They’re only little, but clustered on their tray in bright shades – fuschia, striped blue, a peachy blush – these iced gems look like the candy-coloured domes of St Basil’s. Any who accuse them of looking trashy, ostentatious or garish are missing the kitsch point entirely.
For the biscuit bases:
50g unsalted butter
125g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
30g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
2 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 teaspoons cold water
For the meringue:
2 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
100g caster sugar
1 Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour for the biscuit bases until no visible chunks of butter remain. Stir in the baking powder, sugar and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolks together with the vanilla and a teaspoon of the water. Add this mixture to the dry ingredients and use a small knife to repeatedly cut through the flour until the liquid is well distributed and the flour lightly moistened. The dough should begin to come together in small clumps. If dry flour remains, just add another teaspoon or two of water. Once combined, press the dough clumps together into a flattish round, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30-45 minutes, or until firmer and less sticky. While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4 and line a large baking tray with baking parchment.
2 On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough out to roughly 25x25cm, or no more than 4mm thick. Cut into 2-4cm diameter circles, either with a small cutter (I actually used a small lid) or using a small sharp knife and a template. If you don’t have a suitable sized cutter, you could make the job easier by cutting square – rather than circular, bases – you’ll just need to mark out a rough grid with a ruler and cut out.
3 Arrange the dough pieces on the lined baking tray and chill/freeze them for ten minutes or so if they’ve softened a lot as you’ve been working. Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Once they’re golden and sandy, leave to cool.
4 While the biscuit bases cook, prepare the meringue: first, very thoroughly clean and dry a large glass, ceramic or steel bowl (plastic isn’t great for meringue as it tends to retain traces of grease, which can prevent the eggs from whisking up as they should). Lightly whisk the white just to slacken them and transfer a couple of teaspoons of the white to a small bowl or ramekin (we’ll use this later). Use an electric mixer to whisk the remaining whites until they’re completely foamy, then add the sugar a quarter at a time, whisking well between each addition to allow each batch of sugar to dissolve. The meringue will be foamy at first, before becoming thicker, glossier and whiter. It’s ready when it holds stiff peaks when you slowly lift the whisk from the mixture.
5 If you want to colour or flavour the meringue, now’s the time to do so. Divide the meringue in little bowls and very gently fold in food colouring or flavourings, stirring no more than is necessary – a few streaks will actually add to the effect. Spoon the meringue mixes into piping bags fitted with wide nozzles. You can actually dribble a drop or two of food colouring down the inside of the piping bag before filling it, if you want your iced gems to have a stripe of colour.
6 Just before you’re ready to pipe the meringue onto the bases, brush each biscuit with a little of the extra egg white (we set it aside earlier), which will help the meringue adhere. Pipe small rosettes of meringue onto each biscuit and lower the oven temperature to 140°C/fan 120°C/gas mark 1-2. You may not need all of the meringue.
7 Bake the iced gems for 25 minutes if you’ve made very small 2cm biscuits or up to 40 minutes for large biscuits. The meringue should feel firm to the touch.