Vanilla Kisses

Everyone expects me to be super-cynical about Valentine’s, but somehow I just don’t have it in me. Perhaps it dates back to Cambridge and just being exhausted by this point in the term, but despite being eternally single, I’ve always managed to turn it into a relaxing evening on my own. Valentine’s is about Crispy Duck and Pancakes, Dairy Milk and a bottle of Champagne.

This year will be a bit different, firstly because it falls on a Saturday and because of a certain film. And now because the build-up has been a shit, shit day – thanks, BBC.) Also, because the whole world has gone batshit crazy about vanilla, and I’m batshit crazy about gifts, I thought I’d combine the two*. I did this for my colleagues – hopefully you’ll have a recipient who’s a tad more special.

I’m calling these ‘Vanilla Kisses’ with my tongue firmly in my cheek. I ordered my lips cutter off eBay and forgot to check the dimensions – what turned up makes lips big enough to swallow even the thickest cock whole. So ‘Vanilla Kisses’ or ‘Deepthroat Cookies.’ Your relationship, your choice.

Vanilla Kisses

Ingredients and Kit

350g Plain Flour
100g Self Raising Flour
125g Granulated Sugar
125g Salted Butter
125g Golden Syrup
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
Half a teaspoon of Vanilla Extract

250g Royal Icing Sugar
Food Colouring
Piping Bags
Squeezy Bottles
Presentation Box or Jar
Cutters ( I used lips and hearts – if one of your cutters is huge, it helps to also use a much smaller one to fill in any gaps in your box or jar)

Method

*Preheat the oven to 170C/350F/gas mark 4.

* Mix the flours and sugar together in a mixing bowl.

* Dice the butter and add to the bowl. Using just your fingertips, rub together the ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

* When all the butter is evenly mixed in, make a well in the centre and add the syrup, the egg and the vanilla extract.

* Using your hands, mix well, drawing in any of the flour left at the sides of the bowl and stop as soon as a ball has formed.

* Place the dough onto your clean worktop. Divide into two and squash the dough into two even-sized flat discs. Roll each disc out to the thickness of a pound coin. Keep turning the dough so it doesn’t stick to the worktop. Don’t use extra flour as it will dry the dough out.

* Cut biscuits from the dough, re-rolling the spare dough as necessary.

IMG_4237Ignore that mine are all different thicknesses – I’m bad at girth

* Cover a baking tray with parchment. Make sure the biscuits are not too close together as the dough will spread a little on baking. Cook for 14–18 minutes, depending on your oven.

* When the biscuits are just beginning to turn a golden colour remove the trays from the oven and transfer the whole sheet of parchment to a cooling rack or lift each biscuit off with a spatula. Do this carefully as the biscuits will be fragile

* Cool totally before icing, or the icing will melt.

* Make the icing by mixing the icing sugar with 40 ml cold water. Beat with an electric whisk for at least five minutes – the icing should be bright white and the consistency of toothpaste.

* Colour the icing to your desired shades – you’ll probably need less food colouring than you imagine unless you’re making red, in which case you’ll need enough to fell a grown man.

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* Use half the icing to fill your piping bags. If you’re a singleton without friends or housemates, it’s easiest to do this by putting the bag in a mug, folding the sides over the edge of the mug and going a bit crazy with a big spoon. It will, inevitably, get messy, and probably look more bloodbath than Valentine’s at this point.

* Hold the piping bag tight by the wide end (no, like *properly* tight) and shake it so that the icing moves down to the bottom of the bag. If you can tie knots, tie a knot in the bag above the icing, if, like me, you can’t, improvise.

* When you’ve made as many colours of piping icing as you need, add more water to the remaining icing very, very slowly and mix until it’s the consistency of double cream. Pour it into your squeezy bottles (there is no good way of doing this).

* Cut the very tip of your piping bags and practise piping a bit on a piece of parchment until you get the hang of it. Use this icing to pipe an outline round the edge of each biscuit – you’ll need to hold the bag slightly above the biscuit and don’t break the flow. When you’ve done the complete outline, press the tip down on the biscuit and lift it straight up. Do this with all your biscuits.

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If you fuck this bit up, you can wipe the icing off while it’s still wet and start over. No one will ever know.

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* Leave the outline to dry for 10 minutes, then, using the icing in the squeezy bottles, colour in the biscuits, trying not to go over the lines.

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* If you like, you can use the other colours to add dots/stripes etc or you could add silver balls, glitter and all other kinds of crap.

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* When you’ve finished your biscuits or have got bored of fucking around with them, put them carefully back on the baking tray and put in the oven at 80C for half an hour. This sets the icing and gives them a nice matte finish.

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* When your biscuits are completely cold, transfer them to a box/tin/jar/mouth of your choice. You may also want to pimp your packaging a bit before you hand your gift over.

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I took the label off before I presented these to my colleagues. I like them, but not *that* much

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Love

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I inherited my rolling pin, its pale wood slick with the grease of years of rolling out scones, Eccles cakes, mince pies… Believe it or not, some cookware is meant to be that way: in the same way you’d season a wok, what I had was a baking tool that worked like a dream because of how often it had been used. I ruined it, though: my hands are too hot for pastry and I put it to work rolling sugarpaste instead. A handful of trips through the dishwasher to clean it of food colouring, and it’s as good as new – pale, clean wood that bears no trace of its heritage.

I tend to think I’ve been more shaped by the men in my life than the women. I’m a daddy’s girl par excellence: not only do I go to my father for affection and for advice; I mirror him in personality, too: that desperate desire to please that hides a deep-seated anxiety. Which was why, when I was in therapy a few years back, I astonished both myself and the therapist by bursting into tears when she asked about my maternal grandmother.

She died when I was eighteen, and on my gap year. I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye. I cried, as you do, but it had little concrete impact on my life: we didn’t live that close and I probably only saw her five or so times a year.

I didn’t see her much more often as a child either, but how those visits have stayed with me. These are my most vivid memories of childhood: bingo in the village hall on a Friday night, winning £5 and putting it towards Take That’s Everything Changes album, being allowed to play it, ad infinitum, in the kitchen, while she made dinner. And younger still: being left in the bath, the bathroom door ajar, while the Coronation Street theme tune leaked through from the lounge. A hot water bottle already in bed waiting for me, and a glass of hot milk on the nightstand – a skin forming where I didn’t drink it quick enough. Being tucked in so tightly I could barely breathe, and allowed to pick my bedtime reading material from a huge pile of Woman’s Weekly and Best magazines.

But more than anything, it was the cooking: butterfly cakes, coffee and walnut sponge, sweet and sour pork, rice pudding. She’d stand me on a chair and let me help, and I learnt to bake that way. When my gas hob died recently, my mum urged me to switch it for an induction one instead but I won’t – yes, new pans would be more expensive, but it’s more than that, the smell of a gas flame, the condensation on my kitchen windows – all of those things take me straight back to my grandma’s kitchen.

When she died, my granddad burnt a lot of her stuff in a fit of grief. I’d done well, on paper: my mum paid for her only diamonds to be reset into rings for me, her and my sister, but the only thing I really wanted was her recipe notebook, which went on the fire. I have the next best thing, I guess, the beautifully titled ‘Radiation cookbook’ filled with her notes and cuttings, but it’s not quite the same.

I always mean to put music on while I bake, but somehow I always forget, and I realised the other day that that’s because when I’m baking I can channel that immense love: it makes me feel closer to her, and more than that, to all the women in my family. I’m neither religious nor spiritual, but I can find peace in flour, eggs, butter and sugar, almost without exception.

Last week I made a chocolate fudge cake for a bake sale at work – the proper 80s kind that’s all cocoa powder and no real chocolate. I topped it with Smarties, because hey, all the best cakes have Smarties.

I dropped it off at 10. At 11.30 a friend rang. ‘Your cake’s all gone,’ she said, ‘Already.’

‘Yeah, well,’ I said, ‘Everyone loves Smarties.’

That’s not what I was really thinking though. What I was really thinking was ‘Thanks, grandma. I love you.’

PS I owe thanks to two bloggers, Ella Dawson and Floraidh Clement, for the inspiration behind this one. Ella, for her post on what someone said ‘sounded a lot like happiness‘ and Floraidh for reminding me that yes, women are hot, but we love them for their ‘strength, wisdom and talents,’ too. Thanks guys! Also, a reminder that if you haven’t yet voted for your favourite post in my ‘Don’t read clickbait, read this instead’ competition, you can do so here. It’s too close to call currently, so it’s definitely worth doing!