Come Christmastime, nostalgia calls. For everyone, the festive season comes attached with a set of family-specific traditions – repeated year on year, these form the sacrosanct parts of our memories of Christmas.
For me, these traditions are very simplistic. We don Santa hats to decorate the tree; my mum fills our fabric advent calendars with little chocolates; we spend Christmas Eve writing late cards for the neighbours, and watching Scrooge in black-and-white; we hand-wrap the cat’s presents and watch on Christmas morning as he paws at them, nonplussed. Many of our traditions, like everybody else’s, are food-focused: getting the first mince pies in during November, making a chocolate Yule log on the 23rd, and munching through rather too many tins of Quality Street.
I like to bake a series of sweet treats which I associate only with Christmas. The first of these on my list this year was gingerbread biscuits: perhaps an all-year sight on shelves nowadays, but a December exclusive for me. So, I headed out to buy ingredients for my trusted Delia Smith recipe, who is my go-to chef for cakes and biscuits; however, two shops later, black treacle proved too elusive an item to track down. Not willing to do the recipe injustice by skimping on it, I decided to switch; and here Fate intervened in directing my attention to the back of the light brown sugar packet in my bag, featuring a recipe for gingerbread men.
This is Tesco’s recipe, and also appears on the pack of their plain flour packet, as I discovered once back home. You’ll need:
- 350g plain flour, and extra for dusting
- 125g lightly salted butter, at room temperature
- 175g soft light brown sugar
- 4 tbsp golden syrup
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- an egg
- gel icing or icing sugar to decorate (feel free to use raisins, chocolate buttons, Smarties, or whatever you like.)
Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4, and line three large baking trays with baking paper.
Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl with the ginger, cinnamon, and bicarbonate of soda. Add the butter, and use a hand mixer or food processor to pulse to the consistency of breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar.
Crack the egg into a bowl and mix well with the golden syrup – I used a teaspoon to scrape the syrup off of the larger spoon, stubborn liquid that it is. It’ll take a minute or two before they’re fully incorporated. Add to the flour bowl.
Mix everything well to form a dough. Press into a ball and place in the fridge for fifteen minutes -this makes it easier to handle.
Lightly dust a kitchen surface, and roll out the dough to half a centimetre’s thickness. Use any cookie cutter shapes you have to hand to form the biscuits; in my cupboard, there stands an old ice-cream tub of smiling dogs and cats, hearts, circles, and a few indistinguishable outlines. I chose a small gingerbread person (unencumbered by gender), a tree, and a star.
Dust the cutters with flour as you go along, to prevent the dough from sticking. Keep rolling the remaining until you’ve used it all up.
Pop in the oven and bake for fifteen minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and leave to cool before decorating. Having no gel icing, I mixed 60g of icing sugar with a few teaspoons of warm water, adding several drops of green food colouring, to decorate the trees and paint the ginger-folks’ faces. Rather sloppily done, in the style of my seven-year-old self. (But a perfectly decorated biscuit has nothing of the spirit of Christmas at all.)
On the whole, I enjoyed this variation of gingerbread biscuits, although I added an extra teaspoon each of ginger and cinnamon, with the sneaking suspicion that the recipe wouldn’t pack enough flavour. The first tray, having been left in the oven slightly longer, provided a crisper biscuit; if you like them softer, stick to the recommended baking time.