Monthly Archives: December 2013

{3} Giant Ginger Cookies

For the third day of Christmas baking, we’re going to continue with the crinkle theme I featured earlier in the week, but instead leave the richness of chocolate for the warm spicy flavour of ginger. Unlike most of my festive posts, these are not some traditional recipe from another country. At a push, I would say they are like giant, chewy versions of British ginger nuts biscuits. Almost the flavour of Christmas in baked form!

gingercookie3

gingercookie2

Not that I want to sound big-headed, but I think that these are pretty much perfect ginger biscuits. Yes, they are pretty massive, but they are packed with spice and heat from lots of ground ginger as well as the candied stuff. If you make them, be prepared for that taste-tingling ginger flavour as you munch away on them.

I really loved how these looked, with a good series of random cracks on the surface. However, what makes them particularly special is how they have been finished off. I rolled them on demerara sugar (you can use any coarse-grained sugar) which makes them look rather sparkly, and adds some welcome crunch to offset the chewy biscuits themselves. These really are the perfect treat to enjoy with a mug of coffee when you’ve just come in from a long walk in the forest or park where the last of the leaves are falling. Yes, that’s what it’s like here in London at the moment, and there is a bit of a feeling in the air that we’re in for a cold, hard winter. So clearly time to big up the ginger!

gingercookie1

To make giant ginger and spice cookies (makes 16):

• 340g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

• 3/4 teaspoons ground cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg or mace
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 180g dark brown sugar
• 60g butter, melted
• 120g treacle (or half treacle, half golden syrup)
• 1 egg, at room temperature
• 100g chopped candied ginger
• granulated demerara sugar, for rolling

1. In a large bowl, mix and sieve the flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg/mace and salt. Set aside.

2. Put the brown sugar, melted butter and treacle in another bowl and beat until smooth. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Fold in the candied ginger, then add the flour and mix until you have a smooth dough. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge to chill for an hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

4. Divide the dough into 18 pieces (around 50g each). Roll each into a ball, then flatten slightly. Put the demerara sugar in a bowl, and press both sides and the edge into the sugar. Place on the baking tray, leaving sufficient space for the biscuits to spread (they expand a lot). Repeat until all the dough has been used. You may find it easier to bake them in two batches.

5. Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes – they should have spread out, cracked and look browned, but the edges should not be too dark. Remove from the oven, allow to sit for a moment, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Worth making? Definitely! Easy to make, look impressive and the last well in a sealed biscuit tin.

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Filed under Christmas, Recipe

{2} Janhagel

Today’s festive offering comes courtesy of the Netherlands, which is usually a pretty good bet when it comes to Christmas goodies, such as speculaas (spiced biscuits) and kerstkransjes (almond Christmas wreaths). These are the mysteriously-named Janhagel which are a buttery, cinnamon-flavoured base topped with toasted almonds and pearl sugar.

janhagel2

I’ve picked this one as tomorrow is Sinterklaas in the Netherlands (although, while the Dutch do it on 5 December, their Belgian neighbours confusingly celebrate it on 6 December. As these cookies are Dutch, we’ll go with the earlier date). This is the day on which St Nicholas (or Sinterklaas, the origin of the name Santa Claus) is said to come from Turkey to distribute gifts and sweets to children by leaving them in clogs, or these days, more modern types of shoe. Alongside presents, it is traditional to get a chocoladeletter (your initial in chocolate!) as well as pepernoten and kruidnoten (spicy little biscuits).

So…these biscuits. They are super-easy to make. Just mix a whole lot of stuff together, sprinkle on the almonds and sugar, and you’re pretty much there. Unlike so many Christmas goodies, you can make these from things in the cupboard and fridge, which is good if you need to whip them up in a hurry. The flavour is fairly simple, just the goodness of butter, sugar, cinnamon and toasted almonds, which does make a nice difference from some of the spice-heavy biscuits and cakes you encounter at this time of the year. However, the name is a bit more of a mystery. They are sometimes spelled as Janhagel, other times as Jan Hagel, which suggests it might have been named after some guy named Jan, with the hagel referring the sugar on top (called hagelsuiker in Dutch). However, this sugary link  is more likely than not a bit of retrofitting a theory to the name. If you’re an expert in Dutch biscuits and you know where the name comes from, do tell!

janhagel1

Now, a few tips for making this. You make these biscuits as one large sheet, then cut into fingers when it is baked. It is worth letting the sheet cool a little, as cutting too soon will mean they fall apart. You should also use a sharp, serrated knife and gentle pressure so that you can get a sharp cut. I tried a straight knife, and it just pressed down on the almonds, leaving messy edges. And…you can get a bit too fussy by using a metal ruler to line everything up, but it would take a special kind of neurotic to get that obsessed…right?

To make Janhagel (makes 18):

• 225g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 150g unsalted butter
• 100g soft brown sugar
• 1 egg, beaten
• 50g pearl sugar
• 75g flaked almonds

1. In a large bowl, mix and sieve the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.

2. Put the butter and sugar in another bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Add the flour mixture and half of the egg, then mix until you have a smooth dough. Try to do this with a wooden spoon rather than your hands (they will melt the butter and make the mixture greasy). Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge to chill for an hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

4. Place the dough onto the tray. Shape into a rough square, then cover with another sheet of greaseproof paper and use a rolling pin to roll out to around 1/2 cm thickness. The size of the square should be just over 25 x 25 cm (10 x 10 inches). Remove the top layer of paper.

5. Brush the dough with the remaining egg. Sprinkle over half of the pearl sugar, then the flaked almonds, and finish with the rest of the pearl sugar. Run the rolling pin lightly over the top to ensure everything sticks.

6. Bake for 20 minutes until puffed and the nuts are golden. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a moment. Gently trim the edges, then cut into bars using a sharp serrated knife. Aim for around 4 x 8 cm.

Worth making? This is a very quick and easy recipe, and doesn’t need anything too fancy to produce great cookies. You could also make them with different spices according to taste.

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Filed under Christmas, Sweet Things

{1} Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkles

Ho ho ho! It’s that time of year again when we tackle the various baking challenges that the festive period has to offer. Over the last few years, I’ve done the “Twelve Days of Christmas Baking” challenge, which basically sees me take on an insane amount of biscuits, cakes, cookies and breads in the month of December. I did it first in 2011, vowing at that stage that I probably wouldn’t do it again. Of course, I had another bash in 2012, and so it’s become a bit of a Christmas tradition. So, here goes again!

For my first festive bake, I’ve had a go at a traditional American favourite, the chocolate crinkle cookie. Think of these as basically mini-brownies. This does make the dough a little tricky to work with (you need to keep it as chilled as you can while working with it) but the result is fantastic – soft, slightly chewy and incredibly rich and quite indulgent at this time of year. The perfect little treat with a mug of coffee when you come inside from a brisk walk in the crisp winter air.

However, the real magic here comes from rolling the dark balls of dough in icing sugar. During baking, the cookies expand, and create the cracks that are the hallmark of these cookies. The contrast of snowy white icing sugar and the rich chocolate looks really striking.

crinkles

The traditional way to make these cookies seems to be just with chocolate. However, I happened to glance at a jar of Nutella as I was rummaging in the baking cupboard, and thought it might be nice to add some hazelnuts to the mixture for some extra flavour. If you don’t want to do this, just replace the ground hazelnuts with flour, but I think it is worth doing. It certainly adds a little extra something to the final result.

I’ve also got a top tip for getting these cookies to look great – it really does make a difference if you keep the dough as cold as you can when working with it. My initial batches looked perfect. However, I left the last batch to sit out a little too long, and so the dough was not as cold as it could have been. As a result, the combination of all that butter and chocolate can mix with the icing sugar and leave the cookies looking less snowy and more brown. However, they will still taste amazing!

To make Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkles (makes around 40):

• 225g dark chocolate
• 100g plain flour
• 50g ground hazelnuts
• 55g cocoa powder
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoons salt
• 115g butter
• 240g light brown sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 80ml milk
• 100g icing sugar, sieved

1. Put the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of barely simmering water. Leave to melt, the put to one side and allow to cool to lukewarm.

2. Next, prepare the dry ingredients. Mix and sieve the flour, ground hazelnuts, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.

3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and light brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla, and beat well.

4. Beat the melted chocolate into the butter/sugar mixture. Make sure the chocolate is not too warm, otherwise it will cause everything to melt.

5. Add the flour to the chocolate mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk until everything is just mixed.

6. Cover the bowl in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge, ideally overnight.

7. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

8. Cut a quarter of the chilled dough and remove from the fridge. Take generous spoonfuls of the mixture, rolling each into a ball. If you’re obsessed about getting everything perfect, you can weigh each piece using digital scales (I did, with each being 20g…). Put the balls onto a plate and return to the fridge for 10 minutes.

9. Remove the balls from the fridge and roll each in icing sugar. If any chocolate is showing through, re-roll until covered.

10. Arrange the cookies on the baking sheet, leaving space for them to expand. Bake for around 12-14 minutes until they have flattened a little and the sugar has cracked. Remove from the oven when done, let them sit for a moment, then allow to cool on a wire tray. Repeat with the rest of the mixture until it has all been used up.

Worth making? This recipe does take a little time, but it is fairly easy and the result is both visually stunning and absolutely delicious. Well worth making!

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Filed under Christmas, Sweet Things