Every year in the lead-up to Christmas I get this idea to bake up a storm and give homemade baking as Christmas gifts but I’ve always been too busy, too tired, too something, to actually do it. I don’t know what makes this year different (busy – check, tired – check) but somehow I did it: I baked enough cookies last weekend to fill six tins as gifts for six people/families/couples. Six! That is a lot of cookies.
I have wonderful memories of my mother’s Christmas baking sessions. She would bake for days, it seemed. I remember the planning, when she would discuss the list with us and ask if there was anything in particular that we wanted. There would always be Peanut Cookies (for Dad), always Chocolate Chip Cookies, usually Kornies (a soft biscuit with raisins and rolled in cornflakes), Christmas cakes, Yo-yo’s (like Melting Moments), and any number of other things. The shopping list was vast. The kitchen was overtaken with racks of cooling cookies. Divine smells drifted through the house. The end result was jars and tins of all manner of cookies and cakes, carefully stowed and tightly sealed, to see us through the weeks of holidaying, trips to the beach and unexpected visitors.
After last weekend I have a new appreciation for Mum’s baking marathons. I was in the kitchen for nearly eight hours on Saturday and another 2 hours on Sunday. I was exhausted! My back hurt, my feet hurt, I was all sugared-out from testing the goods; all I could do on Saturday night was drink a beer and fall into bed. I didn’t even vaguely approach Mum’s voluminous output: all I made was three recipes! Granted, they were all new recipes, which introduces a certain degree of stress, and I did double two of them. I also decided it was a good time to try my hand at piping decorations for the first time, and with a real piping bag too, not one of those squeezy pens (it’s just like me to over-complicate things, but luckily I resisted the temptation to blend my own mixed spice and simply bought a packet at the store). By the end I felt every inch the unfit, desk-bound, office worker.
Still, I was pleased with the results. The Snowballs were the stars, with meltingly tender shortbread encasing tangy dried cherries and dark chocolate, and they were fast and satisfying to make. The Chocolate & Ginger Cookies worked well too, although it was the tricky process of cutting cookies with rapidly warming dough (Brisbane was hot on Saturday), and re-rolling and re-chilling the seemingly endless scraps that was primarily responsible for my pain. I had trouble getting the thickness of the dough right, so the initial specimens were rather chunky (sorry to anyone who chipped a tooth), and the piping cramped my right hand until I figured out the right consistency of the icing. I discovered that there is nothing like baking up a storm to make you not want to eat the results, and true to form, I don’t even want to smell those Chocolate & Ginger Cookies for at least a month. The third recipe needs a little work before it is bloggable, but it went in the tins anyway because there was no way I was going to make more freaking cookies just to fill the space.
It’s not all bah-humbug. The tins have been received with smiles and I got a nice little warm glow each time. That’s what Christmas is about, right? All the same, despite the warm fuzzies, I miiiiiight just go shopping next year. Merry Christmas all!
225g salted butter, softened but not melted
1/2 cup icing sugar (powdered sugar)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4-2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup ground almond
Fillings, such as dried fruit (cherries, quartered apricots or currants) or 1cm squares of dark chocolate
Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat for about five minutes until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and beat briefly until combined. Add 1 3/4 cups of flour and the ground almond and stir with a large spoon until the dough comes together and will hold its shape when formed into a small ball. If the mixture is very sticky, add a little more flour as required. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 145°C / 290°F. Line two baking sheets with baking paper. Using a teaspoon, take small spoonfuls of mixture and wrap around a piece of dried fruit or chocolate. Roll into balls and place on the trays. The balls will spread while baking, so count on them roughly doubling in width. Place the trays into the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until firm but not browned.
Once the snowballs are cool, dust with more icing sugar and store in an airtight container for up to two weeks. According to Annabel, these snowballs can also be frozen and defrosted as needed. This recipe is easily doubled or tripled.
Chocolate & Ginger Christmas Cookies
125g unsalted butter, softened but not melted
90g brown sugar
230g golden syrup
375g plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
25g Dutch cocoa
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
For the icing: 1 cup icing sugar (sifted) and 1 Tbsp boiling water
Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat for 8-10 minutes or until pale and creamy. Add the golden syrup and beat briefly to combine. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa and spices until combined. Add the dry ingredients to the mixing bowl and beat at a low speed until a firm, smooth dough forms.
Divide the dough in half and roll out each piece between two sheets of baking paper to about 4 mm thickness. Place in the fridge and chill for about one hour.
Preheat the oven to 160°C / 325°F. Peel off the top layer of baking paper and use cookie cutters to cut the dough into shapes. Remove the excess dough from around the cut shapes, place the cookies and the lower sheet of baking paper onto a tray and place in the oven. Bake for 8-10 minutes (or up to 12 minutes if your cookies are thicker). Cool completely on racks. Re-roll and re-chill the dough scraps, and continue until you can’t stand it any longer.
Prepare the icing by mixing together the icing sugar and boiling water to a smooth, slightly runny paste, adding more water if required. Place in a piping bag fitted with a 2mm nozzle and decorate the cookies as desired. This recipe is also easily doubled.