Leaving behind the freedom of the summer holidays for the routines of a new year back at work and school is never easy. But coming home and baking brings a collective feel-good mood to the house, and makes people feel reassured that home is home.
And, even better, there will be treats for the lunchbox and after-school snacking that are made with ingredients you know, and that taste better and cost a lot less than anything store-bought.
My entry to the kitchen as a preschooler started with baking. Actually it was all about waiting for that moment when the mixture had been dispatched to tins and trays and I got to lick the beater.
I'm sure that's how it starts for many a child who has a parent, grandparent or older sibling who likes to bake. Before you know it, you're in there, mixing dough, rolling biscuits and putting things into the oven. The house fills with warming, lip-smacking aromas and voila! Just like that you're cooking and everyone thinks you're incredibly clever.
At heart I'm still a baker. It's the smell more than anything, a warm, toasty, sweet aroma that makes you feel safe and grounded. I'm not alone here. Research has shown that the aroma of baked goods is the number-one smell that makes people nostalgic for their childhood.
There is certainly something calming and reassuring about working with simple ingredients and engaging in the easy rhythms of whisking, beating and folding. Many of us spend much of our working day occupied with our left brain, so baking provides a balance, activating our right brain and our creativity.
When things feel like they aren't going my way or if I'm feeling fragmented, I get into the kitchen and bake. In this simplest of ways I can stay present and focused, and at the end there is something delicious to share that makes everyone feel good.
Ready in 1¼ hours
Makes about 25 pieces
250g butter, at room temperature
1½ cups caster sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup berry jam of your choice, for filling
Coconut Meringue Topping
4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
2 cups thread coconut
½ tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 160C fanbake. Line a medium (about 30cm x 24cm) sponge-roll tin with baking paper. Beat together butter and sugar until creamy. Mix in egg yolks and vanilla, then stir in flour and baking powder to make a crumbly dough. Press into prepared tin to form a firm base about 1½cm thick. Bake until pale golden (about 20 minutes).
While the base is cooking, make topping. Place egg whites in a clean bowl or electric mixer and beat with a clean beater until soft peaks form. Beat in sugar until mixture forms a glossy meringue. Fold in coconut and vanilla. Cool cooked base for 10 minutes, then spread with jam and topping. Bake until crisp and lightly golden (about 35 minutes). Cut into about 25 pieces while warm. Cool, then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
It also freezes well.
Annabel says: A tender shortcrust base topped with a layer of rich berry tang and a crisp coconut meringue topping - this is one slice that never goes out of fashion.
Prep 40 mins + resting
Makes about 36
125g butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour, plus extra to dust
1 tsp each baking powder, cinnamon, mixed spice
1 egg white
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
juice of ½ lemon
Drops of food colouring (optional)
Sprinkles, to decorate (optional)
Preheat oven to 160C fanbake and line 2 oven trays with baking paper. Beat together butter and sugar until creamy, then mix in egg and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and combine to make a soft dough. Leave to rest for 20 minutes. Place on floured bench, cover with baking paper, and roll out thinly. Use cutters to cut into animal shapes, re-rolling leftover dough as you go. Carefully transfer to prepared oven trays and bake until light golden and set (15 minutes). Allow to cool for 10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. While the biscuits are baking, make the Royal Icing. Beat egg white until thick and fluffy, then slowly add icing sugar and lemon juice. To test consistency, lift out a small spoonful and drizzle back into the bowl - if the line is still visible after 5 seconds, thin the icing a little with more egg white. If it sinks straight away add more icing sugar. Stir in drops of food colouring if desired. Once biscuits are fully cooled, use a piping bag or plastic bag with a small corner cut off and pipe a line of icing around the edge of the biscuit, a little in from the edge. Then fill in the middle with icing and decorate with sprinkles, if using. Animal biscuits will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.
Annabel says: What kid doesn't love animal biscuits? The homemade ones are such fun to create - let the kids have a go at decorating them if you dare.
Chocolate Coconut Ice Slice
Ready in 15 mins + setting
Makes about 30 pieces
150g melted butter
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 Tbsp golden syrup
1½ cups desiccated coconut
½ cup cocoa
¾ cup icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
375g plain sweet biscuits, crushed to coarse crumbs
Chocolate Coconut Icing
200g dark chocolate
1½ cups icing sugar
3 Tbsp boiling water
1½ cups desiccated coconut
Line a 30cm x 24cm sponge-roll tray or baking tin with baking paper. To make the base, place butter, condensed milk and golden syrup in a pot or microwave-proof bowl large enough to hold the entire mixture. Heat gently on the hob or in the microwave until the butter melts. Remove from heat. Mix together coconut, cocoa, icing sugar and vanilla. Stir into butter and condensed milk mixture then stir in biscuit crumbs. Press into prepared tin and refrigerate until set (about 1 hour) before icing. To make the icing, break chocolate into squares and melt with butter in a double boiler or microwave (microwave on medium for 30-second bursts for about 1½ minutes, stirring between each burst, until runny and smooth). Mix to a smooth consistency with icing sugar and boiling water. Stir through coconut and spread over base. Refrigerate until set. When icing is set, cut into slices or squares and store in an airtight container in a cool place.
Annabel says: This recipe is so simple my kids have been making it since they were toddlers. You can change the flavours - instead of cocoa add chopped dried apricots and ice with lemon icing.