As the end of term approaches, for many students this also means the approach of deadlines and an increasing workload. It can be very easy to get overwhelmed with work and stress but it is incredibly important to balance university work with relaxation. One activity that is cheap but can be very effective for taking a break from work is baking. It can feel very meditative and is an opportunity to get away from screens for a while which can be hard to do when the majority of student work is online. Given that national eating with friends day is this week, baking is a great way to spend time with friends and bond around the activity of creating something and sharing it. Also, if you do bake with other people the cost of ingredients comes out as a lot cheaper than if you do it yourself. If you are doing a secret Santa this year and haven’t yet thought of a gift, baking something can be a very thoughtful and delicious present and you could accompany it with something small. Therefore, I have suggested a gift idea alongside each bake.
Biscuits are such an easy recipe to make but they can be a great activity or gift as there are so many possibilities for decoration. If you are making biscuits for a secret Santa gift, I love the idea of either giving the cookies a personal touch by decorating them based on what the person that they are being gifted to likes or creating a kit for the person to bake and decorate them themselves. This Cookies and Cream Scented Soy Wax Candle can be found on Etsy and would be the perfect accompaniment. The biscuit recipe can be found on BBC Good Food and I chose it as the ingredients are cheap and the recipe is easy to follow. You can find the full recipe below.
- 200g unsalted butter, softened
- 200g golden caster sugar
- 1 large egg
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 400g plain flour plus extra for dusting
- STEP 1
Heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6 and line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Put the butter in a bowl and beat it with electric beaters until soft and creamy. Beat in the sugar, then the egg and vanilla, and finally the flour to make a dough. If the dough feels a bit sticky, add a little bit more flour and knead it in.
- STEP 2
Pull pieces off the dough and roll them out to about the thickness of two £1 coins on a floured surface. The easiest way to do this with small children is to roll the mixture out on a baking mat. Cut out shapes using a 9cm biscuit cutter, or use the rim of a small glass and peel away the leftover dough around the edges. Press some clean toys gently into the biscuits, making sure you make enough of a mark without going all the way through. Re-roll off-cuts and repeat.
- STEP 3
Transfer the whole mat or the individual biscuits to the baking sheet and bake for 8-10 mins or until the edges are just brown. Leave to cool for 5 mins, then serve. Will keep for three days in a biscuit tin.
Mince pies are a winter classic and are a step up in difficulty from biscuits if made completely from scratch. However, this recipe is great for people looking to bake mince pies at different skill levels as there are two versions of the recipe: one which uses premade pastry and filling and one which makes it both by hand. It is very easy to adapt this to either making one element by hand, neither or both depending on how experimental you are feeling. If the person you are gifting for has their ears pierced, these Mince Pie Earrings from Etsy would go perfectly with the baked pies. below is the easiest version of mince pies for beginners:
1 batch of shortcrust pastry
1 egg, beaten
5 tablespoons mincemeat
icing sugar, for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
- Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and use a 7.5cm/3in cutter to cut out 12 circles.
- Line a bun tin with the pastry circles, then spoon the mincemeat into the centre of each one.
- Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, until golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and dust with icing sugar. Serve warm or cold.
Candy canes remind me of winter as the freshness of the mint is a reminder of the icy cold weather during the season and brownies are my favourite dessert. The innovation of this Peppermint Chocolate Brownies recipe by Good Housekeeping is something that I am looking forward to trying in the coming weeks. The only adaptation I would make to the recipe is adding crushed candy canes on top for increased decoration. Jelly Cats have made a comeback recently and I think this festive candy cane is a cute gift to go alongside these delicious brownies for anyone in your life who is sweet!
200 g (7oz) butter, plus extra to grease
150 g (5oz) dark chocolate roughly chopped
275 g (10oz) light brown soft sugar
2 lg eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
150 g (5oz) plain flour
few drops peppermint extract, to taste, optional
icing sugar to decorate
- To make the brownie, preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan) mark 4. Grease and line a 20.5cm (8in) square tin with baking parchment. In a large pan, gently heat the butter and chocolate until melted.
- Take pan off the heat and mix in sugar, followed by the eggs and vanilla (the mixture will become smooth and glossy as you mix). Sift over the flour and stir in the peppermint (if using) until well combined. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 25-30min until a crust forms. Cool completely in tin.
- Lift the brownie out of its tin and cut into 16 squares. Arrange the pieces on a wire rack set over a baking tray or board, dust with icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice-cream, if you like.