Tag Archives: sugar

Of lemons and olive oil…

It’s Blue Monday. Apparently it is the most depressing day of the year as Christmas is over, the decorations are down and the reality of an empty bank account sinks in. We’ll ignore that this was first cooked up as a marketing promotion a few years ago to encourage the population to start booking sunny summer holidays when it was cold and wet outside, and use this as an excuse to make something that brings us some flavours of the Mediterranean when the skies are heavy and grey.

To do this, I’ve decided to revamp my take on Spanish magdalenas (and you can read the original post here for all the background and history). These are lovely little cakes made with lemon and olive oil, just the sort of thing to have at breakfast with a cortado or a café con leche. I mean, perhaps this is not how Spanish people eat them, but I’ve eaten them on holiday in Spain, and when you’re on holiday, it is completely legitimate to eat cake for (or at least with) breakfast.


But why a revamp? Am I not a fount of new ideas? Generally I like to look around for inspiration to try new things – it might be discovering a novel ingredient, going on holiday, or acquiring an unusual kitchen implement, all of which are usually pretty good ways to come up with ideas. I’m generally not one for making the same recipe over and over with a different flavour or icing on top. However, I recently started to look back at some of my very early posts and it got me thinking…has the time come to look back at some old recipes, make some adjustments and post them again in their new and improved form? I’m a better cook and baker these days, so it’s quite a fun way to see how far I’ve come and what I’ve learned. So you can probably expect to see quite a few more of those to come over the course of this year.

Ah, those early posts. Back from when I first dipped my toe into the blogging world. You can tell those posts. The writing is enthusiastic, but more tellingly the pictures are not quite as polished, and in particular I had not yet discovered the “flat lay”. It sounds positively risqué, but this is apparently just the technical name for setting things out on a table and then photographing them from above. You’ll probably know it as the look that is so beloved of Instagram influencers who probably spent ages making things look as if they have been effortlessly thrown onto a table. And back in the day, I was also muddling through with a more basic selection of kitchen equipment, so whatever I came up with was inevitably a little more simplistic. Put another way…I was not buying new pans, trays and moulds on a whim, and I didn’t spend as much time hunting down quirky ingredients.


These cakes were actually inspired by a visit last year to visit some friends in Estepona on the Costa del Sol. They had a lovely garden overlooking the sea, but the real highlight for me was the orchard. Avocados, mandarins, lemons, kumquats…all ready for the picking. It rather puts my solitary redcurrant bush to shame, although my garden did come good last summer with enough fruit for two small jars of jelly. But I managed to come home with a large back of kumquats and mandarins which were turned into marmalade, and we finally got to enjoy the last jar over the festive period. It got me thinking that I really do like citrus flavours, and I wanted to have another go at magdalenas.

My previous attempt at magdalenas was way back in 2010. What were you doing back then? It is just crazy to think how much things have changed over that time. Anyway, that old recipe was based on equal weights of eggs, sugar, flour and olive oil. This time I’ve adjusted the recipe slightly – I’ve used large eggs, and added a little more flour and some baking powder to get some extra lift in the batter. I’ve also added a little milk to make the batter smoother, with the hope that the magdalenas will be a little more airy. Finally, I also made two flavour tweaks. First, the lemon zest is enhanced by a little vanilla extract. Second, I have used mostly ordinary (non-virgin) olive oil, with a couple of spoonfuls of extra-virgin oil for flavour. I find that on its own, the extra-virgin stuff can make cakes a little bitter and grassy.


Of course the other big change this time was that I was able to bake my magdalenas in a square shape, like they often do in Spain! Luckily I just happened to have a square muffin pan that I bought a couple of Christmases ago to make another Spanish delight, the almond-flavoured marquesas de navidad. When the tray appeared in the kitchen, I was promptly chastised for shelling out cash for yet another piece of single-use kitchen kit. This batch of magdalenas clearly vindicates my impulse purchase, and I really love the different shape. Does it add to the flavour? Absolutely. It makes them look very pretty on a plate, thereby enhancing the eating experience.


The end result is a great little cake. They have a  lovely light  texture, so the extra baking powder and milk does the trick, and they stay wonderfully moist thanks to the olive oil. Finally, do be generous when sprinkling them with sugar – I think that slightly crisp topping is a fundamental part of them.

If you were to go back to some old recipes, which ones would you want to re-make? If you have any suggestions from my back catalogue, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

To make 12 magdalenas:

• 2 large eggs
• 115g caster sugar
• zest of one large lemon
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• pinch of salt
• 125g self-raising flour
• 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 115g olive oil (including 2 tablespoons of extra virgin)
• 2 tablespoons milk
• granulated sugar, to sprinkle

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Place 12 paper cases in a muffin tray (square or round).

2. Put the eggs, caster sugar, lemon zest, vanilla and salt in a bowl.  Whisk with an electric beater until light and thick (2 minutes).

3. Gently fold the flour and baking powder into the mixture using a spatula.

4. Add the olive oil and fold into the mixture (do this gently but keep going – it will come together). Finally fold in the two tablespoons of milk. You should have a smooth, soft, emulsified batter-like mixture.

5. Divide the mixture between the paper cases. Sprinkle each generously with granulated sugar. Bake for around 18-20 minutes until the cakes are risen and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

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Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Today is Epiphany, so I wanted to make something traditional to go with the day. I made a (delicious) French galette du roi last year, but this year I was after something a bit more colourful than brown puff pastry when it is so grey and cold outside. Don’t get me wrong – I love a galette. We even shared one at work yesterday (news flash: I didn’t find the hidden figure, so I didn’t win the golden crown this year…) but there’s a limit to how exciting it is ever going to look.

And that’s where Louisiana’s King Cake comes in. You want colour? This guy is going to give it to your in full green, gold and purple Technicolor glory!

The King Cake is associated with the New Orleans tradition of Mardi Gras. From 6 January, folk will get together for parties and serve up a King Cake. A key tradition if you want to be authentic is to get hold of a small plastic toy baby. Said baby should be baked into the cake, and then you invite your friends round to share it (hence the party).

The person that gets the slide with the baby will receive good fortune, and he or she will host the party next year. If you’re worried about plastic melting in the cake during baking, you could just push the toy inside the cake once it has cooled and before you ice it.

And if you are terrified about the choking hazard that said baby could present and you’re worried about serving up a deathtrap cake, you could instead hid a whole pecan or hazelnut in the cake. All of the fun, and actually a whole lot less risky.

The sugar on top is really important. Those colours matter – they are the official colours of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. They appear in beads, costumes, body art (!), decorations and, of course, on top of King Cakes. The history of Mardi Gras suggests that this colour palette can be traced back to 1872, when the King of the Carnival selected them. The gold symbolises power (rather than the more common association with wealth). Purple stands for justice, in terms of what is the right thing to do. And finally we have green, standing for faith.


Rather than going to the hassle of buying fancy coloured sanding sugar, I made my coloured sugar by putting a few spoonfuls of granulated sugar in a jam jar, then adding some gel food colouring I had diluted with a little vodka (you could use water). Put the top on the jar and shake it like crazy – and voilà, you have evenly-coloured sugar. I repeated the process with some pearl sugar to get some bigger chunks, and I think they worked out pretty well. For the gold, I added some strong yellow colour, but also some edible gold lustre powder, so it really does sparkle. Afterwards just spread the (damp) sugar on a plate and leave it somewhere warm to dry, then crumble it with your hands. It’s easy but probably worth doing the night before so you’re all set to go when you want to actually decorate the cake with lavish sprinkles of jolly colours. If you’re fed up with the cold and grey, massing about with rainbow sugar will cheery you up.

If you’re wondering about that sugar and thinking you might just skip it, don’t! The cake itself looks fairly ordinary, even with the white icing, but once all that sugar is on top….well, the whole thing is just transformed in an instant into a dazzling riot of colour and sparkle. It certainly brightened up my morning!

I made this cake using an adapted cinnamon bun recipe, so the dough is made with scalded milk to which I added butter, then left that to cool down. I then made the dough, swapping out cardamom for ground nutmeg, and filled the cake with a buttery cinnamon-brown sugar mixture. I’ve seen some suggestions about using chopped pecan nuts and even sultanas, so if those are your thing add them – they will taste great. I’ve also used a basic water icing for the glaze. You can make it richer with some cream, or even work cream cheese into the icing (or go more extreme and work cream cheese into the filling as well). This is a celebratory cake – you should be able to go fairly crazy with it. Just be sure to use those three colours!

I’m sure there is endless variety in terms of exactly how this cake should be made, and of course there must be people who swear that their recipe and no other is the real deal. Great, but my version tastes good and still looks very jolly, so I am happy with it.

And how does this lot taste? It’s delicious. In fact, it’s just like a giant cinnamon bun!

To make a King Cake:

Note: you can see how to shape the cake in this video, but I used my own recipe not the one listed there.

For the dough:

• 150ml milk, scalded and cooled
• 60g butter
• 1 large egg
• 350g strong white flour
• 50g white sugar
• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• milk, to brush before baking

For the cinnamon filling:

• 60g butter, soft
• 60g caster sugar

• 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• optional – chopped pecans or sultanas

To finish

• 1 small toy plastic baby or ceramic figure (optional)
• 150g icing sugar

• a few spoonfuls of water or double cream, to bind
• green, purple and golden granulated sugar, to sprinkle

1. Put the milk in a pan. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Add the butter, stir until it has melted, then leave to cool until lukewarm. Once cooled, add the egg and beat well.

2a. If using a bread machine: Throw the milk mixture and the rest of the dough ingredients into the mixing bowl. Run the “dough” cycle. Simples!

2b. If making by hand: put the dry dough ingredients into a large bowl. Add the milk mixture. Stir with a spoon at first, then transfer to a floured worktop and knead until you have a smooth, stretchy, silky dough (this could take up to 10 minutes). Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with cling film, and leave in a warm place until doubled in size. When done, remove the cover and knock back the dough.

3. Make the cinnamon butter – put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix until smooth.

4. Time to assemble the cake. Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Roll into a large rectangle of around 30 x 50cm. Spread with the cinnamon butter. If you’re using nuts and/or sultanas, sprinkle them on top. Roll from the long side into a tight sausage (the sausage should be 50cm long).

5. Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper. Transfer the sausage to the tray, and form into a ring. Join the ends as best you can – you can cover the join with icing later, but try to ensure there is a decent join, and moisten the overlap with some milk to stop the filling leaking out during baking.

6. Take some kitchen scissors. Start to snip into the outside of the ring at regular spaces – you want to go in about 1/3 of the way. Cover loosely with lightly oiled cling film or place in a large plastic bag, and leave to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

7. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Brush the loaf with the milk and bake for around 25 minutes until puffed up and golden but not too dark. I recommend turning the tray after about 10 minutes to get an even rise and colour. You might want to lower the temperature towards the end of baking if the colour looks ready after about 20 minutes. When baked, remove from the oven and cover with a clean teatowel – this will trap steam and keep the cake soft. Leave to cool. If using a plastic baby, a ceramic figure or a pecan nut – press this through the base of the cooled cake.

8. Make the icing. Put the icing sugar in a bowl, and add two tablespoons of water or cream. Mix well, then keep adding a little more water or cream until the icing is still thick but will flow slowly. Spread the icing on top of the cake, then sprinkle straight away with the coloured sugar.

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{11} Vihreitä Kuulia

Today’s recipe is a departure from the world of Christmas cookies. It’s time for some festive sweets!

These are called vihreitä kuulia, which translates as “green marbles”. The idea to make these came from my Finnish colleague, who explained they are an intrinsic part of the festive period in Finland. They are fruit jellies made by the iconic Finnish chocolate company Fazer.


Never one to shy away from a challenge, I looked into them a bit more. They these are essentially pâte de fruit that is made in hemispherical moulds. Two pieces are put together to form a sphere, rolled in sugar and voila we have ourselves some green marbles. They looked pretty cool, so I thought I would have a go. The fact I needed to buy a new mould, glucose, pectin powder and tartaric acid? Pffff, easy!

The traditional flavour is pear, and in fact they used to be known by the name päärynäkuulat (“pear balls”). But…pear?…this presented a bit of a challenge. I wanted to stay authentic, but I didn’t want to use pear flavouring. If you’ve ever had pear drop sweets, you’ll know that really strong overpowering flavour and I wanted to avoid that. So what could I do? I bought a few comice pears, and let them get really, really, really ripe. They ended up really soft and fragrant, which seemed hopeful. In fact, they were so soft that peeling and coring them was a bit tricky, but it meant that they were very easy to purée.


So I got my pear purée, but it quickly started to oxidise and go brown. I cooked it briefly to try and stabilise it, then let it cool. At this point, it was a pale brown colour, which left me thinking this was not going to work. But I persisted – I threw in the other ingredients and added a little green colouring. I would love to say that I’ve used something wonderfully natural, but I didn’t. It was a gel colouring, as I wanted to get a vibrant, intense green colour. I know, I know, a massive contradiction to be obsessed about the natural flavour and then achieve the green with some fakery! But look – no more brown, and we got the green marble look.

I boiled the lot, got to the magic 107°C, and added some tartaric acid to get the mixture to set, and a little spiced pear liqueur for a flavour boost. It was then a simple case of pouring the mixture carefully moulds, and the rest went into a lined pan to set so that I could cut it into squares like classic pate de fruit. I did have to work quickly, as the mixture started to gel really quickly – I just managed to pour 24 hemispheres, and by the time I poured the remainder into a tray, it was properly starting to set. I thought it would take longer for the pectin to start setting, so you really do need to have everything ready. Part of the dubious joy of pâte de fruit is working with pectin and all the science that goes with it, but it does mean these sweets are vegan, so a useful recipe to know if you’re trying to make jelly-type sweets that avoid gelatin.


As you can see, this worked! The pear paste set to a very firm jelly which popped right out of the moulds. I then took two pieces, pressed them together, and rolled them in sugar. The result was a collection of really pretty green spheres. And the flavour? Yes, we got pear. We got natural pear! This worked better than I hoped, and I think part of the secret to success here is that the mixture was not cooked for any longer than was necessary. I probably spent only 5 minutes cooking it on the stove.

Now, I mentioned that this recipe did require me to buy a few specialist items. I had to find pectin powder, tartaric acid, glucose and a special silicone mould. Once I had amassed all these goodies, I was bitten by the pâte de fruit bug and decided to have a go at something else. I also saw that Fazer makes a range of these coloured fruit “marbles”. And I had a bowl of plums on the sideboard, so I decided to used the same technique to make my version of sugarplums, except I chopped the plums and cooked them with a little water until they were soft and pulpy, and added cinnamon and mixed spices to the mixture. I’ve made a traditional version before using a mixture of ground dried fruit and nuts flavoured with spices, but I liked the idea of a spiced plum candy, ruby-red and glittering with sugar crystals. As you can see below, they worked and taste absolutely delicious. Fit for the sugar plum fairy herself!

To make Vihreitä Kuulia / (makes around 50 half-spheres)*

• 250g pear purée (3-4 large and very ripe pears)
• 75g glucose
• 1 heaped tablespoon yellow pectin
• 400g sugar
• green food colour
• 1 teaspoon water
• 1 slightly rounded teaspoon acid crystals
• 1 teaspoon pear liqueur or pear eau de vie

1. Make the purée. Peel and core the pears. Chop and put them in a food processor and blitz to a purée. Pass through a sieve to remove any remaining bits, and tip the purée into a saucepan and cook briefly. Leave to cool to lukewarm.

2. In the meantime, put the sugar and pectin powder in a bowl and mix well – you want to get rid of any lumps of pectin.

3. In a small bowl mix the water and tartaric acid crystals. Add the pear liqueur or eau de vie.

4. Measure 250g of the pear purée and put in a saucepan. Add the glucose and sugar mixture. Stir well – it should turn syrupy. Add the green colouring and mix well.

5. Heat the mixture – it will come to a boil, and keep going until it reaches 107°C (225°F), stirring from time to time to prevent sticking.

6. Pour the cooked mixture into individual moulds or into a lined tray. Leave for several hours until completely cool and set.

7a. If making spheres: take two pieces of the fruit paste and sandwich together to make a ball. Roll in granulated sugar before serving.

7b. If using a tray: cut the set fruit paste into squares, or use cutters to make different shapes. Coat in granulated sugar before serving.

* I filled one tray of 24 hemispheres, and the rest want into a pan of 10cm x 20cm, and I got a block of pâte de fruit about 1cm deep.

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{9} Snickerdoodles

You wait ages for some American Christmas cookies to make an appearance here, then two come along in quick succession. We had bizcochitos a few days ago, and now we’ve got New England’s snickerdoodles.

Snickerdoodle. It’s a funny name, eh? With a moniker like that, there is obviously some sort of fascinating story, and…well…I did look, but I didn’t actually find anything conclusive.

The obviously-always-reliable Wikipedia suggests the name is Dutch or German in origin and is actually a corruption of the German Schneckennudeln (the appetizing “snail dumpling”). But given the word ‘cookie’ comes from the Dutch koekje maybe the name has its origins in New Amsterdam rather than New England? It certainly sounds to anglophone ears like something a stereotypical Dutch character would stay on a comedy show. So I wondered if the name could be a more random literal translation. Well, the Dutch words snikker-doedel could be translated as “squeaky bagpipe”, but that really is getting rather silly. But hey, it’s Christmas, and I usually spend December 1/3 full of marzipan, 2/5 full of mulled wine and the rest full of chocolate and mince pies, so I’m really not so fussed.

Anyway, this crazy talk of squeaky bagpipes links to the other name origin theory, which is that New Englanders are apparently quite partial to whimsical names for their baking. This story sort of works, with other local names including Joe Frogger cookies (molasses, rum and nutmeg) and Hermit cookies (sultanas and raisins). Honestly, it is not exactly the long list of whimsical names I had hoped for, so I’m going with the corrupted German name story if it’s all the same.


That is enough talk about the name. What about the taste? These little guys are all about the cinnamon. It’s one of my favourite spices (the other being cardamom) and I’ll devour anything with a good dose of the stuff in it.

The recipe and flavour seems to be pretty universal – buttery dough (which might or might not have vanilla) that is rolled in cinnamon sugar before baking, and often with a traditional wrinkled and cracked appearance on top. Isn’t it nice when we all agree? Well, there is debate. There is a clear split in the world of snickerdoodle fans, is between those that like them chewy and those that prefer them to be more cake-like. Maybe it is being British that makes me prefer cookies that are either crisp or chewy. Anyway, my version are slightly chewy, which strikes a happy balance between the two.

When it comes to flavours, I’m usually all for experimenting. But this is one of those times when you just don’t need to. In fact, you probably shouldn’t mess around. Snickerdoodles are for lovers of cinnamon, and that’s why you would make them. I can’t imagine using any other spice to make these (clove cookies? Just…no!).

So happy snickerdoodling. Is it a verb? I really think it ought to be. And long may your bagpipes squeak!

To make snickerdoodles (makes around 30):

For the dough:

• 330g plain flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 225g butter
• 300g caster sugar
• 2 large eggs

For the cinnamon sugar:

• 100g caster sugar
• 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1. Mix the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt. Sieve, and put to one side.

2. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture and mix well until combined. The dough will be fairly sticky. Wrap it in cling film and chill for at least an hour, or overnight.

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

4. Make the cinnamon sugar: mix the sugar and cinnamon, and place in a bowl for later.

5. Take pieces of the dough the size of a large walnut (around 30g) and form into a ball. Roll the ball in the cinnamon sugar. Place on the baking sheet and flatten slightly, leaving plenty of space for the cookies to expand. I baked them in batches, 8 per tray.

6. Bake the snickerdoodles for around 8-10 minutes (turning the tray half-way) until they have expanded and flattened. They will be soft when you take them out, but they will firm up and go a bit wrinkly as they cool. Immediately sprinkle over a little more cinnamon sugar, then transfer to a wire tray to cool completely.

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{8} Knäck

Had enough cookies yet? Then you’ll like today’s festive goodness – knäck, a traditional Swedish Christmas sweet. They are delicious caramels that are easy to make, and while the mixture simmers on the stove, you’ve got a kitchen that smells delicious.


To make knäck you only need to put cream, sugar and syrup in a pan. You cook it to the right temperature, then pour it into your preferred shapes. It is traditional to use little paper cups, and I’ve also made some paper cones from greaseproof paper. To stop the cones unravelling, I used some gold-polka-dot washi tape, and secured them with red and white baker’s twine. I’ve always had a bit of an aversion to piles of cookies tied with twine (seriously – who does that apart from in pictures?), but I feel pretty pleased with myself that it is entirely functional here. To note, I did not oil or grease the cups. The caramel did stick to the cups, but by the next day the caramel had absorbed a bit of moisture from the air, and the paper cups could be peeled off easily. The greaseproof paper was true to its name, and the caramel cones/spikes came right out.

The only “tricky bit” here is getting the caramel to the right temperature. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Get a candy thermometer. I’ve got a fairly basic electronic one, and it’s defiantly a great investment. Any time you are working with a sugar syrup (or doing things like tempering chocolate or making jam) it makes life a lot easier. I’ve tried testing whether something has reached the hard ball stage by dropping teaspoons of boiling sugar into cold water, and it’s far easier to push a button and check we’ve hit 130°C. If you don’t have one, perhaps you could ask Santa for a last-minute stocking filler?


If pouring the caramel into individual moulds is not your thing, you could just pour the caramel mixture into a single large sheet (called knäckbräck) and then break it into pieces later. This would be a good idea if you want to present it at a party and smash it up theatrically. Come to think of it, I remember that being a “thing” many years ago – you could buy a block of toffee, and it came with its own little hammer to break it up. Anyway, the single sheet approach is probably the best way to make knäck if you have kids and animals running around and not a lot of time to carefully pour hot syrup into fiddly containers.

One thing to watch is that you don’t end up with pieces of caramel you can’t eat. I recommend you opt for a “less is more” approach. If you fill the little cups too much, or your knäckbräck is too thick, you’re setting up yourself and any guests for dental problems. If the layer is thinner, you’ll actually be able to eat them.

The actual texture of this recipe is a hard caramel at room temperature, but they soften as you eat them. I recommend a little patience as you eat them, just to avoid cracking teeth and fillings being pulled out. I know I’m making the same point over and over, but I really don’t want people having dental issues over the festive period.

A good thing about knäck is that you have lots of scope to play around with flavours. I opted for simple toasted flaked almonds. I’ve also added some salt as I think this improves the taste and takes them away from simple sweetness to something more complex. Get creative! Play around with flavours – just before pouring, you can add citrus zest, or peppermint oil, or cocoa powder (or a combination of these) – or switch out the almonds for other nuts or dried fruit, or sprinkle the finished knäck with seeds, coconut, or even crushed candy canes for a properly festive twist. If you’ve got some helper elves in the kitchen, you could get a little production line going with different toppings.

To make Knäck (makes around 50 pieces)

• 200ml double cream
• 200ml golden syrup or Swedish light syrup (“ljus sirap”)
• 200g white caster sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 20g butter
• 50g chopped or flaked almonds, toasted

1. Heat the oven to 160°C. Spread the almonds on a tray and bake until they are lightly golden and fragrant. When they are ready, just turn off the heat but leave them in the oven so they stay warm.

2. While the almonds are toasting, make the caramel. Put the cream, sugar, syrup and salt in a large saucepan. Heat and bring to the boil.

3. Keep the mixture on a gentle rolling boil until it reaches 130°C on a sugar thermometer. It took about 20 minutes for me, but focus on the temperature rather than the time.

4. In the meantime, line a baking tray with 50 small paper cups. If you are using paper cones, find a way to keep them upright – I pushed them through a cooling rack balances above a saucepan to hold them.

5. When the caramel is ready, remove from heat. Add the butter and warm almonds, and mix quickly until combined.

6. Acting quickly but carefully, pour the mixture into the paper cups and leave to cool. If the caramel gets too thick as you are pouring it out, reheat it gently until it flows easily again.

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{7} Bizcochitos

If you are a regular follower of my Christmas baking endeavours, you’ll know that most of the delights I post about come from random corners of Europe. I think the only exceptions so far are  South African soetkoekies and Japanese-inspired chestnut sweets.

Well today we’ve got another addition to this exclusive set, as we’re heading all the way over to the Southwest of the USA – to New Mexico to be exact.


Bizcochitos are crisp-yet-crumbly biscuits dipped in sugar, and flavoured with aniseed and cinnamon. So far, so festive. However, bizcochitos are much more than just a festive cookie. It turns out that they are nothing less than the official state cookie of New Mexico.

Bizcochitos have a long history that can be traced back to the first Spanish residents of a region then called Santa Fe de Nuevo México, which would go on to become the state of New Mexico. Confusingly, the country of Mexico had not become independent of Spain at this time, so this name doesn’t seem to be as an alternative to the national of Mexico.

Anyway, over time, bizcochitos become associated with weddings and Christmas. Those original cookies were flavoured with the spices available at the time, either those that grew there or those that arrived via trade routes. And I think the use of lard in some versions can be traced back to this too – lard features in quite a few Spanish cookie recipes today. It is certainly the first time I have seen a recipe in which cinnamon and aniseed are the two prominent flavours. It’s an unusual but delicious pairing.


A key part of making bizcochitos is coating them in sugar while still warm from the oven. And you might wonder if you really need to add this layer of sweetness? In a word, yes!

First off, it is traditional, so if you don’t dip them in cinnamon sugar, you’ve just got some aniseed cookies. Oh, and it’s quite fun to dip them as you juggle them, hot from the oven, between your fingers to get them properly coated. Second, it is the sugar that adds the intense cinnamon flavour. I’ve added a little ground cinnamon to the dough in this recipe, but I think you’d be missing out if you didn’t do the dip. Finally, the dough itself is not that sweet – these little guys assume they’ll be rolling in sugar, so just go with it.

This is also a cookie that I discovered in a different way to most of my festive baking. I usually go on the hunt for ideas, trawling the web and looking in cookbooks. But I found out about bizcochitos as I was given a bag of them by our friend Jess when she visited from the US. They were addictive, so I looked them up, made them myself, and I was hooked. I can only hope that I’ve done them justice.


This is a great dough if you want to cut out fancy shapes and have the cookies keep their shape – I’ve gone a bit crazy with the cutters here. Some sources suggest stars and crescent moons are traditional, so I’ve gone with stars as well as hearts and scalloped cookies.

I’ve also done some smaller bite-sized cookies in the shape of a five-petal flower. These have a bit of a story about them. Yes guys, this is a post peppered with asides and memories! The shape is typical of a Japanese cookie called soba-boro which is made from buckwheat flour. I had originally intended to include soba-boro as one of my twelve bakes this year, and I made them twice. Sadly, I just didn’t like them. It turned out that they are known for a specific flavour which comes from using baking soda as the raising agent, and it just was not a flavour that I enjoyed. I thought I had made a mistake in my first attempt, so I was rather deflated when I realised on my second attempt that they tasted the same. Given they are a big hit in their culinary home of Kyoto, it may just be my personal preference. However I was quite taken with the shape, so I decided to try it one these cookies, and I think the result is really great. There is not fancy cutter involved – just cut out the flower, then find something round to cut out the centre (I used the tip of a large metal piping nozzle).


In terms of making these cookies, the process is fairly easy. The only advice I would offer is that once you’ve cut out the cookies and put them on the baking sheet, it is worth chilling them again so that they keep their shape as they bake. I put the whole tray in the freezer for 2 minutes, and it seems to do the trick. Other than that – get baking and think of the dramatic scenery of New Mexico as you enjoy the unusual flavour of bizcochitos.

To make Bizcochitos (makes 40-50, depending on size)

For the dough:

• 225g unsalted butter
• 150g caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon aniseed extract

• 2 teaspoons aniseeds, crushed
• 1 tablespoon brandy
• 1 large egg
• 350g plain flour, plus more if needed
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt

To finish:

• 150g caster sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the cinnamon, aniseed, aniseed extract, brandy and egg, and beat well until light and fluffy.

2. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour to the butter mixture and mix with a wooden spoon and then your hands until it comes together to a soft dough.

3. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes, or overnight.

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

5. Make the cinnamon sugar – put the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and mix well.

6. Roll the dough out to around 4mm thickness and cut out cookies. Place them on a baking sheet (don’t mix shapes and sized on the same tray – some will burn before others are baked). Pop the tray and cookies in the fridge or freezer for 2 minutes.

7. Bake for 8-12 minutes until golden (the time will depend on the size – the flowers were 8 minutes, the scalloped cookies took 12), and turn the tray around during baking to get an even colour. Let the cookies cool for a brief moment, then fully dip each one into the cinnamon sugar, shake off the excess and transfer to a wire tray to cool completely.

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{6} Panpepato

It’s the sixth post in this year’s Twelve Bakes of Christmas, and the kitchen is still standing! I know I’ve still got six more recipes to go, but where would the fun be if I wasn’t surrounded by sugar, spice and all things nice at this time of year? Well, that plus a whole lot of mess, a sugar thermometer and more than a few burns due to my tendency to use tea towels rather than proper oven gloves…

Today’s recipe is a delicious Italian sweet treat called panpepato, which means “peppered bread”. It is associated with the Province of Ferrera on the Adriatic coast. It has more than a passing resemblance to panforte, but panpepato is dark in colour, flavoured with cocoa, chocolate and pepper, and sometimes even coated in yet more chocolate.


This is a cake with a long history, with some sources suggesting it can be traced back to the 11th century. Panforte and panpepato would originally have been consumed by the aristocracy – with sweet candied fruit and spices, these were firmly luxury confectionery. And as with many traditional recipes, there are various origin myths about which came first.

Some suggest it started with panforte, and panpepato was later created during a siege with candied fruit to address the lack of fresh fruit or less choice in terms of ingredients for the panforte. Others suggest panpepato is where it was at originally, and panforte was a later creation with lighter ingredients in honour of Queen Margherita of Savoy’s visit to Siena in 1879. Of course, just where cocoa and chocolate came from in medieval Italy is left unclear! Whichever version is true, they’re both delicious. And finally…those spices? They were thought to have aphrodisiac properties, bringing troubled couples together. Perhaps a slice of panpepato promises not just delicious flavours but a night of romance when it is chilly outside?


I was really pleased with how easy this was to make and how this turned out. Sometimes a recipe can feel like a slog, especially where you have lots of steps to follow, but it was really pleasant to prepare the almonds, hazelnuts and candied peel, and then measure out the various spices.

Beyond the measuring, you don’t need to more than pour all the dry ingredients into a large bowl, make a syrup from honey, butter, sugar and a few pieces of dark chocolate, them mix the lot and bake it. Once it came out of the oven and had cooled down, I dusted it with cocoa and rubbed it with a pastry brush. Some recipes suggested icing sugar, but I thought this would look a little more sophisticated. Other recipes suggested a coating of chocolate, but I think that would have been too rich even for me!


The flavour is reminiscent of British fruit cake, but without all the dried vine fruits – you’ve got nuts and candied citrus, plus spices and a bit of depth from the cocoa and chocolate. There isn’t really a chocolate flavour as such, but I think the cocoa helps provide a balance to the sweetness of the honey and sugar. And of course the cocoa also provides a dramatic contrast to the pale cream colour of the almonds and hazelnuts. Some recipes suggest coarsely chopping the nuts, but I love the pattern of the whole nuts when you slice into the panpepato.


From what I have found, there is no single “correct” recipe that you have to follow. You can play around with the types of nuts you use – just almonds, just hazelnuts, or add some pine nuts or pistachios – and there are various different dried fruits you could use. Some recipes have figs or sultanas, and even more exotic items like candied papaya or melon could be interesting. Finally, you can also try different spices in this recipe, but I do think you need to have that black pepper as a nod to this recipe’s origins.

I’d look at this as a sweet, rather than a cake or a bread. It is absolutely delicious, but it is also incredibly rich, so you might be surprised just how little of it you want to eat in one go. It is also a treat that will last for a while, so a good one to have prepared for surprise guests. I think it is great with tea or coffee, cut into very thin slices and then into nibble-sized morsels.

To make Panpepato (makes 1 slab)

• 150g skinned hazelnuts
• 150g blanched almonds
• 100g candied orange peel
• 100g candied lemon peel
• 50g plain flour
• 30g cocoa powder
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 100g caster sugar
• 225g orange blossom honey
• 3 tablespoons water

• 50g dark chocolate
• 25g unsalted butter
• Cocoa powder, for dredging

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put the nuts on two separate trays, and toast in the oven for 10-15 minutes until fragrant and just golden. Watch them closely – the hazelnuts will be done before the almonds. When ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.

2. Rub some greaseproof paper with a little vegetable oil, and use it to line a 20cm square tin. If you prefer, you can also use rice paper but this will stick to the finished panpepato – it’s a question of personal preference.

3. Reduce the oven heat to 150°C.

4. Chop the peel into fairly small chunks. Place in a bowl with the nuts, flour, cocoa powder and ground spices. Mix well.

5. Put the sugar, honey, water, butter and chocolate into a saucepan. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, and boil until the mixture reaches the “soft ball” stage (or 113°C/235°F on a thermometer).

6. Pour the syrup onto the dry ingredients and mix well. Transfer to the tin. Use a metal spoon or spatula rubbed with a little butter or oil to flatten the mixture.

7. Bake the panpepato for 35-40 minutes. The surface will look “set” when the panpepato is done. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely. If you have an uneven panpepato, take a piece of greaseproof paper rubbed with a little oil – lay on top of the still-warm panpepato and press to even it out.

8. Remove the panpepato from the tin, peel off the greaseproof paper and trim off the edges (they will be a bit hard). If using rice paper, leave it on the panpepato. Dust the top lightly with cocoa and rub lightly with your fingers or a pastry brush so a bit of the fruit and nut detail shows up.

9. Store in an airtight container. Cut into thin slices to serve.

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{5} Biberle

I’m sticking with the Swiss theme for this next bake. These little cookies are called Biberle, or gingerbread almond nuggets if you’re after a clunky translation. I tried to find out what the name means – Biber is German for beaver, so they could mean “little beavers” which I like. If someone knows for sure, let me know. Their shape sort of looks like a beaver’s tail, so maybe I’m right after all?

Biberle hail from the St Gallen area and they are the thing you want when you fancy something that is a bit like gingerbread and a bit like marzipan. There are two types – round cookies filled with marzipan and the tops elaborately decorated using moulds, and these versions which are the less fancy roll-and-slice cousins.


Biberle might look like a bit of a faff to make, but they are actually fairly straightforward. You make a simple spiced honey and flour dough, and leave it to sit for a few days so that the spice flavour gets a chance to develop. Then when you’ve got a moment in your busy week, you just need to roll it out, add a long thin log of marzipan, and wrap it in the gingerbread dough. Then slice into funky little trapezoid shapes, bake and you’re done.

I was a little wary of making these at first as the dough is not much more than flour, spices and honey. I’ve made something similar in the past – couques de Dinant but they were rock-hard, and it turned out the idea was you just gnawed at them slowly. I wasn’t too keen to have something similarly tough here. However, the recipe is made with some baking soda, which had a bit of an unexpected effect. When I added it, it reacted a little as the honey was still slightly warm. I left the dough to rest for four days and when I came back it had puffed up. Perhaps the dough was otherwise a little acidic or the soda reacted with the honey? I don’t know, but it did mean the dough was workable. I did wonder if that meant that any lift that the soda was going to give had gone, but there was no need to worry – the baking soda did its thing a third time in the oven, and the gingerbread element was pleasingly puffed up.


For the filling, you are looking for proper marzipan – the stuff that is mostly almonds. Check a packet next time you’re in a store – very often the stuff called “marzipan” might only have 25% nuts in it. This can be easily fixed – either buy a high-nut marzipan/almond paste (i.e. more than 50% almonds) or just make it yourself! All you need are ground almonds, icing sugar and something to bind the lot together. I used a couple of spoons of glucose and a little water, plus almond extract and a dash of rosewater as flavourings. You really could go crazy when you’re making the filling – rum, orange zest, lemon zest, amaretto…the only thing to be a little wary of is that I don’t think you want a filling that is too moist, as it will probably go runny and leak out during baking. Not sure the Swiss would approve of that.

The final thing that is really, really weird in this recipe is the glaze you use to give the Biberle a shiny finish. You toast a tablespoon of cornflour in a pan until it goes brown (well, it goes from white to a very pale brown), then cool it, and mix with water and boil it to make a glaze. Whatever was going on, it seemed to work. Just go with it – if nothing else, you’ve learned a new cooking technique – the cornflour glaze!

When I baked these, the dough was a little hard at first, but that was very easy to sort out. Pop them all in an airtight container with a slice of bread. Leave overnight, and the next day, the bread will be dry and the cookies soft and full of spicy delight. Because if you go to all the effort of making Biberle, you want them to taste their best!

To make Biberle (makes 25) (adapted from here)

For the dough:

• 125g runny floral honey
• 25g soft brown sugar
• 75g plain flour
• 50g light rye flour (or just use more plain flour)
• pinch of salt
• 1 1/2 teaspoons Lebkuchen or pumpkin pie spices
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

For the marzipan filling:

• 125g ground almonds
• 75g icing sugar
• 2 tablespoons liquid glucose
• almond extract, to taste
• rose water, to taste

For the glaze:

• 1 tablespoon cornflour
• 100ml water

1. Make the dough. Put the honey and sugar in a small saucepan, and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Don’t let it boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool until just warm.

2. Sieve the plain flour, rye flour, salt, spices and baking soda into a large bowl. Add the lukewarm honey mixture and stir until to forms a dough. Cover with cling film and leave to rest (at least overnight, but I left mine for four days).

3. Next, make the marzipan filling. Grind the almonds and icing sugar. Tip into a bowl, add the glucose, and almond extract and rose water to taste. Add a little at a time – you can always add more! Add water if needed to bring everything together to a firm dough. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least an hour.

4. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

5. On a floured worktop, form the dough into a ball, then roll into a sausage about 45cm in length. Now flatten the dough and use a rolling pin to get a strip that is 10cm wide.

6. Take the marzipan, and form into a long log, also 45cm. Brush the dough lightly with water, then place the marzipan on one edge of the dough, and roll it up so that the marzipan is tightly wrapped. Trim the dough if needed, and seal the join.

7. Use a sharp knife to cut the roll into 20-25 pieces. You need to alternate the angle so that the Biberle have a triangular shape, but make sure the dough is connected all the way around.

8. Transfer the cookies to the baking sheet, leaving space between them to expand. Bake for around 12 minutes, turning the tray half-way to get an even colour.

9. While the Biberle are baking, prepare the glaze. Put the cornflour in a saucepan and heat until it turns a pale golden colour. Remove from the heat and cool. Mix with the cold water, the heat and bring to the boil – it should thicken and become less cloudy. Once the Biberle are baked, remove from the oven and brush each one while hot with the glaze. Leave to cool.

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{4} Magenbrot

My baking this year has been on the lighter side, both in terms of colour and flavour. So it is time to change that. Meet Magenbrot, a spicy chocolate treat from Switzerland.


The name Magenbrot translates as the rather curious “stomach bread”. Not, of course, that this means there is some sort of offal in there. The name comes from the combination of spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and aniseed used in Magenbrot which were thought to improve digestion, in a similar vein to those strong herbal post-dinner drinks you encounter in Alpine countries. The question of how many pieces of sweet Magenbrot you could eat without upsetting your stomach remains unclear, but I rather suspect the answer is not “as much as you want”.

Magenbrot is not just a purely Swiss affair, and I have memories of it from visiting funfairs in Germany as an exchange student. I even brought a couple of bags home from a two-week exchange visit, but made the mistake of not eating it all quickly enough, and it went hard. Lesson learned! I also remember Magenbrot being incredibly addictive. The pieces were wonderfully spicy, and with that classic combination of spices which seems to be the essence of the festive period, and the fact those pieces are quite small means you can keep having another piece. And another piece. And another piece…


I have made this recipe with two surprising ingredients. First, the main liquid here is cold espresso. However this does not have much of an influence on the final flavour – it just means the chocolate flavour has just a little more depth to it, but you certainly don’t taste coffee when you bit into it.

The other odd thing you’ll see here is potassium carbonate. This is a raising agent used in traditional German baking, and provides a lot of lift to the dough when making cookies. You could use baking powder or baking soda instead of the potassium carbonate (note I haven’t tried this recipe with either), but I quite like using these quirky raising agents in my baking, and these days they are fairly easy to track down online. If you want some other recipes using it, you could try German Aachner Printen or Danish brunkager.

The actual process of making Magenbrot is fairly easy and will be familiar if you’ve ever made Italian cantucci. Essentially you make a dough, roll it flat, cut strips, bake them, then cut the resulting “logs” into pieces. At this point, the dough doesn’t seem sweet enough, and will seem a bit dry. Then you coat the lot in a sweet chocolate glaze, which provides the necessary sweetness and softens the Magenbrot. The result is absolutely delicious, which is a good thing since this recipe will leave you facing dozens and dozens and dozens of pieces of Magenbrot. Hopefully you’ve got the stomach to cope with it all!


Magenbrot will benefit from being kept for a few days in an airtight container, as the spice flavour will develop. If you keep it too long, it can dry out, but you can easily solve this by adding a slice or two of fresh bread to soften up the Magenbrot again.

To make Magenbrot (makes 80-90 pieces) (adapted from here)

For the dough:

• 250g syrup (I used 2/3 light and 1/3 dark)
• 75g butter
• 1 medium egg
• 125ml cold espresso
• 500g bread flour
• 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
• 2 teaspoons Lebkuchen or mixed spices
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon potassium carbonate

For the glaze:

• 200g dark chocolate
• 40g butter
• 200ml water
• 500g icing sugar
• 4 pinches ground cinnamon
• 2 pinches ground cloves
• 2 pinches ground nutmeg

1. Make the dough. Put the syrup and butter in a pan. Heat to melt the butter, mix and leave to cool.

2. Add the potassium carbonate to the cold espresso and stir until dissolved.

3. Put the cooled syrup and egg in a large bowl. Mix well. Add the flour, cocoa and spices, then the coffee. Mix and knead to a dough. Add more flour if needed (I used an extra 50g).

4. Flatten the dough into a square, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge overnight.

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

6. Roll out the dough to a long rectangle. The length doesn’t matter, but it should be 1cm thick and 20cm wide. Cut the dough into five long strips of 4cm width.

7. Bake the strips for 20 minutes, turning the baking sheet half-way. I baked them in two batches – one of two strips, and one of three strips – and be sure to leave plenty of space for the dough to expand during baking.

8. When baked, immediately brush each log all over with cold water. This will help to soften the bread. Once cool enough to handle comfortably, cut each into diagonal slices, 1cm thick.

9. Make the glaze. In a pan heat the chocolate, butter, water and spices. Beat well to ensure it is smooth, but do not let it boil. In the meantime, sift the icing sugar into a large bowl, then add the chocolate mixture and beat until smooth.

10. Time to glaze. Put around 10 pieces of the bread in a separate bowl, and add a generous amount of the hot glaze. Mix to ensure the pieces as well-coated, then put each cookie on a wire rack to dry. Keep going in batches until all the cookies are glazed. If the icing gets too thick, add 1 tablespoon of water and heat it up again until to becomes thin.

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{3} Berlinerkranser

Every Christmas selection has a place for a good old-fashioned buttery biscuit. Stepping up to the role is today’s recipe from Norway. These twisty bakes go by the name Berlinerkranser, or “Berlin wreaths”. Completely logical for a cookies from, eh, not Berlin.


I mean, it’s not as if a Norwegian city name would do. Oslokranser? Bergenkranser? Trondheimkranser? Lillehammerkranser? Tromsøkranser? Really, would none of these have worked? Alas I have not found the origin of the name, but I wonder if the knot shape refers back to German pretzels? If you know, do enlighten me!

It can be very easy to think of butter cookies as not being very interesting. But as with many traditional recipes, it helps to think about where and when they came from. Think back to the late 1800s, and butter would have still been a luxury to some people. This would mean that at Christmas it really was a treat to have something sweet and buttery, rather than something made with lard. Times were hard back then, folks.


Berlinerkranser sometimes make an appearance as part of the Norwegian tradition of syv slags kaker (seven sort of cookies, say that quickly after seven glasses of eggnog), where bakers can get into the competitive spirit of the season. They try to dazzle their guests with their baking skills by filling every biscuit tin in the house with cookies. If you want to have a go at a few other Norwegian treats, you could also turn your hand to serinakaker and sirupsnipper.

There is also an odd feature to Berlinerkranser, or at least something that I’ve never seen in a cookie recipe. Just about every version I’ve seen uses fresh egg yolks as well as hard-boiled egg yolks in the dough. I’m normally happy to try anything, but this one struck me as just a bit too strange. It’s also more work…I’m all for a lazy approach that skips avoidable faffing about…all the more time to watch a schmaltzy festive made-for-TV afternoon movie, probably involving some scrooge-like character in New York who rediscovers the magic of Christmas from the innocence of a young child. So, in a testament to laziness, my recipe uses two fresh egg yolks, but if you want to have a go at the more traditional version, use one fresh and one yolk from a boiled egg.


In terms of flavour, I have kept these very simple and traditional. I’ve seen recipes that add vanilla or citrus zest, but these have just the richness of egg yolks and butter. The only concession I’ve made is to use salted butter, as I think it gives a better and fuller flavour than using unsalted.

One tip for making them – once you start to shape the dough, it is easier to work as it gets slightly warmer and softer. If it is too cold, it will break. Howerver, soft dough will collapse in the oven, so put the whole tray of shaped cookies in the fridge for 15 minutes before putting straight in the oven. Voila – cookies don’t break and they keep their shape.

Now…go forth and make another six types of cookie before your guests arrive. Enjoy!

To make Belinerkranser (makes 20)

For the dough:

• 2 egg yolks
• 80g caster sugar
• 185g plain flour
• 125g salted butter

To finish:

• 1 egg white, beaten
• pearl sugar

1a. If using a hard-boiled egg yolk: push the boiled yolk through a sieve to break it up as much as possible. Add to the other egg yolk and the sugar and beat well for a minute.

1b. If using only fresh yolks: put the yolks and sugar into a bowl and beat well for a minute.

2. Add the flour, mix, then tip in the butter and mix until it forms a soft dough. Add more flour if needed, but remember the dough will firm up when chilled.

3. Wrap the dough in cling film, flatten as best you can, and pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.

5. Divide the dough into 20 pieces. Take each piece and roll to an 18-20cm rope, and shape the cookies. Place each one on a baking sheet.

6. Chill the shaped cookies for 15 minutes in the fridge, then brush with beaten egg white and sprinkle with pearl sugar.

7. Bake the cookies for around 12-14 minutes until pale golden.  turning the tray around during baking to get an even colour.

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