Tag Archives: christmas challenge

{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} Christmas Spritz Cookies

Last year, I tackled the “12 Cookies of Christmas” challenge. It was good fun, at least to begin with, until it started to take over my spare time as I kept baking and cooking to be sure that I would get everything done before I jetted off up north for Christmas. Afterwards, I looked back on the experience and asked myself whether I would be doing it again this year…

The answer is yes. Frankly, it was always going to be yes. How could it not be yes? I don’t think you can properly enjoy the festive seasons if you don’t spend part of it in the kitchen with the aromas of spices and citrus filling the air, using every pot, pan, bowl, whisk and sieve, not to mention that really impractical utensil that just does that one thing to make biscuits. We’ve all got that implement.

To start with this year, I am going to kick off with something very straightforward – simple spritz cookies. The idea here is similar to the Dutch Utrechtse Spritsen cookies that I made earlier this year. You make a simple, soft dough, then squeeze through some sort of contraption to get an elaborate shape. Maximum impact from minimal effort!

I’ll ‘fess up to the fact that it took me a while to get into my spritzing groove. I made the mistake initially of thinking I had to hold the device clear from the tray, which produced all manner of strange shapes. It turned out the dough was a little cool, but after a few trips through the squeezer, it softened, and when I got the knack of holding it flush with the tray, out popped these perfect little beauties. The joys of trial and error.

If you don’t have a cookie press and don’t fancy investing in one, you can always pop the mixture into a piping bag and squeeze through a star shaped nozzle.

Above, the obligatory shot of the tray with one biscuit removed! I finished them off by sprinkling with some granulated sugar before baking, then dusting with caster sugar after baking to give them a little sparkle, but they don’t need any more decoration that that. One down, eleven to go!

To make Spritz Cookies:

• 175g unsalted butter, softened
• 100g caster sugar
• 1 egg yolk
• 225g plain flour, sifted
• 1/4 teaspoon salt, finely ground
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2-3 tablespoons milk

1. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Don’t line with baking parchment – they contain enough butter to prevent sticking.

2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is fluffy and lightens in colour. Beat in the egg yolk, salt and vanilla. Add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thoroughly combined. You should have a soft, smooth dough.

3. Transfer the dough to a cookie press. Squeeze the press! Leave about 5cm between each cookie. Sprinkle with granulated sugar. If you find the mixture to stiff, remove from the press and knead with your hands until softened.

4. Bake the cookies until the edges are just starting to brown – this could be anything between 5 and 10 minutes depending on their size. When ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool for a minute before transferring to a wire tray.

Worth making?These are very simple cookies with a pure butter-vanilla flavour. Nice on their own, and chances are you’ll really appreciate them once you’ve gorged on candied orange peel and too much cheese.

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Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things