Garden blogs

Plas Pilipala: butterfly biscuits

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When we first started planning for our butterfly house Plas Pilipala, I baked up a huge batch of butterfly biscuits to bring to a meeting. Decorated with royal icing, the whole process took approximately 14 hours to accomplish, taking up a whole weekend. Afterwards, I said to myself: never again. And yet, here we are. Luckily, for the following recipe, I’ve halved the quantities to make a more manageable task.

Here is a recipe for making your own butterfly biscuits, may your baking be faster than mine.

Ingredients

Biscuits
275g plain flour
100g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Icing
540g icing sugar
3 large egg whites
½ teaspoon of cream of tartar
Gel food colouring as required

Note that this royal icing recipe uses raw eggs. If this is something you’d prefer to avoid, there are alternatives that use meringue powder or pasteurised whites.

To make the biscuits:

  1.  Cream the butter and caster sugar together in a mixing bowl
  2.  Lightly beat together the eggs and the vanilla extract.
  3.  Add the egg mixture a little at a time to the butter and sugar until all combined.
  4.  Mix in the flour until a dough is formed.
  5.  Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for about 15 minutes for it to firm up.
  6.  Preheat the oven to 190°C
  7.  Sprinkle some flour onto the work surface and rolling pin and roll out the dough to a thickness of about 5mm.
  8.  Cut out the shapes with cutters and place them on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Leave enough space so they won’t bleed into each other as they cook.
  9.  Put the first tray of butterflies into the freezer for 10 minutes. This is to help the biscuits keep their shape once they go into the oven, by firming up the butter.
  10.  Take the tray out of the freezer and cook for 10 minutes in the oven, or until golden brown. Let them harden on the tray for a couple of minutes, then move to a wire rack to fully cool.
  11.  Keep up the production line of biscuits-freezer-oven, with overlapping runs, until you’re out of dough.

Ideally you need to leave a decent amount of time before icing the biscuits. They can’t be warm, and hopefully they should be completely dry. Too much moisture in the biscuit will stop the royal icing from drying properly.

To make the icing:

  1.  Mix together the icing sugar and cream of tartar.
  2.  Add the egg whites and mix together till combined.
  3.  Beat the mixture using an electric mixer, until the icing is crisp white and smooth. Don’t overbeat, as you don’t want to incorporate too much air into the icing that will create bubbles which pop after icing.
  4.  Add food colouring as required, separating into bowls. If you’re not going to use a batch of icing for a while, cover with clingfilm and pop in the fridge.
  5.  Adjust the consistency of the icing based on the usage. Icing that’s used for outlining shapes needs to be thicker than icing used for flooding the biscuit with colour. It doesn’t require a lot of water to thin out the icing, so start off with half a teaspoon and adjust from there. (This video is a very thorough overview of royal icing, with visuals on the different consistencies.)
  6.  Put your icing into a piping bag with piping tip and start making your designs.

For the marbling effect, after outlining, fill the shape with your base colour and then pipe lines across in a different shade. While the icing’s still wet, take a cocktail stick and run it through the lines to create the feathering. You can do lots of interesting and more complicated things with this: I like to take inspiration from paper marbling. Similarly for the eyespots: pipe the spots on top of each other, layering up the icing. The trick is to have the icing at similar consistencies so they’ll sink into each other.