Vanilla Butter Biscuits

Vanilla Butter Biscuits

Makes: about 20 Prep: 20 mins (+ 20 mins chilling time) Cooking: 18-20 mins

You can use this basic recipe to make you own variations – try adding dried fruit (like sultanas, raisins, currants or apples) to the biscuit dough or spice it up with 2tsp of ground cinnamon or mixed spice. Roll it in raw or white sugar, flaked almonds, desiccated coconut or chopped nuts, or press a halved glace cherry into each uncooked biscuit.

125g unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
75g (1/3 cup) cater sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
115g (3/4 cup) self-raising flour
100g (2/3 cup) plain flour
2 tsp milk

1. Line 2 baking trays with non-stick baking paper or use non-stick trays. Choose shallow or flat baking trays as this will allow the heat to circulate more evenly. Use electric beaters to beat the butter, cater sugar and vanilla essence in a medium bowl, scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary, for about 1 minute or until just combined. If over beaten, the dough will become too soft, making it difficult to handle when rolling into biscuits.
2. Sift together the self-raising and plain flours into a bowl. Add 1/2 the sifted flour to the butter mixture and use a wooden spoon to mix until combined. Add the milk and mix well. It is best not to use electric beaters for this step because they tend to overwork the mixture, making it difficult to roll and resulting in tough biscuits.
3. Add the remaining sifted flour and when the mixture becomes difficult to mix with the wooden spoon, use your hands. Mix to a soft dough that leaves the sides of the bowl and doesn’t stick to your hands. If the mixture appears dry, add an extra 1 tsp milk. Because all flours absorb different amounts of liquid, some doughs may require just a little bit more. There should be no dry bits of dough in the bottom of the bowl.
4. Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into balls and then place about 4cm apart on the baking trays (this allows room for the biscuits to spread during cooking).
5. Flatten the biscuits slightly with a floured fork, dipping the fork in a little flour every second or third time. You can also flatten the biscuits with a lightly floured hand or fingers, the base of a glass or the side of a grater. Any decorative edge can be used to press a pattern into the top of the biscuits. Place the tray of biscuits in the fridge for 20 minutes to chill. Chilling the dough ensures that the biscuits retain their shape when cooked. This is especially important in warm weather when the uncooked biscuit dough is soft. If it is too soft, the biscuits will spread too much while in the oven. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 160C.
6. Bake the biscuits in the middle to top half of preheated oven for 10 minutes. Swap the trays around and bake for further 8-10 minutes. Try not to have the trays directly underneath each other. This, as well as swapping the trays around during cooking, allows even circulation of heat, and even browning. when they are ready, the biscuits will have risen, the tops will be slightly cracked and they will be light golden underneath. To check underneath, use a spatula to carefully lift a biscuit, preferably from the centre of the tray. The biscuits will still be a little soft, so be very careful lifting them. If they are not ready, bake for a further 1-2 minutes. When ready, remove the biscuits from the oven and set aside to cool for about 3 minutes before using a spatula to transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Variations:
# Chocolate Chip Biscuits: add 95g (1/2 cup) dark, milk or white choc bits with “remaining” flour in step 3. Continue as for basic recipe.
# Honey Oat Biscuits: beat 2 tablespoons honey with the butter, sugar and vanilla essence. Sift 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon with the flours. Add 90g (3/4 cup) rolled oats with the “remaining” flour in step 3. Roll the balls of dough in an extra 80g (2/3 cup) rolled oats to coat. Place on baking trays and flatten slightly with your hand. Continue as for the basic recipe.
# Lemon Sugar Biscuits: replace the vanilla essence with 1 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon rind. Increase the milk to 3tsp. Roll the balls of dough in 55g (1/4 cup) white sugar to coat. Do not flatten the balls of dough before cooking. Continue as for the basic recipe.
# Golden Date and Pecan Biscuits: replace the caster sugar with 65g (1/3 cuo, firmly packed) brown sugar and beat 2 tablespoons golden syrup with the butter, brown sugar and vanilla essence. Sift 2 tsp mixed spice with the flours. Chop 120g (2/3 cup) pitted dried dates and 30g (1/4 cup) pecans and add to the butter mixture with the “remaining” flour in step 3. Press a pecan half into the top of each uncooked biscuit instead of pressing with a fork. Continue as for the basic recipe.
# Almond Biscuits: omit plain flour and milk. Combine sifted self-raising flour with 100g almond meal. Add 65g (1/2 cup) silvered almonds with “remaining” flour mixture in step 3. Press a blanched almond onto each uncooked biscuit instead of pressing with a fork. Continue as for the basic recipe and bake for 20-25 minutes.
# Gingerbread Biscuits: substitute the caster sugar for 65g (1/3 cup, firmly packed) dark brown sugar and beat 2 tablespoons golden syrup with the butter, dark brown sugar and essence. Sift 1 tablespoons ground ginger and 2 tsp mixed spice with the flours. Continue as for the basic recipe.

Storage Tips:
Store cooled biscuits in airtight jars or containers for up to 1 month. If making a few different varieties of biscuits, store each variety in separate containers, otherwise they will soften quickly. To freshen up softened biscuits, preheat oven to 140C. Place the biscuits on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper, or use a non-stick tray, and bake for 12 minutes. Transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool.

Freezing Tips:
(applicable to the vanilla butter biscuits and all variations)
# Uncooked Biscuits: follow basic recipe to the end of step 5, without preheating the oven. Place chilled, uncooked biscuits in a container, placing a sheet of baking paper between each layer of biscuit, then freeze for up to 1 month. To bake biscuits, preheat oven to 160C and place frozen biscuits 4cm apart on baking trays. Bake as in step 6 for 20-22 minutes.
# Cooked Biscuits: cool biscuits completely and place in a container, placing a sheet of baking paper between each layer of biscuits. Seal, label with date and type biscuit, then freeze for up to 1 month. To defrost, remove as many frozen biscuits as you wish from the freezer to a plate or baking tray and set aside, uncovered, at room temperature for about 1 hour or until defrosted.

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