Hugs and Biscuits

“Can I give you a big hug?” asked my son the other day. “Of course” I replied. A hug is something we all need now and again. I love how children, naturally more uninhibited, will just ask for a hug, or in my son’s case just offer one. The feeling of being embraced is often all that is needed to solve a problem, or to change one’s mood.

Last week, the children and I ended up getting a coffee and biscuit in the great Caffé Bar Italia di Napoli down the road. I’ve never been to Italy, but it strikes me that this cafe is pretty much as the cafés of Naples (the proprietor’s home town) are like. The coffee is good and the range if biscuits and antipasti super. To accompany our drinks we had some small biscuits which were half chocolate and half vanilla. Deliciously crisp and crumbly, yet not overly sweet, they’re called Abracci. The name translates as ‘hug’, and the vanilla and chocolate halves clasp each other as if they are hugging.

Having looked online, I found a number of recipes (including a recipe from the commercial makers Mulina Bianco) and tracked down what seems like a key ingredient; potato starch, which helps the dough to keep its shape when baking, and maintains the ‘hug’. Whether they are served with a coffee or tea, they are a delicious light biscuit and like a hug bring a smile to your face.

Abracci (makes 72 biscuits)

What you will need
Cream dough:
200g flour
50g potato starch
100g of sugar
50g of butter
45g of margarine
3 tablespoons of fresh cream
1 tablespoon of honey
Knife tip of vanilla bean paste
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
pinch of salt

Cocoa dough: 
200g flour
50g potato starch
120g of sugar
40g of margarine
60g of butter
30g cocoa powder
40g of fresh milk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
pinch of salt.

You need to prepare the two flavoured doughs, then combine before baking. First mix the margarine, butter and sugar until creamy. When light and fluffy, add the cream, vanilla and the honey and mix thoroughly. Finally fold in the flour, potato starch, salt and the baking powder, mixing until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined in a dough.  For the cocoa dough, repeat the process of creaming the butter, margarine and sugar, before adding the milk and egg. Fold in the remaining dry ingredients to make a dough. Allow the dough to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

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Take the dough from the fridge and roll to form 30cm sausages. Divide each sausage into 3cm pieces and then combine one cocoa and one cream sausage to form the ‘hug’ shape shown in the photo above. Bake at 180 ° C for 10-15 minutes. The biscuits are ready when the cream part has started to turn golden brown.

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Cheesy Feet

For quite a while now we have made cheese biscuits based on a River Cottage recipe (adapted below). Biscuits are always popular in our house, and in making cheese ones we hope to reduce our sweet intake a little. The idea of adapting the idea to create ‘cheesy feet’ came from a trip to Bradford on Avon – where (in desperate need of a snack) we bought some cheesy feet from the baker at the weekly Farmers’ Market. For months we’ve looked out for a foot cutter to create our own version, finally finding one the other week.

With Halloween coming up, the children and I decided to make some cheesy feet with added gruesomeness – hence the addition of dodgy looking nails in the form of pistachios. You could use flaked almonds, but the green and brown tinge to pistachios seemed to fit the Halloween theme best.

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What you will need (Makes 20-24)
125g unsalted butter, cubed
125g cheddar, grated
4 tbsp grated parmesan
150g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
2 tsp yogurt
A few grinds of black pepper
Pistachio nuts – halved

This is a really easy recipe, as all you need to do is whizz everything in a food processor until it comes together into a ball, then remove the dough and knead for a minute or so. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and pop it in the fridge for half an hour. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5.

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Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it’s about 3-4mm thick, then use your foot cutter (or any other shape you want) to cut out the biscuits. Place five of the halved pistachios on each foot to resemble nails, then move the biscuits onto baking sheets lined with baking parchment and bake for 10 minutes, until golden. Cool on a wire rack.