I’m delighted to be participating in Divine Magazine’s Christmas blog hop this year. It gives me an excuse (do I need one?!) to share favourite recipes and get myself all geared up for the Festive Season. The very idea of decorating the house fills me with joy and my poor husband with groans, since he has to do all the brawn work of carting stuff around and running up and down stepladders.
Divine asked participants to think about what Christmas means to us. I’m going to be honest here. Not religious, so that element doesn’t really impinge on me. No children, so I can’t share their excitement by proxy. Getting older and don’t need ‘stuff’, so even the presents are viewed with a jaundiced eye these days. More and more aware that this time of year isn’t just Christmas, it’s a multitude of other cultural holidays that are just as significant.
But still Christmas is my cultural holiday, and I can speak only to that. Christmas is still special and gives me the warm fuzzies. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because it has associated with it this:
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
Why I love this time of year is indefinable, even rather inchoate, but still Christmas is a kind forgiving, charitable and pleasant time. I’ll decorate my house; fill it with the smell of Christmas cake and gingerbread; read A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve as I’ve done every Christmas for many, many years now; make the dog wear silly reindeer antlers and post pictures of her up on Facebook; yes, try to do something for those less fortunate than me; and most of all, hold my family and friends close and dear.
Divine asked us to post up a favourite recipe. This is a recipe I’ve shared before, but I love gingerbread so much it *is* Christmas to me, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t share it again. It’s in UK measures, but to convert to US cups etc go here
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 (or golden syrup if you want a lighter colour)
1tsp grated lemon zest
1. 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 a nice cold Chablis. Or two sips. I don’t judge.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Leave to rest overnight in the fridge. Retire to the sofa with your glass of Chablis and watch the Muppet Christmas Carol.
7. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F) Gas 3.
8. 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
9. Cut out shapes with the biscuit cutters. I never do gingerbread men because that smacks of festival cannibalism. Instead I have more snowflake biscuit cutters than is reasonable, so 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.
10. Leave the cookies to cool slightly on the trays before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
11. Then, if you’re feeling particularly crafty and dextrous, you can ice them. Good luck with that. Seeing me with an icing bag and you will wince and run for cover. It’s usually a repeat of getting treacle out of my hair (see step 3 above). Believe me, I’d never win Great British Bake-Off.
Enjoy! And if you are a really generous, big hearted person, put a few into a pretty bag, 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.
And now… the grand prize giveaway on the Divine Promotions Blog. All you have to do is go to the blog and leave a comment on their blog post, telling them your favorite part about Christmas.