Niall McKenna: Easy sweet treats to share with friends and family

Duchess Petits Fours
Niall McKenna

IT'S finally February, the longest six weeks of the year have ended and we can look forward to a (slightly) healthier bank balance and venturing out of the house again.

The next few weeks allow us the chance to catch up with friends or relatives we may not have seen over the Christmas period or during those frantic weeks at the start of the new year.

The two recipes this week are great little biscuits to try at home if you may not be a natural whiz in the kitchen. They are quick, easy and it is almost difficult to get them wrong (he writes optimistically!)

So, when you are making these new plans, take a box or gift-wrapped bundle of these sweet treats to a friend's place, when visiting Aunt Susan or for those all-important school coffee mornings.

:: Duchess Petits Fours

Serves 6

110g butter, at room temperature (extra required for greasing)

200g caster sugar

2 eggs separated

300g plain flour

1 pinch baking powder

Glace cherries or almonds for the top to decorate

Start by heating the oven to 180 C and grease a baking tray with a little butter.

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl and add the egg yolks and sugar and beat until all thoroughly mixed. Add the sifted flour and the baking powder and mix again. At this stage the mix should be taking on the form of a smooth dough but you may need to knead for a couple more minutes to make it smooth.

Divide the dough into small round balls and place on the baking tray. With the egg whites, beat until mixed and brush over the biscuits. Sprinkle with a little sugar and decorate with your cherry or almond.

Place in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden.

:: Biscotti

110g/4oz medium oatmeal, plus more for dusting

110g/4oz plain flour

55g/2oz lard, dripping or poultry fat

1 level tsp salt

cold water

For the glaze

1 egg

1 tbsp milk

1 tsp sugar

100g dark chocolate, melted

Mix the oatmeal and flour in a bowl. Rub in the fat, add the salt and mix in just enough cold water to form a soft, but not tacky dough.

Roll out the dough on to an oatmeal-strewn board into the shape of a long log. Separately, mix together the egg, milk and sugar to form a glaze and brush the log. Place on a baking tray lined with grease proof paper at 150C for 30 minutes.

When fully cooked, remove and leave to cool on the baking tray, cutting the log into inch-thick slices.

At this stage, melt the chocolate in a bain marie (bowl over a pot of simmering water) until soft, ensuring the water and chocolate do not mix. When the biscotti have cooled, drizzle over the chocolate and dust with caster sugar. Store in an airtight box.

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