The joys of baking

The joy of baking is upon me in a flurry of flour, nostalgia, sentiment and greed. Even the simplest recipe conjures up sepia-tinted images of deep, cream-coloured mixing bowls, wooden spoons, handwritten recipe books and kitchen benches lined with Bakelite kitchen canisters labelled Flour, Sugar, Coffee and Tea.

When I was growing up, home-made biscuits were so taken for granted that we always referred to the alternative as ''bought biscuits'' to differentiate them from the norm. Now, it's the commercial variety that has diminished in value, while handmade, home-made biscuits are the most sought-after.

Here are three different paths to biscuity love; from a sweet and light, gluten-free macaroon to crisp, twice-cooked Tuscan biscotti that have a special, tooth-defying joy of their own - you can gnaw on them like adult rusks. And what better way to get your daily grains, nuts and seeds than in an oaty, nutty, seedy granola biscuit? They're cooling on a wire rack as I write and, just as in days of old, a hand keeps creeping in and sneaking one away. I must stop doing that.

Lemon coconut macaroons

Not to be confused with their chic Parisian cousins, macarons, these chewy, soft-hearted macaroons are perfect with coffee, poached fruits or chocolate mousse. They are also gluten-free.

4 egg whites
200g castor sugar
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
225g shredded coconut

Heat oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Beat egg whites in a bowl until lightly fluffy. Gradually add sugar, still beating, until mixture is firm, white and glossy. Fold in lemon zest and coconut. Shape heaped tablespoons of the mixture into pyramids with wet fingers (or use a piping bag with nozzle to pipe on the tray). Bake for 15 minutes in the centre of the oven until lightly golden and still soft inside. Gently transfer to a wire rack to cool and firm up. Store in an airtight jar.

Makes 24

Cantuccini with white chocolate, cranberry and rosemary

CAPTION

These crisp and crunchy Tuscan biscuits are just the thing to dip into a pretty little glass of sweet dessert wine.

250g plain flour
250g castor sugar
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp Frangelico or Nocello
2 large eggs
60g whole almonds, skin on
50g white chocolate, chopped
50g dried cranberries
1/2 tsp rosemary sprigs, very finely chopped

Heat oven to 180C. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, vanilla extract, liqueur and eggs in a food processor and whiz until the mixture forms a ball. Turn out onto a floured bench and pat out with floured hands to a flat, free-range pizza shape. Scatter with almonds, chocolate, cranberries and rosemary, then gather up into a ball again, pushing and pummelling dough into shape. Divide dough into three pieces and pat each out into a neat log shape about five centimetres wide. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper, with room for spreading, and bake for 30 minutes until lightly coloured and firm.

Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 140C. Cut each log into one-centimetre slices and lie them cut-side down on the tray. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn off oven and leave for 10 minutes or until biscuits feel dry (they will harden as they cool). Store in an airtight container.

Makes 40 to 50

Crunchy granola biscuits

CAPTION

All the hearty goodness of home-made granola, in a biscuit. Take them from the oven while still soft, and as they cool they will harden into crunchy-edged biscuits with slightly fudgy centres.

125g rolled oats
100g dried shredded coconut
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
100g almonds, roughly chopped
100g plain flour, sifted
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
Pinch of salt
125g soft brown sugar
100g sultanas
50g currants
150g butter, chopped
2 tbsp golden syrup
3 tbsp boiling water
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Heat oven to 170C. Line two baking trays with baking paper. Mix oats, coconut, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds, flour, cinnamon, ginger, salt, sugar, sultanas and currants in a large bowl. Heat butter and golden syrup in a saucepan until melted, then remove from heat.

Mix boiling water and bicarbonate of soda and add to saucepan, stirring well with a wooden spoon as it forms a light, foamy caramel. Pour mixture into dry ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Mulch with your hands until thick and squelchy, adding a dash of water if dry. Roll two tablespoons of the mixture into a ball and press down to flatten, then repeat with remaining mixture.

Bake for 15-17 minutes until lightly golden and still slightly soft. Remove from oven, cool for 10 minutes on trays, then transfer to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight jar.

Makes 12 large biscuits

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