Explainers

How to make biscuits

It’s back to school with Sweet Envy’s Alistair Wise, who takes part in a little biscuit experimentation in the name of science.

By Alistair Wise
The biscuit line-up
Anyone who's spent time baking biscuits will know that it only takes a slight variation in ingredients to change what comes out of the oven. Some bakers prefer the rich caramel of brown sugar, some favour extra crunch, while others go for more chew. Then there's the shape to consider: they could be thin and spread out, or high and compact. But how to get the desired result?
In the name of good taste, Alistair Wise made a control biscuit based on his favourite recipe, then altered it a variable at a time. "My favourite is a 50/50 caster-and-brown-sugar biscuit with baking powder that's been chilled before baking," says Wise. "It's a good one because the dough will give similar results even if it's been frozen. Just don't keep it in the freezer for more than two weeks." Wise has his favourite, but each biscuit has its own particular charms – why choose only one?

Step 1

For the control biscuit, beat 125gm butter and 100gm each of caster sugar and brown sugar in an electric mixer until light and creamy (about 5 minutes). Add 1 egg and continue to mix until smooth, then add 225gm (11/2 cups) plain flour and 6gm (about 1 tsp) baking powder.
Step 1 Photo: Chris Chen

Step 2

Roll into a log in a piece of baking paper, twist ends to tighten, and refrigerate to chill (about 1 hour).
Step 2. Photo: Chris Chen

Step 3

Preheat oven to 180°C. Slice log into 12 biscuits and bake on trays lined with baking paper until golden brown (about 15 minutes).
Step 3. Photo: Chris Chen

Variations

100 per cent caster sugar: light golden in colour, this version will run a little larger than the control biscuit and tends to be crunchy.
100% brown sugar: dark golden in colour, this makes for a smaller, chewier biscuit.
Extra flour: this biscuit doesn't spread much while baking so it turns out smaller. It's similar to a rock cake with a dense texture.
Bicarbonate of soda: replace the baking powder to get a darker colour and a flavour reminiscent of an Anzac biscuit.
50/50 baking powder and bicarbonate of soda: this version has the flavour of an Anzac biscuit, but isn't as rich as the pure bicarb version. It has a darker colour, and turns out slightly larger.
Melted butter: great for scaling up to make big batches, this version is especially easy to make at home. Mix the flour and sugar together with either baking powder or bicarbonate of soda. Melt the butter and let cool, then add the egg to the mixture with the butter and mix until the dough comes together. This version spreads out more than the others, and is best when baked straight away and not chilled.
Chilled overnight: chilling the mixture for longer overnight allows for more consistent results because you're always baking it from the same starting temperature, no matter where you are. This variation is the most fail-safe, and tends not to spread out quite as much in the oven.

New flavour combinations

Add a handful of chocolate chips or coconut flakes for a classic cookie taste, or opt for white-chocolate chunks and roughly chopped macadamia nuts. Dates work well with the brown-sugar variation, and an extra sprinkle of cinnamon sugar teams nicely with the white sugar.
*Orange zest is an excellent addition for a little warmth, while peanuts, or even peanut butter (or pretzels!), adds glorious crunch.