I don’t know about you, but I’m on the last frantic run up to the festive season. All the presents are bought and wrapped, thank goodness, which puts me ahead of the game compared to most years. Christmas Eve is a washout in terms of preparation—we’ll be with family for most of the day which will be lovely, but you can’t deny it plays merry hell with your plans to make a Hansel and Gretel gingerbread house, or get the dog groomed, or get yourself groomed. Really there’s just today and tomorrow to make the last of the presents: chocolate discs and gingerbread cookies. So I’m feeling a bit rushed.
I haven’t been terribly enthusiastic about Christmas this year. I’ve been working hard on the edits for The Gilded Scarab, and fretting over the (as yet) non-appearance over the edits for Gyrfalcon, the first Shield novel, all while working on the fourth Shield book (currently at about 36K words). Dear husband and I only have Christmas Day to ourselves before heading up to Norfolk to spend the last of the year with friends, so I’m also fretting about loading Scrivener onto my laptop just in case I get the chance to do a little work while I’m up there. I’m sure I will. Marcia’s working on a book too, and I foresee a few quiet afternoons when we send the husbands out with the dogs while we sip genteelly on Margaritas, nibble on Christmas cake and commit immortal words to hard-drives. Perfect working conditions, I think.
I’ll be a little more enthused later today when I’ve got the dog back from the groomers (nope, wasn’t kidding about having to fit that in!) and am making the dough for the cookies. Gingerbread smells of winter and spices, and I love making cookies. I won’t bake them until tomorrow, but it improves the flavour if the dough is left in the fridge overnight. Here’s the recipe, for those of you who fancy making some:
400g plain flour
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2tsp ground ginger
2tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp salt
180g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g soft dark brown or dark muscovado sugar
1 large egg
125g black treacle
1tsp grated lemon zest
Sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg and salt in a large bowl and set aside for a minute while you have a sip of sherry. Or two.
Cream together butter and sugar. I use the trusty ancient Kenwood Chef, but any freestanding electric mixer will do. Use the paddle shaped attachment, not the dough hook. Cream on slow speed until the butter/sugar mix is light and fluffy.
Turn the mixer up to medium speed and beat in the egg and treacle and lemon zest. This is messy, and you’ll have that delightful moment when you’re scraping unmixed bits in from the side of the bowl with a spatula and then an instant of cursing later, you’re scraping bits of treacle out of your hair where the mixer has merrily thrown it.
Turn the mixer back down to slow speed and add the dry ingredients mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time. You’ll have to stop the mixer now and again to scrape in the bits that have been flung around the side of the bowl—that’s because you’ve learned from your mishap with the treacle, that stopping the mixer first for a second or two may be wise. Go you.
Once the dough has formed and is even in colour and texture, take it out of the mixer bowl, divide into 3 and wrap each piece in clingfilm.
Leave to rest overnight in the fridge. Retire to the sofa with a glass of something alcoholic. You’ve earned it.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F) Gas 3.
Take the dough out of the fridge and leave to soften for about 10 minutes. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour and roll out the first batch of dough to a thickness of about 4 mm
Cut out shapes with the biscuit cutters. I never do gingerbread men because that smacks of festival cannibalism. I make lots of snowflakes and stars, instead. Arrange the cookies on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for about 10–15 minutes. Roll out batches 2 and 3 while the previous ones are baking. You can get a neat little production line going here.
Leave the cookies to cool slightly on the trays before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
Enjoy! And if you are a really generous, big hearted person, put a few into a pretty polythene bag (got mine at Lakeland, and they’re printed with snowflakes), tie with a nice tag and give them to people who either you love very much or who you want in hock to you for next year.
Chocolate discs, though, are so easy they barely count as cooking. These are a French confection called Chocolate Mendients (or Mendients Chocolat if you want to try that with a seductive French accent and reverse the words because the French have a funny habit of doing that) and decorated with fruit and nuts. Fruit and nuts are food for birds and health freaks, so I decorate mine with a dazzling assortment of sprinkles. Last count, 22 bottles of different sprinkles, including little candy snowflakes and golden balls. This year, we’ll be having the sugar freak’s assortment of dark, milk, and white chocolate and I’ll be trying out mint flavoured ones, too.
Very, very simple. Take a bar of the chocolate of your choice and go HERE to find out how to melt and temper chocolate. When it’s melted and at the right temperature, take a tray lined with greaseproof paper, take a teaspoon of chocolate and allow it to form a disc on the paper. If you’re posh, you can fill and use an icing bag and pipe out the disc, but a teaspoon works just as well and you can lick it clean at the end.
Decorate with sprinkles—essentially what I make are these lollipops (points to left) in all chocolate varieties and without the sticks—allow to cool in the fridge, put an assortment into one of the pretty gift bags mentioned earlier and there you are. People will actually think you expended time and energy on them and will admire you excessively as they glut themselves on chocolatey goodness.
Whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year, I hope you’ll have a happy and joyous one. I’ll see you on the other side. Probably at a weightwatcher’s meeting…