Dotty Cookies

Delicious syrup flavoured soft (or crunchy) cookies studded with colourful chocolate beans (a.k.a Smarties), these must surely be the most cheerful cookies around, and just perfect to celebrate the first signs of spring.

Is it just me, or has this winter been endless? I can’t even imagine not wearing a coat and sunshine seems to have been a rare occurrence for such a long time. Whilst I love the cosiness of Winter, I’m seriously craving a bit of light and heat, and seeing the leaves and blossom appear on the trees. Spring, we’re ready for you!

I’ve spent years trying to source ‘safe’ Smarties. Ages ago we could buy ‘Whizzers’ which were a variety of safe colourful chocolate beans and definitely filled the cheerful chocolate hole. Sadly they were discontinued and we’ve had no readily available alternative for a long long time. Sad days šŸ˜¦

To my delight, I’ve recently come across two new varieties which are occasionally available in the UK. Chocolate No-No’s,Ā made by No Whey Chocolates based in the US and Colourful Chocolate Beans made by Clarana in Germany. Chocolate No-No’s are my preference as they are top 8 free, whereas the Clarana beans are made in a factory which uses peanuts, milk, almonds and nuts and so poses a risk we’re not willing to take. They are the more authentic in taste and look so if you’re happy with a ‘may contain’ then they are probably the ones to opt for.

You may think it rather foolhardy to use two packs of these expensive and hard to source chocolate beans in a cookie recipe? Maybe, but i’ve wanted to make my own version of these colourful and full of fun cookies for such a long time, it seemed like a good use of this scare resourse. They remind me of the Spotty Cookies which always used to be sold in cafes and soft-play centres when my girls were tiny. I’d always see them admiring the pretty dotty cookies and feel sad that i had to hand over a boring box of raisins or some rice cakes instead. It may have been a wait but here is my Dotty Cookie recipe. The chocolate beans seem to remain slightly melted inside for a fair few hours which is a wonderful contrast to the crunchy sugar shell. These were gone in no time, so whilst it may have been a long wait, it was most definitely worth it!

If you don’t want to waste your smarties, these cookies work equally well with chocolate chips instead.

Dotty Cookies

(free-from milk, eggs, nuts, soya, sesame, vegetarian and vegan)

makes about 12

125g dairy-free margarine

80g caster sugar

3 tbsp golden syrup or maple syrup

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

180g plain flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

approx. 100g chocolate beans [you’ll want 6 per cookie]

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade/180 degrees Centigrade Fan Oven. Grease two cookie sheets and set aside
  2. Cream together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the syrup and vanilla.
  3. Sift in the flour , bicarbonate, baking powder and salt. Mix to form a soft dough.
  4. Roll into balls the size of ping pongs and gently flatten onto the baking tray
  5. Bake forĀ 10 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and press the smarties into the top of the cookies, 6 per cookie is ideal.
  7. Return to the oven forĀ 2Ā minutes.Ā Cool briefly on the trays before transferring to a wire rack.
  8. For a crunchier cookie, change the cooking times toĀ 12 minutes plus another 2 with the beans on.

 

 

Homemade Speculaas Biscuits

I really love making biscuits, I think I like making them more than any other food. There’s something about it that I find relaxing and rewarding. Perhaps I should be listening to myself, maybe a cookie business is the way forward!

Anyway, I’m constantly on the look out for inspiration, be it in supermarkets, bakeries, magazines or online. Seeing something new to experiment with and recreate makes me happy, and happiness in certainly needed in the cold dark days of January. The inspiration for these speculaas biscuits comes from the gorgeous Ottolenghi cookbook ‘Sweet‘ which I got for my birthday. I’m a big fan of Yotam Ottolenghi and his food, and as you can imagine a recipe book of his sweet treats is right up my street. These homemade Lotus biscuits caught my eye straight away, and I have to say that with a few tweaks and experiments the resulting ‘friendly’ biscuits are spot on. The spice [and if you can get hold of genuine speculaas spice then all the better – The Speculaas Spice Company makes a really delicious spice blend or use this recipe to make your own] and crisp nature of the biscuits make them the ultimate accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee.

You may ask why bother when Lotus biscuits are ubiquitous all over Europe? Well, they may be easily found, but in my opinion homemade is generally best and these biscuits would win hands down in any ‘cookie-off’.

Homemade Speculaas Biscuits

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

 

makes about 30

220g plain flour

1/2 tbsp baking powder

1&1/2 – 2 tsp speculaas spice mix

pinch of salt

125g dairy-free margarine

160g soft light brown sugar

20-30ml dairy-free milk

  1. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees C/190 degrees C fan/Gas Mark 6
  2. Cream together the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy, add 20ml dairy-free milk. The mix may split after this addition, if so add an handful of the flour.
  3. Sieve in the flour, spice, baking powder and salt and bring together to a firm dough. If it remains too crumbly add an extra splash of the milk.
  4. Roll out to the thickness of a pound coin and cut out shapes. Place slightly apart on lined baking sheets and bake for 12 minutes, turning the trays round half way through so they brown evenly. Cool on the trays before moving to a wire rack.
  5. These biscuits keep really well for about one week.

Stained Glass Gingerbread

 

I’ve always thought that ‘stained glass’ window biscuits with their jewelled sugary centres are the most beautiful cookie around, and without doubt perfect for Christmas. Traditionally made to adorn Christmas trees, where the fairy lights can glitter through the colourful centres, they’re also delightful as an extra special Christmas treat to eat. I don’t think they’d work nearly as well at other times of year and so this recipe is another that has been on the back burner ever since I didn’t get to write it up last Christmas!

No cookie can be more festive than gingerbread, it’s certainly what Father Christmas expects when he comes to our house, so that’s what I’ve chosen to surround the bejewelled centres. It may look tricky, but the stained glass effect is simply made from popping a boiled sweet into the hole in this biscuit before baking which melts to fill the gap and then hardens once the cookies are cooling. Do be very careful to either bake them directly onto a greased baking sheet or use non-stick paper. With one batch I made the mistake of using regular baking paper and the results weren’t pretty or easy to prise off at the end!

I’ve made a batch of jewel filled Christmas trees and also these super cute reindeers. Maybe you’ve seen this hack on Pinterest too? The idea is to use a gingerbread man cookie cutter, then turn it upside down to provide a shape that can be piped to look like a reindeer. The most perfect cute Christmas cookie.

Stained Glass Gingerbread Cookies

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, can be soya-free, sesame free, vegetarian and vegan)

Makes 12-15 small cookies, 6-8 large

50g/ 1/4 cup dairy-free margarine

20g/ 2 tbsps cream cheese (I usedĀ Tofutti)

75g/ 1/2 cup soft brown sugar

2 tbsps golden syrup

20ml/ 1.5 tbsps dairy-free milk

170g/ 1 1/2 cups plain flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp ground ginger

1 boiled sweet for each cookie

icing sugar

chocolate chips for the eyes

  1. Cream together the dairy-free margarine, dairy-free cream cheese, sugar, syrup and dairy-free milk
  2. Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger
  3. Knead into a soft dough
  4. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a 1/2 cm thickness. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Stamp out a hole from each cookie.
  5. Place on a greased or lined (with non-stick baking paper) baking sheet and place a boiled sweet into each hole.
  6. Bake forĀ 12 minutes at 190 degrees centigrade/Gas Mark 5Ā (10 minutes for soft, 12 for crisp)
  7. Cool on the sheet a little before transferring to a wire rack
  8. To make the reindeers, turn the gingerbread men on their heads and pipe on antlers and ears with icing, add chocolate chips for eyes.

Caramel Crispy Bars

No word of a lie, these chocolate coated caramel crispy cakes are as addictive as a banned narcotic. I’ve made four batches in the past few weeks and before I could blink they’d all been hoovered up! You will make plenty of friends if you bring these to the cake sale – that’s if your new friends are quick enough to grab one before it’s too late. They only lasted a couple of minutes at yesterday’s charity bake sale… whole tray, gone in no time.

This is really my take on those Rice Krispie squares, which are sweet and gooey and for me: reminiscent of the treats a friend’s mum used to make with melted Mars Bars when I was young. It’s by no means guilt-free munching, but these bars are arguably healthier than those featuring melted Mars Bars and still just as delicious. I’ve combined syrup, sugar, Lotus Biscoff biscuit spread with vanilla for a wonderfully more-ish result that keeps you reaching for another.

I would definitely recommend a dark chocolate coating, any sweeter chocolate would push the needle on the sugar scale to overload, and besides the dark top contrasts so nicely with the lighter crispy base. This is most definitely another recipe to keep close to hand for those baking emergencies I was talking about last week.

Caramel Crispy Bars

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, can be soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

 

makes about 16

120g caster sugar

170g golden syrup

100g Lotus Biscoff biscuit spread

1 tsp vanilla extract

100g Rice Krispies

75g dairy-free dark chocolate

20g dairy-free margarine

  1. Melt together the sugar and syrup until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the Lotus spread to make a thick smooth mixture.
  2. Stir in the Rice Krispies and ensure they are well covered with the gooey syrupy mix
  3. Press into a lined baking pan [a small brownie pan is ideal] and place in the fridge to firm up
  4. Melt together the chocolate and margarine. Pour over the caramel crispy cake and spread out. I like to make a pattern with a fork to make it look pretty!
  5. Leave to set and then slice into squares or rectangles.

 

Rocky Road Bars

Do you ever have baked goods emergencies? Sudden needs/requests for a sweet treat when time is pressing? They happen to me all the time! Is it just me??

Take one of these scenarios: there’s a last minute email that it’s a class-mates birthday and ‘can you just provide a safe alternative’; you decide to go on a picnic and the snack section of the larder is totally bare but you know that energy will be required to last the day; or it’s bedtime and they suddenly remember it’s cake day the next day. Well other mums I come across laugh about last minute trips to the corner shop or petrol station for something to fit the brief. That’s not really an option for us, unless I wanted to send in a bag of sweets, so, on goes the oven and the baking begins. Normally just when I’m feeling more like settling down with a nice chilled glass of wine šŸ˜‰

The perfect option is a non-baked treat, one that can be whipped up with store cupboard ingredients, left to set in the fridge and then cut into squares. So coming up in the next week are a couple of absolutely blinding no- bake recipes. These generally seem to be some of the most popular things I make, so I’m guessing they’re pretty yummy. I’d advise to keep these recipes close to hand, for the last minute emergencies, and you can rock up with some wow goodies which are much finer that the petrol station offerings, the friendly option will certainly be the most popular!

First up is rocky road, certainly a childhood favourite for many, which never fails to please. My version has Rice Krispies as well as crushed up Bourbon biscuits for added crunch, mini marshmallows (use veggie or conventional whichever are your preference) for soft squidgy pillows and honeycomb pieces for little luxurious sweet nuggets to contrast with the rich dark chocolate. Ā These are little bites of pure indulgence – nothing healthy here I’m afraid, just little sweet delights!

Rocky Road BarsĀ 

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 20 or so

300g dairy-free dark chocolate, roughly chopped

120g dairy-free margarine

50g golden syrup

200g chocolate biscuits, roughly crushed (I used Tesco Bourbon biscuits that are dairy, egg and nut-free)

50g Rice Krispies

50g mini vegetarian marshmallows (or use normal if you’re not vegetarian/vegan)

50g honeycomb pieces

  1. Line a rectangular Ā brownie tin with non-stick parchment
  2. Melt together the chocolate, margarine and syrup, either in a microwave or over a bain marie
  3. Stir in the crushed biscuits, Rice Krispies, honeycomb and marshmallows.
  4. Evenly spread into the tin and press down.
  5. [Optional] scatter over some sprinkles for an extra dose of fun
  6. Leave to set in the fridge.
  7. Dust with icing sugar and cut into bars.

Oreos – My Way and an issue with Tesco

 

I’m not sure if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook? (do follow the link in the sidebar if you’re interested). If you do, you might be aware of ‘cookie-gate’, with Tesco own brand Cookies and Cream Biscuits. If not, here’s a brief summery of the last nine months (it’s a very long and involved story so I won’t bore you with every detail)!

Oreos, the iconic American cream-filled cookies are vegan in the US, but for some bizarre reason they contain milk in the UK. However, Oreos seem to be everywhere, everyone eats them and my girls feel left out. Occasionally we’ll splash out on a ridiculously expensive imported US pack from somewhere like Urban Outfitters (oddly), but this is a very rare occurrence! So I was over the moon when I found the own brand Cookies and Cream biscuits in Tesco just before Christmas last year and couldn’t wait for us to taste test them.

Within seconds both girls had itchy mouths, tight throats and swelling lips. We administered antihistamine and everything was ok, but clearly there was something amiss with the ingredients in the cookies.

I contacted Tesco, returned the biscuits to store and an investigation took place. Well, they said an investigation took place. I was told that there were no nuts in the factory, and that milk didn’t produce that kind of allergic reaction (in their opinion milk allergy involves a stomach based reaction). That seemed the end of the matter for them, we hadn’t needed a doctor so I didn’t have any documents Ā to provide which they wanted for any escalation. Here’s a copy of the letter they sent…

Then months later in early summer I came across allergy forums where others had had reactions to the same biscuits, and most bizarrely had different responses from Tesco, first claiming that there were nuts used in the factory, then that milk was used on the same line but they cleaned thoroughly between, and finally last week the biscuits (all batches) were recalled because they do in fact contain milk!

We were shocked after being so clearly fobbed off to start with, and that they now admit the biscuits do contain milk which was undeclared (in fact denied). We’ve gone back to them for at least an explanation. I just hope that nobody had a serious reaction in the past months whilst the biscuits remained on sale.

So, to make up for ‘cookie-gate’, I have revamped and improved my Oreo recipe. Who needs shop bought when these are so so much nicer!

‘Oreos’

Ā (dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, vegetarian, vegan)

Makes approx. 24 sandwich biscuits

3/4 cup hard vegetable fat

1 cup of caster sugar

2 tsps vanilla extract

1/2 cup dairy-free milk

1and 1/2 cups plain flour

3/4 cup cocoa powder

2 tsps cornflour

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Filling

1/4 cup vegetable fat

1/4 cup dairy-free spread

2 and 3/4 cups icing sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade
  2. Cream together the vegetable fat and sugar. When fluffy, add the dairy-free milk and vanilla. Mix well. If it looks like it’s split add a couple of tbsp of flour to the mix
  3. Sift in the remaining ingredients and bring together to a firm-ish dough.
  4. Place half on a sheet of baking paper, place more paper on top and roll out to 1/4-1/2cm thickness. Cut out rounds with a cookie cutter and remove the ‘in between bits’. Transfer to a lined baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Cool on the tray for five minutes before moving to a wire rack.
  6. Repeat with remaining mixture until it’s all be used up.
  7. Meanwhile, make the filling. Whisk together the vegetable fat and dairy-free spread. Add the vanilla.
  8. Add the icing sugar in 1/2 cup measurements, until fully incorporated. It may look this breadcrumbs, so squeeze together to form a stiff paste.
  9. Roll out large grape size balls of filling and squish between two biscuits.