Ho, Ho, Ho – A Little Girl’s First Christmas Cookies

So, we are now back in the UK and merrily entering into the fray of the festive season.  A christmas cake is baked, menus planned for the various family and friend celebrations and excess is being happily anticipated.

My little girl frequently likes to help me out in the kitchen, what she lacks in technical ability, she makes up for in abundance with enthusiasm.

A lot of friends and neighbours have given her some great gifts, so we thought we would return the favour with something crisp and festive that goes well with the seasonal fare, whether that be a schooner of sherry, cup of coffee or pitcher of egg-nog.

These Christmas Cookies are easy to make and great fun for kids to get involved with – a very useful way to use up half a day or so if you are faced with bored kids and wet weather over the holiday season.

They taste buttery, sweet and crisp and can be decorated in an understated way with a dusting of icing sugar, but I’m sure the kids will be able to create some altogether more dazzling creations with access to food colourings, icing and edible decorations.

Happy Christmas…

Makes: around 80-90 small cookies

Ingredients

300g White Sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract (or 3 tsp ground giner)

500g dairy free margarine (butter is ok for those that are not baking dairy free!)

750g plain flour

2 egg yolks

Icing

1 cup of icing sugar

3 Tbsp water

Food colouring

Edible food decorations – stars, balls, hearts, flowers, whatever you like and can find!s

Method

1. Place sugar, vanilla/ginger, egg yolks and margarine/butter in a large bowl and mix until pale and creamy – you may want to use an electric mixer (or if you need to use up time, get the kids to mix using a whisk or fork!).

2. Sift in flour

3. Using your hands as sparingly as possible, combine into a slightly dry dough and divide into two or three large discs of dough.

4. Wrap discs in clingfilm and place in fridge for 30-40 minutes

5. Take discs out of fridge and roll to the thickness of a pound (or euro) coin.

6. Turn on oven to 170C.

7. Cut out shapes using a small cutter and place on a lightly floured baking tray (or 3!).

8. Bake for around 8 minutes until just golden – all ovens are different so adjust if necessary.

9. Leave cookies to cool on wire rack.

10. Mix together icing sugar and water until you have a thickish paste.

11. Divide icing into several small pots and colour as apopropriate.

12. With a teaspoon, place small amount on each cookie and spread around until thinly dispersed.

13. Place sprinkles and edible decorations on the icing whilst it is still tacky so they will stick.

14. leave cookies to dry for an hour or so.

15.  Divide up into small batches, wrap in cellophane sealed with a bow and make your friends and neighbours smile.

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Fig & Pecan Beer Bread

I reecently attended a cookery course as everything I have learnt about cooking has been from informal sources – consequently, I have no ‘proper’ techniques and a lot of bad habits!

The course was a great experience: spending all day learning and cooking, getting the chance to experiment and to ask an expert chef teacher all manner of questions.  My teacher was called Hannah and was trained by Prue Leith.  She was a good mixture of tough and fun that suited me very well.

One of the first things we worked on was bread and techniques for baking many different sorts of loaves.  I have only used a bread machine to this point and had ruled out in my head ever making it by hand (too slow and old fashioned…).  I am now a convert to the more traditional methods, but I can see how this could be adapted to a machine – you won’t get such a pretty plait loaf though!

This loaf works fantastically well served with blue cheese or a nice, rich homemade pate.  My father in-law will not however mix ‘sweet and salt’and had his slices with butter and jam which seemd to suit him very well.

Serves: Makes 1 large loaf

Ingredients

60g butter

2 tsp light muscavado sugar

300ml bitter beer or ale (I used Theakston’s Old Peculiar, but any silly named dark English beer will work!)

1 egg, beaten

10g fast action dried yeast (or 20g fresh yeast)

2 tsp salt

225g strong white flour

225g of wholemeal flour

40g chopped dried figs

40g chopped pecans

To glaze – 1 Tbsp of honey

Method

  1. Place sugar and beer in a pan and heat until bubbling, then boil fast for 1 minute or so.
  2. Take beer mixture off heat and add the butter to it to melt.
  3. Place flours, salt and yeast into a large bowl. Make sure you have been very accurate with the measurements of the dry ingredients (less important for liquid), this is the best tip for breadmaking!
  4. After the beer mixture has cooled a little more, add the beaten egg and cool to the temperature of a newborn baby’s bath water (hey, I am a daddy!).
  5. Add around 2/3 of your liquid egg/beer/butter to the dry ingredients.  Get your hands in and work this into a nice soft dough.  You may need to add more of your liquids to get the right consistency.
  6. Get the dough onto a floured work surface and knead it for 10 minutes or so (a surprisingly good work out…).  You will know that you have kneaded enough when the dough springs back slowly when you lighly place your fingertip to it.
  7. Place dough in an oiled bag in a warm place to prove until it has doubled in size).  This should take between 30 mins to an hour depending on temperature, flour used, age of yeast, which way the wind is blowing, etc…
  8. Take dough out of bag and knock it back with a couple of gentle punches.
  9. Add your figs and pecans and knead them in well for a couple of minutes.
  10. Shape the loaf into your chosen form – a plait gets lots of ooos and ahhhhhs.  Place on an oild baking sheet or tin and loosely cover in oiled cling film.
  11. Place in warm place again and let rise until pillowy and nearly doubled in size – around 40 mins.
  12. Place loaf carefully into preheated 200C oven for 15 minutes.
  13. Take out loaf and brush with honey. Place back in oven for anoth 10 minutes or so.  Loaf is done when it sounds hollow when knocked and it feels light for it’s size.

Enjoy fresh and warm with Dolcelatte cheese or toasted with a rich duck liver pate.

Dairy Free Banana Bread With Apricots

My daughter’s allergies are changing so it is time to try reintroducing some foods. We are trying wheat after an experiment with dairy just didn’t work.

She just celebrated her birthday and I felt a bit sad that everyone else enjoyed cake except her – she has never been keen on the wheat and gluten free offerings. Now we are trying wheat, I thought she could now have some.

Whilst living down under, I discovered just how good the antipodean cafe staple of banana bread really could be. A good one is never dry and is almost fudgey in it’s consistency and taste.  It is also a great way to use up those over ripe bananas that usually end up in the bin.  In my version, I gave added some pre soaked dry apricots which reduce the quantity of added sugar and add a delicious moistness to the finished loaf.

Serve this straight from the oven in generous warm slices or it is even more delicious served a day or so later toasted with lashings of (dairy free!) butter.  If you can manage it, make up some homemade lime or passion fruit butter, really easy and a great tart foil to the rich, gooey sweet banana loaf.

Serves: makes 1 large loaf

Ingredients

3 really ripe bananas
250g self raising flour
125g light muscavado sugar
100ml of vegetable oil.
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Around 8 pre soaked dried apricots (try soaking them in tea or fruit juice for interest)
50ml oat or soy milk (may not need)

Method

1) preheat oven to 150c
2) mix the sugar and oil together well.
3) add bananas and mash into the sugar and oil
4) fold in bicarbonate and flour into the mixture. Do not overmix! It’s ok to still have some lumps in.
5) roughly chop the apricots and fold in.
6) if mixture is dry, add some of the oat/soy milk.
7) place the batter in a well oiled loaf tin and bake for around 40 mins.