Local Heart, Global Soul

January 8, 2018

An Easy Solution For An Irritating Problem…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

My New Zealand Grandmother always said that: “someone was either a Cook, or a Baker”.

She meant that when you turned your hand to creating wonderful food in your kitchen, you either excelled naturally at making things like great roast dinners and beautiful stir fries or you were a wonder at making huge, light, airy cakes that would be the envy of many.

I think she was right, she was 1000% a Baker, and living during a time when few women worked and a “bought” lunch was unheard of, she would pack my Grandad an amazing lunch every working day.

She baked three to four times a week, more if guests were expected or  there were family Birthdays, Easter, Christmas and any other special occasion. There were always a minimum of four or five different cakes, slices (bars) or biscuits (cookies) in her baking tins, more on the aforementioned special occasions.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Scones were not even counted as “baking” they were almost standard in the house, like bread. There were metal tins in her kitchen cupboards of various sizes.

Long before the days of plastic containers, these metal tins with their tight fitting lids kept everything fresh and crisp. Very large ones were for cake, the medium sized ones were for slices and the smaller ones were for biscuits. There were even large tins that had recessed lids, similar to the sort found on paint tins today and my sister and I would squabble about who got to open these with the end of a spoon and discover first what was inside.

None of the tins were see-through of course so every opening was a surprise but as kids we all had our favourite biscuits so it was extra special if we discovered that one of our favourites was on offer.

My favourite was Grans Shortbread, and since sadly her cookbook went “missing” after her funeral I never got her amazing recipe.

Choosing one thing from the tins was allowed, you only ever got two biscuits if you were especially good but I discovered that if you were alone with Grandma in the kitchen, helped getting out the cups and saucers for tea, and dried up and put away any dishes that she had washed, then she would take a quick look around to make sure my mother wasn’t close by and then slip me a third as a special treat.

Often she would pass me a piece of shortbread that had broken in half saying with a smile: “Oh dear, a broken bit, quick, finish it up”. Sometimes there were no broken pieces of shortbread so she would break one in half and then do the “broken bit” joke and it was a little secret that we kept to ourselves.

At least as a kid I always thought that, but looking back she may have done did that with all the grandchildren.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

If we were staying over and baking biscuits together then she would let me ice (glaze) them and I loved poking around making that I imagined to be intricate patterns in my decorations, but in reality they were probably a lot of messy squiggles.

Sometimes my own children have the “baking” urge but don’t really want to go to the effort of actually making something, they just want to decorate.

Actually the bit they really don’t want to do is the cleaning up afterwards, so I just take some plain shop bought biscuits and then mix up a small batch of icing so that they can decorate the tops.

The ingredients are: Icing (powder) sugar, melted butter if I’m feeling decedent, water if I’m not, and whatever colour food colouring the kids desire as their first choice.

Invariably they ask for five colours each, to these requests the answer is always “No”. Four or five colours for our Christmas Gingerbreads is the most I will ever do these days.

Life is too short to be giving in to the extraneous whims of children when I am the one doing all of the work making the icing and cleaning up. For biscuits they get one colour each with the advice that should they want more they are more than welcome, but they have to make it themselves.

To date they have never taken me up on this. I used to use plastic sandwich lunch bags as icing bags but they are too thin and the bags often split if squeezed too hard or if the icing mix is too warm. Cleaning up after split bags is way too much extra work (can you sense a theme of laziness here?) so I quickly found that commercial icing bags are worth the expense.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

One thing is difficult though, the icing cools quickly and gets more and more solid as it does, so if piping with a very small hole then the hole can get stopped up after a short time. Since opening the bag and messing with the contents is again more work I started to look for quick and easy ways to fix these annoying little clumps of hardened powdered sugar.

If you have a daughter who has long hair then you will always have hair-ties on hand somewhere. I keep a stash of unused ones at home for the inevitable “Mama, I’ve run out of hair bands and I’m going out / doing sport/ the bus is coming for school in two minutes !”.

These are always dramatic howls and I have to have the “right” ones on hand. Just the right circumference and thickness, not just any old hair band will do. Needless to say I also therefor have a stash of “ew no, not those!” hair ties and now I also have an excellent use for them: Tying up icing bags.

There are hair bands that a joined with a small metal connecter, I can’t use those, but if you hunt around then you will also find some without the metal piece.

These are perfect. When your icing is getting too clogged up, a simple remedy of ten seconds in the microwave usually does the trick. Ergo the need for ties that have no metal connectors.

Rubber bands would also work of course but we use these so rarely that they get brittle and break as soon as you try and stretch them. Hair ties don’t break like this and being smaller they are easier to tie around the bags. It’s an easy solution for an irritating problem.

Decorating biscuits with icing always brings back fond memories of my Grandma, and the conversations that are special between kids and their grandparents. I hope that the times spent decorating biscuits with me will also one day be special memories for my children too.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

7 Comments »

  1. Your grandmother sounds like an amazing woman — and was totally right. My mother is a baker; I’m a cook. My mouth was watering at the thought of her scones and shortbread. 🙂

    Comment by Su Leslie — January 8, 2018 @ 1:42 am | Reply

    • Su,
      I think she could have baked scones with her eyes closed, and light, airy… you had to taste them to believe it. Sigh, not like my stogy doughy flat attempts at scones. Grans shortbread was to die for, it’s THE recipe I most regret not asking for when she was alive.

      Comment by kiwidutch — January 9, 2018 @ 9:40 am | Reply

  2. I think there was a generation of Kiwi women who could pretty much bake in their sleep. Baking for guests (and family) is such a loving thing to do and it’s sad that so many people now have never learned how to. My mum has a good shortbread recipe, which is incredibly easy and reliable. Not being a natural baker, that’s important to me.

    Comment by Su Leslie — January 10, 2018 @ 4:59 am | Reply

  3. What a great post.

    Comment by lulu — January 13, 2018 @ 1:47 am | Reply

  4. I’ve heard that before – about being either a cook or a baker – but I’ve always been relatively successful at both. I would venture to say I’m more naturally a cook but I can do some excellent cookies, cakes, and pies as well 🙂

    Comment by Carrie — January 15, 2018 @ 10:34 pm | Reply

    • Carrie,
      I always find that I need to be in the mood and not having an “off” day to bake, otherwise there is a good chance that maybe things don’t quite turn out as they should.
      That could mean anything like leaving out an ingredient, measuring wrong, crusts not baking to ” golden brown” in the required time, biscuits (cookies) spreading all over the baking sheet… or in the case of my latest batch of scones, simply not rising at all. On the other hand, on a good day, everything except the cakes will turn out brilliantly. I therefore that makes me a definite Cook without a doubt !

      Comment by kiwidutch — January 16, 2018 @ 7:43 am | Reply


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