour and mix with a wooden spoon. Using your hands, bring the mixture together into a ball. Flatten into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill for about 15 minutes, until firm.

Roll out the dough on a floured work surface to a thickness of about 5mm. Cut out discs using the cutter, then gather up the trimmings, briefly knead, re-roll and cut more discs - you will need an equal number. Arrange the shortcake discs on the lined baking trays, spacing them slightly apart to allow for spreading. Chill for 15 minutes. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Bake the shortcakes for 10 to 12 minutes, or until firm and golden. Leave on the trays for 5 minutes to firm up, then transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

Meanwhile make the caramel filling. Put the sugar and water into a deep pan and heat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved. Brush down the insides of the pan with a damp pastry brush to prevent sugar crystals forming. Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the syrup to the boil and leave to bubble for several minutes, until it turns a rich caramel colour. Remove the pan from the heat, and carefully add the cream and the butter - take care, as the mixture will boil up and splutter. Once the mixture has subsided, return the pan to a low heat, stir gently, and simmer for a minute to make a smooth, thick caramel sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and chopped peanuts. Transfer to a heatproof bowl and leave to cool.

To make the caramel peanuts, heat the sugar and water in a small pan until the sugar has completely dissolved. Bring to the boil, then leave to bubble for several minutes until it turns to a deep caramel. Remove from the heat. Scatter the peanut halves on the oiled baking tray and pour over the hot caramel to coat completely. Leave to cool and set.
When ready to assemble, sandwich the biscuits in pairs with the salted caramel filling. Break up the caramel peanut mixture and crumble over the top.