Christmas tree biscuits
For Pam, one of the highlights in the lead-up to Christmas is a happy few hours spent at her friend Henriette's house, making biscuits for the festive season. It's an afternoon of free choice, when tree-shaped biscuits sometimes turn pink and sugared sheep can end up with multi-coloured fleeces. This is the recipe she always uses - it produces lovely, crunchy, warmly spiced biscuits. They are by no means exclusively for Christmas, by the way. You can use the recipe to make run, run, as fast as you can gingerbread men.
Preheat the oven to 170°C/Gas Mark 3. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a mixing bowl. Add the brown sugar and mix well. Add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
In another bowl, mix the egg and golden syrup together until smooth and well blended. Make a well in the centre of the rubbed-in mixture and pour in the egg and syrup. Using a wooden spoon, mix together to form a ball of dough.
Put the dough into a polythene bag and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest; this will make it much easier to roll out.
When you are ready to bake the biscuits, place the dough between two lightly floured sheets of greaseproof paper. Roll the dough out evenly until it is approximately 5mm thick, then remove the top paper.
Cut out shapes from the dough with your chosen biscuit cutters. Place the biscuits on the baking sheets, leaving space in between for them to spread a little.
Use a knitting needle or skewer to make a hole near the top of each shape (this is to thread a hanging ribbon through).
Bake for 15–20 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown. They will still seem soft at this stage, but will firm up as they cool. If necessary, re-make the holes while they are still hot.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
When ready to finish, divide the white glace icing between three or four small bowls. Keep one bowl white and colour the others as desired.
Using either the back of a spoon or a small round-ended knife, carefully spread plain or coloured glace icing over one side of each biscuit (to get a really smooth finish, dip the spoon or knife in a jug of just-boiled water first). Add decorations of your choice. Lay the biscuits on a wire rack and leave until the icing has set.
Finally, thread the biscuits with ribbon or raffia and hang on the Christmas tree.
For utmost effect, hang a few biscuits on the tree every couple of days. Alternatively, and to last for the full festive period, wrap the biscuits in cellophane before hanging.
These biscuits will keep un-iced for 3 months in an airtight tin.
- 275g plain flour
- 1 level tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 100g soft brown sugar
- 75g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 50g golden syrup
- Glacé icing
- 2 or 3 natural food colourings
- Cherries, angelica, currants, desiccated coconut, flaked almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, chocolate or coloured sprinkles, sugar, etc.
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Cakes and Sweet Pastry
Have your cake and eat it too, with a day of baking skills and sweet pastry lessons from the River Cottage experts.