About five years ago, a group of friends and I hired a houseboat and went sailing along the Murray River near Echuca-Moama on the Victorian-NSW border. It was a hot March weekend and we cruised up and down the river, stopping the boat for swims or to have lunch or dinner in a picturesque spot. Among the group were several excellent cooks and several hungry, appreciative men, so we were all happy.
We took boxes of champagne and beer and several esky-loads of food, far more than we needed and could possibly have eaten during the weekend. We'd serve up massive antipasto platters of olives, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated artichokes, dips, brie, camembert, blue cheese and crackers each evening and eat them while we watched big flocks of cockatoos screeching their way across the sky splashed with a deep pink sunset. We'd pull the boat into some shade at lunchtime and, after a swim to cool off, we'd cook up a BBQ of thick steaks and fat hamburgers.
In between the meals, there were plenty of snacks to keep us going. Every time I plan a trip somewhere, a food magazine or newspaper fortuitously publishes an article with the perfect recipes that I need to bake before I go. This time, Gourmet Traveller published a special on biscuits a few weeks before the holiday, so I made up big batches of spicy gingerbread biscuits with honey icing and hazelnut and vanilla creams. Not only were the biscuits delicious, they were also extremely easy to make. Both recipes quickly entered my repertoire.
HAZELNUT AND VANILLA CREAMS
125g butter, chopped
150g soft brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
300g self-raising flour, sifted
Vanilla cream filling
130g soft butter, chopped
240g icing sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Put the hazelnuts on a tray, roast for 5-10 minutes, then tip into a tea-towel and rub off the skins. Cool and coarsely chop.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the egg and beat till well combined. Stir in sifted flour and nutmeg and the chopped hazelnuts and mix until well combined. Refrigerate the mixture for 10 minutes.
Roll heaped teaspoons of the mix into balls and place 5cm apart on baking paper-lined trays. Using the back of a fork, press the balls down to form round biscuits. Refrigerate for 10 minutes, then bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden. Cool biscuits on tray.
For filling, using an electric mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy. Add icing sugar and vanilla extract and beat until smooth and creamy. Sandwich biscuits together with vanilla cream (you may find you have some icing left over). Biscuits will keep for one week in an airtight container.