America does Christmas well. They’ve always been a good five years in front of us when it comes to Christmas crafts and baking, and this is nowhere more in evidence than on Pinterest. Christmas 2012 (on Pinterest, at least) seems to be Northern European in theme – stretching up from Holland to Sweden and Denmark, with spiced Dutch Speculaas biscuits, brown paper presents decorated with small ‘evergreen’ branches and anything red-and-white all being pinned and repinned. Pinterest is wonderful for finding inspiration and ideas and it’s probably been partly the cause of my high levels of excitement for Christmas this year. It also was probably the cause of a rather serious bout of Christmas craft disillusionment this afternoon, which struck whilst I was covered from wrist to elbow in rapidly-setting white icing. I have realized, once again and hopefully for the last time, that I will never be able to ice biscuits as prettily as they are iced on Pinterest. Never. The icing bag and the red food colouring went in the bin. I did have fun though, and these turned out sort of… rustically elegant (ish) in the end, if not quite the red-and-white iced stunners that I had been so certain they would be.
I used Nigella’s recipe for sugar cookies, which made a really nice crisp biscuit and would be perfect for icing, if you were so inclined. When I was cutting them out I made a little hole in the cookie dough with a skewer so that some could be hung up as Christmas decorations – I made a few with silver balls and strung them along a velvet ribbon. You could ditch the silver balls and hang a dozen of them on plain string for a sweet Christmas food gift.
Makes around 20-25 medium-sized biscuits
Cookie cutters (I had a Christmas tree, a gingerbread cutter, a heart and stars of all sizes)
90g soft butter
100g caster sugar
200g plain flour
1 large egg
1/2tsp real vanilla extract
1/2tsp baking powder
100g icing sugar and a few drops of boiling water
– Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Cream the soft butter and sugar in a free-standing mixer until it is light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and continue to mix and sieve the flour and baking powder in. Mix by hand until it comes together, then form it into a ball by hand. Chill the dough in the fridge to make it a little easier to work with. Sprinkle the work surface with a small dusting of flour and roll out the dough to the thickness of 1/2 a centimetre. Cut shapes out of the dough. This dough is fairly sturdy, so don’t worry about balling it up again and re-rolling, maybe with a tiny bit more flour if necessary. Make a little hole in each cookie and place the dough shapes on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes, or until light golden and ‘set’ (they will crisp up further as they cool). Re-pierce the hole in the cookie while it is still warm and pliable. Transfer them to a baking sheet and allow to cool fully. Then ice them, decorate them, make them pretty.