B is for Belgium biscuits

On a recent holiday back home to Christchurch, NZ I decided to bake Belgium biscuits for my next A-Z challenge.  My Mum & Nana make really good Belgium biscuits (but then again, all their baking is good!).  Once again, I'm left wondering if the humble Belgium bikkie can be claimed as Kiwi in origin or if their history stems from elsewhere. 

So first - a little history lesson about the Belgium biscuit.  According to Wikipedia (what would we do without it?!) the Belgium biscuit was originally called a Linzer biscuit after the Austrian Linzer Torte (made with short pastry & filled with jam).  Following World War 1, it was renamed the Empire biscuit.  Other names include Deutch biscuit, German biscuit & Imperial biscuit - but today it is most commonly known by New Zealanders as the Belgium (or Belgian) biscuit. 

For classic recipes like this, you can't go past the good old Edmonds Cookery Book (New Zealand bakers will know this recipe book well! For everyone else, it is an iconic NZ cookery book that has been around since 1907).   

Recipe (makes around 22 individual biscuits to sandwich together)

For the biscuits...

125g softened butter
1/4 C brown sugar
1 egg
2 C plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon cocoa

For the icing... (The Edmonds book also says to add red food colouring & to use raspberry essence as an alternative to vanilla but the below is what I went with!)

3/4 C icing sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
A little hot water

Filling

Raspberry jam

What to do...
  1. Heat your oven to 180 C.
  2. Prepare your biscuit trays by lining two trays with baking paper.  (My tip here is to spray a couple of areas with some cooking spray before you lie your baking paper on the tray to prevent the paper slipping around when  you come to place your biscuits on top).
  3. Before you launch into the baking part, make sure you've got a round cookie cutter of about 6.5cm in diameter.
  4. Using an electric mixer, cream butter & brown sugar until light & fluffy.  Add egg & beat well.
  5. Sift all of the dry ingredients together & mix into creamed mixture to make a firm dough. (Always make sure you turn the beater off before adding the dry ingredients!  Then mix on a low speed to avoid a shroud of dust everywhere!)
  6. Lightly flour your bench or a non-stick mat.  Place mixture onto your surface & knead lightly so that mixture comes together for rolling.
  7. Roll mixture out to around 3mm thick.  I cheat & use marzipan spacers for this!
  8. Cut out biscuits using your round cookie cutter.
  9. Place biscuits on your trays a few cm apart from each other - they don't spread much at all.
  10. Bake for 15 mins or until golden.
  11. When cold, sandwich biscuits together with the jam.
  12. Next make the icing by mixing the icing sugar with the vanilla & enough hot water to make a spreadable consistency (not too runny or else it will run off the edges).
  13. Ice the top of each biscuit.
The Edmonds book says to use red food colouring to make pink icing.  However, I've always known Belgium biscuits to have white icing with pink sugar sprinkled on the top so that's how I did mine.  To make pink sugar, just mix sugar with a little red or pink food colouring.  Alternatively, you could try sprinkling over some raspberry jelly crystals. 

One thing I would say, is the biscuit dough was a little tricky to roll out at times because it was quite dry.  I ended up wetting my hands & kneading it slightly so it came together a bit easier. 

For those of you who really can't be bothered making these biscuits (I admit they do take a bit more time) a slightly easier alternative is to make a Belgium slice. Here's a link to a recipe I've found for it http://www.food.com/recipe/belgium-slice-328225 If you try it, let me know how it turned out!

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