The tantalising aromas of cakes and cookies baking is enough to tempt even the family’s most hardened cell phone addict to abandon playing on their device and head for the kitchen.
According to food historians, the ancient Greeks were the first to develop sophisticated baking skills. Their cakes were, however, more like bread sweetened with honey. It wasn't until the 17th century that round cakes with icing were first baked in Europe.
Even then, the secret of producing the perfect bake was in the preparation. Baking is a chemical experiment and using consistent measurements is necessary if the recipe is to be uniform. Recipes in New Zealand are developed using level metric spoons and cups.
Biscuits of one kind or another have been around since the third century BC. A Roman came up with a thin, sugarless wafer which instantly became a hit. It was dry, kept well and was suitable for the Roman legions when they went empire building. Something similar called a 'cracken' turned up in the Middle Ages in England. It was named for the sound produced when people bit into it.
When the Dutch introduced sugar to biscuit dough, the 'koekje' was invented. The English called it a cookie and it travelled to America with the early colonists. Commercial cookies weren't available until the Graham cracker was created in the 1830s in the US state of New England.
EASY GLUTEN-FREE BROWNIE
Brownies can be dressed up or down. Great served with whipped cream, ice cream or yoghurt, they are also delicious dusted with icing sugar. Cut portions can be frozen.
1 cup dark cane sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla essence
3 large eggs
3/4 cup each: gluten-free flour, dark cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 160°C. Lightly oil and line a 19cm square cake pan with baking paper.
Melt the butter then stir in the sugar and vanilla essence. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder together then stir into the sugar mixture. Mix well. Pour into the cake pan.
Bake for 25-35 minutes or until just cooked. It should still be a little soft and wrinkly in the centre. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares or oblongs to serve.
GLUTEN-FREE CHAI SHORTBREAD
These are not as solid as regular shortbread cookies.
250g butter at room temperature
1 cup icing sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups gluten-free flour
1 teaspoon each: ground ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, mixed spice
milk for glazing
Cinnamon sugar: 2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Cream the butter and icing sugar until light and fluffy.
Sift the flour, spices and salt into a bowl. Beat into the butter mixture until well combined. Chill the mixture for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 160°C. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Roll out the dough until 1cm thick. Using a 6-7cm diameter biscuit cutter, make about 24 rounds. Off-cuts may be pressed together, re-rolled then cut. Place on the baking trays. Brush with milk and dust with the cinnamon sugar.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack. Store in airtight containers in the fridge or freezer. Makes about 24.
FAVOURITE CARROT CAKE
Wedges of this hearty cake can be frozen.
2 cups each: wholemeal flour, sugar
2 teaspoons each: cinnamon, mixed spice, baking soda
2 cups grated carrot
1/2 cup each: chopped walnuts, sunflower seeds, chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup sultanas
1 1/2 cups canola oil
Icing: 125g cream cheese
50g butter, softened
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
Extras: chopped apricots, walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds to taste.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease and line a 23cm cake pan with baking paper.
Combine the first five ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well. Add the carrot, nuts, sunflower seeds, apricots, pumpkin seeds and sultanas.
Beat together the eggs and oil in a bowl. Stir into the dry ingredients. Spread into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 - 1 1/2 hours, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
To prepare the icing, beat the cream cheese, butter and icing sugar together until smooth. Spread over the cooled cake. Garnish with the extras.