Good afternoon folks and welcome to the last post of the year!
This year I’ve tried to be good about Christmas baking. In other words, I’ve tried not to go overboard! As Mr Bandit is working away from home at the moment, its just me and the dog at home, and we don’t need an excess of biscuits! However, I couldn’t go completely without. I love the smells and tastes of Christmas baking. Whilst I like chocolate and caramel as much as the next person, my favourite flavours are those warm, spicey tastes that come with baking at this time of year. I really wanted to try and make pfeffernusse, which have been a firm favourite since I was about 5 (known in my family as knee biscuits – I’ll leave you to work out why!), but I haven’t found a recipe I like enough to share. Instead, I thought I’d offer up two contrasting tastes of winter. The first I don’t find very Christmassy at all, but I’m told they are all the rage across the pond. The second I consider proper Christmas fare, full of spice and all things nice….
PECAN TASSIES – A Taste of America
The other day I wanted to make something quick and simple that gave a flavour of the holiday season but without the time and faff that most of my staple Christmas recipes take. These are wonderfully light, sweet and delicious. Don’t have too many though or you’ll feel a bit sick! Also do not fear at the sight of making ‘pastry’ – it isn’t really pastry at all and is very simple. (adapted from http://www.bbcgoodfood.com)
Pastry Ingredients: 50g pecans, 50g soft cheese, 50g soft butter, 50g plain flour and a bit extra for dusting.
Filling Ingredients: 90g pecans, 1 egg yolk, 50g light brown sugar, 2 tbsp maple syrup, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tbsp butter (melted).
- For the pastry, put the pecans in the food processor and whizz as small as they’ll go. Then throw in the other ingredients and mix until combined. The ‘pastry’ will be quite sticky and thick – not pastry like at all!
- Scrape the mixture out onto a work surface (make sure it and your hands are flour dusted) and divide the mix into 12 equal sized balls.
- Get a fairy cake tin, or another small bun tin. Then drop a ball of pastry into each hole. Use your fingers to push the mix up the sides of the tin to form little bowl shapes. Its easy to manoeuvre but don’t spread it too thin or there will be holes. Mine didn’t come all the way up the sides of the tin and that’s okay.
- Put this in the fridge while you get the filling ready and preheat the oven to 160 (fan).
- For the filling, dry fry the pecans on a low heat until they warm and crisp a little. You’ll know they’re done when they start to release some oil and smell good!
- Pick out 12 good looking pecans, and chop the rest up roughly.
- combine the chopped pecans and the rest of the ingredients until well mixed.
- Put the pastry cases in the oven for 5 minutes. When you take them out some might have gone a bit puffy, but just use the back of a spoon to press them down. Don’t use your fingers – these are fragile at this stage and you’ll go through it.
- Spoon the filling mix evenly between the cases and top each one with a whole pecan and a sprinkling of sea salt (optional).
- Bake for 15-20 mins.
- Leave to cool for a few minutes before taking them out the tin but I do recommend you take them out whilst still warm, and leave them to cool completely on a rack. When cold the sugary filling will go hard where it has spilled onto the tray and they will be difficult to extract in one piece.
I do like these, and I’ll certainly make them again, but they just aren’t at all festive to me. There’s too much sweet and not enough spice, not enough of the smells of the season. So, my baking needs left unsatisfied, I moved on to a classic….
SUGAR AND SPICE GINGER BISCUITS: A taste of Winter
I make these every year. They are so unbelievably simple, can be adapted to your tastes and are the essence of festive cooking. They double up as tree decorations if you fancy (although not in our house as dog + tree biscuits would equal disaster!). Also a brilliant way to pass the time with kids, who will particularly love the decorating part! (adapted from http://www.bbcgoodfood.com)
Ingredients: 140g butter, 100 dark muscovado sugar (although a lighter brown sugar would work), 350g plain flour, 3 tbsp golden syrup (or you can use 2 of golden syrup and one of treacle for some extra punch), 1 tsp of bicarb, 1 ball of stem ginger, 2 tsp of ground ginger, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp of ground all spice.
- Heat the oven to 180 (fan) and get two baking trays ready with baking paper on them.
- Put the butter, sugar and syrup in a pan over a low heat and melt together.
- In a large bowl sieve the flour, bicarb and spices. The spices quantities are a guide – go with what you like!
- Stir the chopped stem ginger into the melted mixture, allow it to cool a little and then pour into the bowl of dry ingredients.
- Mix thoroughly until it forms a stiff dough.
Strangely, the trickiest bit is cutting out the shapes! This dough is fragile at this stage. A top tip is to break off a section of dough and roll it out directly onto the baking tray. Using cutters of your choice, cut out biscuits to any shape you fancy and remove the excess from around them. If you are making smaller shapes this mix can make as many as 40 biscuits. I bake 4 trays worth in total.
- Bake for 10 minutes. When you remove them from the oven they’ll still be soft, so wait a minute for them to cool and harden before you remove them to a cooling rack.
There’s no need to decorate these – they are lovely as they are! However, I decided to decorate these simply with a little fondant icing. Just follow the packet instructions to get a thick but liquid consistency. Pop it in a pipping bag and away you go! I kept it very simple but you can use different colours, glitter, whatever!
The smell around the house while these are baking is divine, and they just look properly festive. So apologies to our American cousins but these win every time!
I hope everyone has a wonderfully festive time over the next few weeks. Bake and be merry my friends!