Christmas cookies

If you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be baking Christmas cookies to hang off the tree I’d have said you had the wrong girl. I’m just not that kind of cook. I bake and indeed do all my cooking to eat and rarely faff around with too much decoration leaving that kind of Martha Stewart business to calmer types with more time on their hands.

But time and kids have mellowed me and these days I consider it a quite a luxury to have a few hours to devote to baking and, as I’ve often said, find it a superior form of crowd control when it comes to kids (basically they’ll do anything to lick the bowl and after 7 years I know how to use this to my full advantage).

Dan & Auggie making cookies

But don’t switch off just yet, these cookies are for grown ups too. I make them with cocoa and chinese 5 spice powder.In fact they’re probably a little highbrow for most kids. Mine love them (sugar is sugar after all) and in our house it signals the start of Christmas eating.

Making cookies

This recipe (adapted from a Nigella one)will make about 50 -60 cookies and about half go on our tree and the rest are for having with coffee or perking up vanilla ice-cream as a quick dessert. For the tree we did stars and dinosaurs today and I decorated them with white icing sugar and Christmassy bits and then the rest were cut into smaller stars and drizzled with dark chocolate which suits my purposes when it comes to coffee and/or ice-cream. They’ll keep for a week in a tin and for a day or two on the tree – after that they start to really soften and the kids tend to leave well alone which suits the Martha Stewart in me (this is what happens!!!) as they do look so sweet…

Iced Christmas cookies

Christmas cookies with chocolate and Chinese Five Spice powder

You’ll need:

300gr plain flour                                                                  Dinosaur cookie

1 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 level teaspoons Chinese 5 spice powder

100gr butter, diced

100gr light muscovado sugar or any brown sugar you have

2 eggs

60gr golden syrup

First of all preheat your oven to Gas mark 3 (170 degrees Celsius). Sieve the flour, salt, baking powder and 5 spice powder together. Rub in the butter with your fingertips then stir in the sugar. Beat the eggs with the golden syrup then mix through the flour using your hands.

At this stage the mix will probably seem very dry but persevere and using your hands gather everything into a ball. When you’ve got everything together, tip the mixture out onto a floured surface and work it by rolling  and re-rolling the dough with a well floured rolling pin until the dough becomes smooth.

Divide the dough into 2 balls and put half into a plastic bag or wrap in cling film and put into the fridge while you work on the first lot*. Get the remaining dough back into a ball then roll out to about 5mm thick. Cut out your cookies.

Christmas cookies

Using a spatula, put them on a lightly buttered baking tray. If you are making some for your tree you’ll need to put a little hole big enough to get a thin ribbon, string or wool  through before they go into the oven. I use the point of a chopstick for this.  Place the cookies in the oven for about 12 -15 minutes. They will come out slightly soft but don’t worry, they harden on cooling. Place them on a wire rack . They’ll cool down quite quickly so you can get on with melting chocolate or making icing almost immediately.

*The dough you put in the fridge can either be used straight away or will keep for a few days in the fridge. It can also be frozen.

The decoration

If you’re using icing……

Sieve 150gr grams icing sugar then very gradually add warm water making sure not to let the icing get too runny then drizzle over the cookies. You can drizzle with a spoon but I find the easiest thing is to put the icing into a small plastic bag, loosely tie it then prick with a large needle and use this to pipe the squiggles onto the cookies. We went quite all Sunday supplement low key this year with some white decorations on the white icing. Usually it’s a riot of colour and silver balls. Up to you…

If you go for chocolate…..

Christmas cookies with chocolate

Melt a bar (100gr) chocolate in a bain-marie (ie in a heatproof bowl set in a pot of hot water) then drizzle over the cookies.

One thing – I find that the  icing takes a lot longer to dry than you’d think so be sure it’s fully hardened before you put the cookies away away.

Our mediterranean selections all have a bag of dried mango  Chocolate mangowhich makes another brilliant sweet treat for after dinner. Slice into strips and partially dip in melted chocolate. Dry on grease-proof paper. These will store for at least a week in a tin and also go really well with ice-cream and the cookies for that matter.

As for the savouries, I think soup is a definitely way to go – easy and more importantly warming. This week’s sweet potatoes are great with Thai flavours and my recipe for sweet potato soup with coconut and lime  is a cinch to put together or there’s the one I did at Hallowe’en with pancetta, sour cream and crispy sage. If you’re having friends over or hanging out there are those crispy sweet potato cakes with feta and pomegranate molasses which make a brilliant starter or picky thing to have with beers.

The leeks are also brilliant for pretty much any soup – don’t overlook the humble version with spud especially if topped with pan-fried crispy bacon and some sour cream. They’re also great braised in stock and topped with Parmesan .If you have the oven on it’s a great way to go, not least because it’s one of those completely hands-off dishes which I’m more than a little partial to..

Have a great weekend,

Sarah

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Fennel and Mango

February 20, 2009

We’ve still got some Seabass from the summer in our freezer so Fennel is definitely on the menu in our house this weekend. A simple salad of shavings dressed in the nicest Olive Oil you have and Lemon juice is probably the simplest way to go but if I have the time (15 minutes actually but for some reason that seems a lot at the moment) I’ll be baking it with Lemon juice and Thyme and serving this with a simple Cous Cous salad with, say, toasted Pinenuts, Chickpeas and lots of Parsley although I imagine that as usual Paul and Dan will be shouting out for creamy mash. We’ll see……

Braised Fennel with Lemon and Thyme

You’ll need:

500gr Fennel (about what you have in your bag this week)

Butter

Olive Oil

1 Teaspoon Sugar

5/6 sprigs of Thyme or 1 Teaspoon Dried

Juice of half a Lemon

Trim (ie remove the herby bits) and quarter or slice (about 1cm thick will do) the Fennel. Place on a baking tray with all the other ingredients. Cover and bake at a medium heat (about 180 degrees) for about 20 minutes. Uncover, give the ingredients a “stir”, turn up the heat to 200 degrees and cook for a further 25 minutes or until the Fennel is tender and a slightly caramelized.

The Mediterranean selections all have Mangoes this week. They’ll take a few days to fully ripen (your fruit bowl is the best place) and then will be amazing eaten with Vanilla Ice-cream or dipped in dark Chocolate. Enjoy!