I love baking.  I love the smell of freshly baked cake and biscuits wafting through the house. With Christmas nearing, my mind always inevitably turns to baking.  I bake to relax and I bake to give away.  I bake when I should be writing or working on my new novel. Which led me to this post and all the others that will follow (hopefully).
            This will be a series of easy to follow, delicious recipes. Baking is not only for a select few. Everyone can bake and create memories with flour, sugar, butter and eggs. As simple as that.
            Sandra Lee (American television chef and author) once said that “Baking cookies is comforting, and cookies are the sweetest little bit of comfort food. They are very bite-sized and personal.” I agree with her. Therefore, as my first recipe to share with you, I have selected a very old family recipe.  My mother and grandmother used to bake this every Christmas, since me and my sister were little girls. The dough is so delectable we ate spoon fulls of it until our stomachs ached. I still do.
            This is comfort food at its best. Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice after saffron, because growing the vanilla seed pods is labor-intensive.  The same cannot be said about this biscuits. And you do not need to use real vanilla extract or the pods for this recipe (though I am a huge supporter of using just that).  Vanilla essence will suffice.

                 Look out for the tips and tricks at the bottom of the post.

5 cups self raising flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups sugar
4 teaspoons (20 ml) vanilla essence
2 cups cake flour (all purpose flour)
454 grams butter (or margarine)
4 eggs
4 tablespoons (60 ml) milk

Sift the all purpose flour and set aside.

        Sift the self raising flour and salt together. 

       Cream the butter and then add the sugar slowly.

             Add the 4 eggs, vanilla essence and milk to the sugar mixture. Mix.

             You can now add the self raising flour and salt. Mix.

             Lastly add the all purpose (cake) flour. 

             Leave in the fridge for one hour.

             Roll out and use cookie cutter to cut shapes. 
This is the fun part. 
If you are in a hurry simply roll little balls and press down. 
Decorate with “Hundreds and Thousands”.

             Bake at 180°C (356°F) for about 10 minutes until golden brown and baked.

Helpful hints, tips and tricks

i)   If you do not have self raising flour at hand you can make your own by adding 7 ml of baking powder to every 250 ml of cake flour.

ii)   The recipe calls for butter but if you do not have butter it works just as well with margarine. I have successfully used both. I have even on occasion used half the amount of butter and half margarine. 

iii)   The recipe mentions that  some more flour must be added, if necessary, but usually this amount is just enough. It will depend on the size of the eggs that you have used. However: the dough does not work well at all if you use it immediately, it is to soft to handle if you are going to roll it out and cut shapes. It will work well if you plan to roll balls though.

iv)   The recipe states that dough should be left in the freezer for one hour. If you plan to cut shapes it may loose shape when baked. It works really well if you place the shapes on a cold plate and leave in the fridge, until you put it in the oven.

v)   This dough freezes really well. I double the recipe, roll it in long cylinders (about 5 cm in diameter) and cover with glad wrap. When you need biscuits for a special treat you simply take one roll out of the fridge, cut it (in approximately 1 cm ) discs and bake it.  You can still cut shapes. Just leave the dough for a few minutes on the workspace and roll out once it has thawed. Below is a picture of the biscuits, cut into discs. Instead of sprinkling the decoration over the biscuits I rolled the little wheels in the decoration before baking.

vi)   I have on occasion used a small brush to brush each biscuit with a bit of water and then sprinkle the decoration. You can also use egg white. This gives the biscuit a bright sheen. Just beware that if you use to much water, the colors of the decoration might "bleed". Which is not what you want.

What you want is for the cookies to look like these, in the picture below. What I did was to simply sprinkle the decoration on the shape before I put it in the oven, without brushing with water or egg white.

Thank you for reading this. Now all you have to do is collect everything you need and bake you own vanilla biscuits. Please do let me know how it went. Enjoy your day and your comfort cookies. I look forward to sharing some more recipes with you over the next month. 

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