I’ve done a lot of traditional baking this year, so today I’ve had a go at an original creation (although no doubt there is some corner of Europe where this is the seasonal biscuits and has been for 900 years…). These are actually just some simple butter biscuits that don’t have much sugar, and where the key thing is the flavours.
They are livened up with a combination of clementine zest and cloves. I know that cloves are a very strong spice and that not everyone is a fan, but trust me, they really work so, so well with the citrus zest. If you think this is not the combination for you, then I’m afraid tradition is against you – this is the classic combination used in an aromatic pomander, with whole cloves pressed into a fresh orange. They do smell delicious and were used historically by wealthy and powerful gentlemen and ladies to make the air around them smell just a little bit sweeter (at least those that were not rich enough to afford a solid silver pomander filled with all manner of exotic spices).
This recipe does seem a bit funny when you’re making it. The dough is fairly soft, so you might think that there is not enough flour in the recipe. Don’t fret! The key thing is to pop the dough into the freezer for a bit, then cut off pieces as you’re making the biscuits. The chilled dough is easy to work with. And before baking the biscuits, I put the whole tray in the freezer for 3 minutes. This made sure everything was firm, and keeps a nice clean edge when baking. This might all sound like a bit of a faff, but it ensures that you have a higher amount of butter in the finished biscuit.
As you can see, I’ve decorated the basic biscuits in two ways, so they are ideal if you’re in a rush and want to give the impression that you’ve been in the kitchen for ages turning out biscuits.
First off, the stars, which I brushed with a simple orange icing while they were still warm from the oven. This results in a rather pretty frosted effect on the stars, which seems somehow fitting at this time of year.
The rest of the biscuits were made with a scalloped cutter, and I just drizzled some dark chocolate on them. Not enough to coat them, but just enough for the dark lines to provide a nice contrast to the pale biscuit, and just a hint of cocoa. If you want some other contrasts, you can mix in some chocolate chips, dried fruit or chopped candied peel too. Just keep the fact you’ve done it all with one recipe can be our little secret.
And there we have it…we’ve reached the half-way point in this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas Baking (or Baking Madness, if you prefer). I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far!
To make Clementine and Clove Sablés (makes 50 small-ish biscuits*)
• 25g ground almonds
• 230g plain flour
• 100g salted butter, cold
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 85g icing sugar
• 2 clementines, zest only
• 1 teaspoon mixed spice
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 large egg, beaten
(*) My biscuits were two-bite efforts – if you make them smaller, you’ll have loads more!)
1. Put the almonds, flour and butter into a bowl. Work with your fingers until it resembles breadcrumbs,
2. Add the baking power, icing sugar, zest and spices. Mix well, then add the egg and vanilla extract and work quickly to a smooth dough (it should be soft but not too sticky). Wrap in cling film and chill in the freezer for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper.
4. Take chunks of the chilled dough and roll out thinly on a worktop. Cut out whatever shapes you like! If the dough gets too soft and sticky, just pop back in the freezer to firm up.
5. Bake for 10-12 minutes (depending on size) until golden.