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A healthier, tasty snack
Ever since moving to London, I became addicted to the good ol’ cuppa tea with the mandatory biscuit. I will never refuse a hot cup of Earl Grey with a rich tea or digestive biscuit, especially after a long day’s work. The problem I found, with my beloved biscuits is that most of the time they are quite loaded with sugar and high in calories.
My weight is one of the things that has never really been constant, so I always have to be extra careful with what I eat. From my Ketogenic diet days, I have become quite crafty with lowering my sugar intake. Almost every treat – yes, even the most decadent ones can be made with sugar substitutes or by simply replacing some key ingredients.
The best way to make biscuits healthier is to substitute some of the plain flour with whole wheat, which is higher in fibre and nutrients. Switching the sugar is straightforward and all you need is a natural sweetener.
Some of the most efficient sweeteners in baking are erythritol, maltitol and stevia. Personally I prefer erythritol, due to it having zero calories and tasting almost identical to sugar. This sweetener does not causing spikes in blood sugar, making it the ideal candidate for sugar-free recipes and weight loss.
Erythritol is not as sweet as sugar, so when replacing it in any recipe you usually want to go for 20-30% more compared to sugar.
This sugar-free recipe calls for a marginal quantity of honey, but this can be replaced with more sweetener if desired. I like to add the honey for its floral taste.
A splash of colour
Traditional tea biscuits are quite plain, with minimal decoration and no distinct colour. My motto about baking is that food should never be boring.
Jazzing up a plain biscuit is quite simple and all it takes is a few extra minutes. This recipe for rainbow biscuits does it by creating a coloured marble effect.
Choosing the colours is entirely up to personal preference; I like pink and turquoise/teal shades, so I went with what makes me happy. Colouring the biscuits can be done in several ways; you can opt for food colouring or natural alternatives.
A little about food colouring
Adding too much liquid to the recipe can make the dough much too soft, which is why liquid food colouring isn’t ideal for biscuits. The best option is either powder-based colouring or gel food colours. Gel food colouring tends to create very vibrant colours, which last after baking as well – and this is the method used for this recipe. The gel also does not change the taste of your biscuit, which is great.
Natural food colouring
If you want to avoid food colouring altogether, you can still create vibrant colours by using fruit or vegetable powders or juices. Similarly to liquid food colouring, juices (such as beetroot, spinach or carrot juice) will modify the wet to dry ratio. If you want to use it still, you will need a bit more flour and adjust as needed.
Fruit or vegetable powders will work superbly and will not modify the overall ratio of the recipe, as you will need a marginal quantity. Some of my favourite natural powders are: spirulina, carrot, beetroot, blueberry or turmeric powders. One thing to be mindful of is that powders are typically quite concentrated in flavour, and this will change the taste of your biscuit. You need to ensure the flavours complement each other, as for example beetroot and spirulina might clash in taste.
Getting creative with your biscuits
Sometimes colour just doesn’t cut it, and you want to be even more extra. Introducing… *drum roll please* cookie cutters. Using cutters is a very effective way of making a simple biscuit look like a piece of art.
I’m lucky enough to have a 3D printer, so I can design and make my own cookie cutters. Since we are speaking of making cookies look like pieces of art, what better than the man himself – surrealist painter Salvador Dali.
If you don’t have any intricate cookie cutters, plain ones work just as well. Or why not add some sprinkles or other embellishments?
Making the biscuits
There are literally hundreds of different types and flavours of biscuits, and they’re always delicious – especially with a lovely cup of tea. The best thing about biscuits is that they take only minutes to prepare and require very basic ingredients: flour, sweetener, butter and eggs. This recipe calls for some additional ingredients like cornstarch and honey, but these can easily be replaced with flour or sweetener.
The first step is ensuring all your ingredients are at room temperature. I like to take out the eggs and butter the night before and leave them on the counter if I plan on baking biscuits in the morning. Using room temperature ingredients is crucial for getting the right consistency in the dough. It’s important that both eggs and butter are the same temperature, otherwise they can separate or ‘split’.
Step 1 – The wet ingredients
Gather all your ingredients in front of you and measure out the right quantities; this will make the process much faster and ensure you have everything before you start combining ingredients.
In a large bowl, combine the softened butter with the sweetener, honey, salt and vanilla extract. Use a hand mixer (or stand mixer) to whip up the butter until it become airy and paler in colour. Add the eggs and mix to incorporate well.
Step 2 – The dry ingredients
Once the butter, sweetener and egg are properly combined, we’re ready to add the dry ingredients. Mix the flour and cornstarch in and combine well using a spatula. At this point we can add any other flavourings (cinnamon, rum extract, lemon zest etc).
Step 3 – Making the rainbow dough
Now we are reaching the fun part – making everything colourful. Divide the dough into three equal parts and place in separate bowls. Add a few drops of gel food colouring and rub it into the dough until the colour is evenly spread. As food colouring can be quite strong, you might want to use some gloves to avoid stains on your skin.
Once we have three different colours, we will need some cling film to prepare our marbled dough. Take small pieces of each coloured dough and place randomly on the cling film to form your pattern. Keep layering the dough, the press it gently with the edges of the cling film to make the small pieces stick to each other. Wrap the entire marbled dough in cling film, then press it with a rolling pin to ensure the dough is combined, and also to make it flatter and easier to work with later.
Now that our rainbow dough is combined, we need to let it chill for 20-30 minutes in the fridge so it will be easier to work with when we roll it out.
Step 4 – Cutting out the biscuits
The marbled dough has been chilling in the fridge for a while, now we can roll it out with more ease. Flour your work surface to prevent sticking, then roll the dough out using a rolling pin. The ideal thickness is around 5mm (or 1/4 inch) and in order to get even dough throughout, I recommend using some wooden dowels as a guide.
Once the dough is nice and flat, use cookie cutters and cut out your favourite shapes. Place on a baking tray lined with silicone mat or baking paper.
Step 5 – Baking time
Baking the biscuits is easy, but also arguably it’s the most important stage. The ideal temperature is 190C or 170C with fan turned on. You want to pre-heat the oven to get it nicely heated before baking your biscuits.
Place your baking tray with your biscuits inside the pre-heated oven and bake for around 10 minutes. If you like them a bit on the crunchy side, bake for an extra 2-3 minutes.
140g plain white flour 100g whole wheat flour 20g corn starch 100g softened unsalted butter 1 medium egg 100g erythritol/maltitol (sweetener) 20g honey 1 tsp vanilla extract 1/2 tsp salt Food gel colouring (3 different shades) Tools needed: Rolling pin Cookie cutter
- In a large bowl cream the softened butter with the sweetener, honey, salt and vanilla extract. Whip the mixture using a hand mixer until it becomes light and airy.
- Add the egg and mix well to incorporate.
- Over the butter mixture add the two different flours and the corn starch.
- Use a large spatula to combine the wet and dry ingredients until a smooth paste forms. Use your hands if needed to bring in all the smaller pieces of dough.
- Divide the dough into three parts and place in separate bowls.
- Choose your three favourite colours and mix each colour into one of the dough parts. You may want to use gloves to avoid stains from the colouring.
- Once the colour has been incorporated in all three doughs, take small pieces from each colour and place them on some cling film.
- Keep layering the different coloured dough, then press with your hands to gently combine all the colours into a large piece of dough. Use the cling film to bring the pieces together.
- Cover the dough in cling film and slowly press with a rolling pin to flatten slightly. This will make rolling easier later on.
- Place in the fridge and chill for 30-45 minutes. Chilling is optional, but it will make it easier to work with the dough.
- Once chilled, sprinkle some flour onto your work surface and roll out your dough to around 5mm (1/4 inch) thickness.
- Cut out biscuits using your favourite cookie cutter and place on a baking sheet. Use remaining scraps of dough to re-roll to cut out more cookies.
- Bake at 190C (or 170C with fan) for 10 minutes or until the cookie starts to golden slightly. If you like a bit of a snap to the cookie, bake for 2-3 more minutes.
Food colouring is entirely optional, but it does jazz up a plain cookie into a rainbow psychedelic one. For a natural alternative you can use beetroot, turmeric, spinach or spirulina powder. Corn starch can be replaced with flour, but it does help maintain the cookie’s shape much better. Chilling is optional, but highly recommended. This will also help keep the shape of the cookie and get sharper consistent edges.