Traditionally in Mr G's part of Germany (and probably elsewhere too, but he's not here to ask) people bake a selection of little biscuits around Christmas time for family and visitors. We had some friends around yesterday afternoon so I thought it wold be nice to try again at Christmas biscuit making. I did this a couple of years ago and instead of dainty minatures, got galumping great monsters, especially the pin-wheel cookies which turned out about 4" across instead of 1"! How did I never manage to post about that?
I was in a bit of a hurry this time so I went the easy route, making shortbreads and using biscuit cutters. I still aspire to 1" pinwheel cookies but not at 11pm on a Saturday night.
I used a vanilla shortbread recipe to make pigs (which also looked a lot like wombats if you're feeling Antipodean) and flowers, a spiced Christmas tree biscuit mix for the men, and chocolate shortbread for the hearts. Chilling everything in the fridge really helped, especially for the chocolate shortbread which was a really crumbly dough. Stashlet being in bed helped tremendously too; he loves to help with baking but when you've got a deadline you need to be able to think!
If you'd like to try all three mixes at once (which works fine so long as you don't have any distractions), my advice is to make all the doughs, putting them in the fridge as you go, then get the first-made one out, cut out the biscuits, put them in the oven and work on the second dough as the first lot bake.
If you have a variety od oven temperature requirements like these three resipies, go for a lower oven setting rather than a higher one and allow a little extra time if necessary (higher temps = prone to burning). This seems to be the most time-economical way of doing things, rather than making and baking one batch as a time.
If you only have two baking sheets like me, it means finding some space to keep the cut out biscuits until the sheets come out of the oven, but I was rolling everything out on the kitchen table so there was plenty of room.
Vanilla shortbread - flowers and pigs
original recipe came from somewhere on the internet ages ago but I never saved the link (eeek!)
325g plain flour
200g chilled salted butter
125g/4½oz golden caster sugar
2 tsp good-quality vanilla extract
2 large free range egg yolks
Preheat the oven to 180C. Tip the flour into a food processor. Cut the butter into small pieces and drop them into the bowl, then whizz until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, vanilla and egg yolks and whizz to a small dough. If you haven't got a processor, rub the butter into the flour in a large bowl, then add the remaining ingredients and mix to a dough with your hands. Roll out to about 5mm thick and cut out biscuits, re-rolling the trimming to make more. Bake for 15-20 minutes until pale golden then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Decorate as desired.
Chocolate shortbread - hearts
original recipe from Cookies, Biscuits and Biscotti by Linda Collister
200g unsalted butter
100g golden caster sugar (I used normal)
260g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180C. Beat butter until light and creamy. Add sugar and beat again. Sift the flour with the cocoa powder and salt. Mix into the butter/sugar mix - you can probably start with a spoon but you'll need to bring the dough together with your hands. Press the dough into a 23cm round greased cake tin, mark into 12 sections and bake for 15-20 minutes. Once out of the oven, cut into sections but leave in the tin until completely cold. Decorate as desired.
My version: I wrapped the ball of dough in cling film and put it in the fridge for half an hour, then rolled it out to about 5mm thick. You'll need to flour your rolling surface and rolling pin, and be gentle with the dough as it tends to crumble.
This shortbread is quite fragile when it comes out of the oven so leave the biscuits on the tray for about 5-10 minutes to allow them to firm up before you transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Tip: the recipe says do not allow it to get brown as it will be bitter, however it's already brown so that can be a difficult thing to judge! Don't leave them in any longer than 20 minutes - they will probably look exactly the same as they did before they went in but that's fine. Err on the side of caution. They will crisp up as they cool.
Christmas tree biscuits - men
original recipe from The River Cottage Handbook No.8: Cakes by Pam Corbin
275g plain flour
1 level tsp baking powder
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground cinnamon
100g soft brown sugar (I used Muscovado)
75g unsalted butter
50g golden syrup
Preheat the oven to 170C. Sift flour, baking powder and spices into a bowl. Add the sugar and mix well. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. In another bowl or cup, beat the egg with the golden syrup until combined, then pour into the dry mixture. Mix together until the dough forms a ball - you might need to use your hands to get the whole thing to come together. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Flour a rolling surface and rolling pin, then roll out to about 5mm thick. Cut out biscuits with cutters or just cut squares, diamonds etc. with a knife. If you want to use these as Christmas tree decorations, make a little hole in the top of each one witha skewer to put a hanging ribbon through. Put on a baking sheet (I lined mine with baking parchment) and bake for around 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. You might need to re-do the hanging holes too.
My version: By the time I'd found the ground ginger, I'd already put in a tsp of mixed spice, so my final mix was 1tsp mixed spice, 1/2 tsp ground ginger and 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon.
Decorating: I tried to give the pig/wombats and spice men icing eyes but the water icing wouldn't stick (which was weird) so I gave up in a grump, and will have to do some icing research before the next batch.
The chocolate shortbread got a drizzle of white chocolate. I used about half a bar (50 g), melted and put in a little greasproof paper cone - using a spoon straight from the bowl of melted chocolate only made drops and not lines.
The flowers got a coating of orange flavour dark chocolate. I used one 100g bar of Lindt (which I had forgotten has lumps of almond in it) which I spread on with a knife. The result is lumpy looking chocolate so I sprinkled some flaked almonds over the tops. For these biscuits, I needed 100g of chocolate. I think mint would also be nice.
You could also try half dipping biscuits in chocolate, or simply sprinkling with icing or caster sugar.