Sunday 4 December 2016

Festive treats: Christmas cookies

Published 27/11/2016 | 02:30

Christmas tree stack
Christmas tree stack
Crunchy Christmas trees
Spiced brown sugar and clementine stars
Christmas Cookies to make and bake, published by Ryland, Peters & Small (£9.99) Photography by © Ryland, Peters & Small
Super-simple tree decorations

From a sweet centrepiece to biscuits you can hang on the Christmas tree, these festive treats make adorable edible gifts. Bake them with your children and give them to teacher, or box them up for your friends and family…

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CHRISTMAS TREE STACK

A lovely stack of crisp, buttery cookies, made to look like an elegant Christmas tree is a very special thing to make for Christmas. You can buy individual star cookie cutters in descending sizes, or search out the kits that are especially made for the purpose. These usually include about 10 cookie cutters from very large for the base, to very tiny ones for the top.

Makes 1 tree stack

Ingredients

120g butter

120g caster sugar

180g plain flour

1 egg, separated

For the decorations:

500g/16 oz green ready-to-roll fondant icing

50g apricot jam, melted

½ quantity of Royal Icing (see right)

Green food colouring paste

Edible silver balls, nonpareils and other sprinkles of your choice

Equipment:

Star-shaped cookie cutters in various sizes

2 prepared baking sheets

A disposable piping bag

Method

Preheat the oven to 180˚C (350˚F)/Gas 4. Put the butter, sugar and flour in a large mixing bowl. Rub together until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, and then add the egg yolk. Bring everything together to form a smooth dough.

On a clean, lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a large rectangle about 4 mm/¼inch thick. Cut out star shapes in descending sizes. Bring the trimmed dough together and roll out again to cut as many cookies out of the dough as possible.

Arrange the cookies on the prepared baking sheets, with the larger cookies on one sheet and the smaller cookies on another.

Bake the larger cookies in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, and the smaller for 4-8 minutes, until golden and firm. Leave to cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes or so, before transferring to a wire rack until completely cold.

Roll out the fondant icing and cut into stars using the cookie cutters, so that you have fondant stars that correspond in size to the cookies. Brush the cold cookies with the melted apricot jam and position the matching fondant star on top. Push gently to secure, taking care not to break the cookies.

Tint the Royal Icing green (see below) and spoon it into the piping bag. Outline the cookies with a green line (see right). Decorate the edges of each star with silver balls, gently pushing them into the piped green icing to secure.

When the icing is dry stack the cookies on a serving plate, starting with the largest cookie at the base, as positioning as shown.

Scatter over some loose nonpareils and sprinkles to finish.

ROYAL ICING

Ingredients

2 very fresh egg whites

500-600g icing sugar, sifted

Place the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat for 5-7 minutes, until white and thick. Alternatively, use a mixing bowl and hand-held electric whisk. Beat the egg whites until foamy and whisk in the sugar. For piping it should hold a solid ribbon trail. If you are not using it immediately, cover with clingfilm/plastic wrap, pressing it into the surface to prevent the icing from drying out. Refrigerate until needed.

Tinting Royal Icing

Divide the icing into separate bowls. It's best to use food colouring pastes for tinting royal icing. This is available in small pots and in a vast array of colours. A tiny amount of colouring goes a long way, so use it with caution. Use a cocktail stick/toothpick to gradually add dots of colouring to the icing and mix well before adding more colour until you achieve the desired shade.

Outlining with Royal Icing

You will need piping bags to create the outlines and details on each cookie. You can buy clear plastic disposable bags from good kitchenware shops, sugarcraft specialists and online suppliers; or make your own from greaseproof paper, folded into a cone, with the tip snipped off. When outlining, pipe as close to the edge of the cookie as possible. Hold the bag at a 45-degree angle, apply even pressure (squeezing from the top of the bag, not the middle), and move the bag steadily along the cookie. Leave the outline to dry for a few minutes before flooding the cookie.

SUPER-SIMPLE TREE DECORATIONS

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These sweet little cookies are perfect to make with the children. A basic sugar dough is stamped out in simple shapes and decorated using ready-made coloured icing in squeezy tubes which means it’s easy for small hands to use and makes less mess. Bake the cookies and once they are cool let the little ones express themselves.

Makes 18

Ingredients

75g/6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

115g caster sugar

1 egg

200g plain flour

½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

For the decoration:

Tubes of ready-made icing in a variety of colours

Equipment

Cookie cutters in assorted shapes

Plastic drinking straw

1 prepared baking sheet

Ribbon or ric rac braid

Method

Preheat the oven to 180˚C (350˚F)/Gas 4. Cream the butter and sugar until soft, and then beat in the egg. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt. Roll the dough into a ball, wrap in clingfilm, and put in the fridge for about 1 hour.

Roll out the cookie mixture to a thickness of approximately 1 cm/½inch and use the cookie cutters to cut out the different shapes. Arrange the shapes on the prepared baking sheet. Cut the straw to a length of about 10 cm/4 inches using scissors and pierce the top of each cookie with it to make a good-size hole for the ribbon.

Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for about 8-10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the cookies from the oven and place them on a wire rack. Use the straw to re-pierce the holes if they have closed up during cooking. Leave the cookies to cool before decorating each one with the ready-made icing.

Cut pieces of ribbon or ric rac braid and thread them through the holes in each cookie to finish.

SPICED BROWN SUGAR & CLEMENTINE STARS

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These crisp, spiced cookies with a hint of tangy clementine are pretty baked as stars but you can experiment with other shapes — hearts are cute too. Not only do they taste delicious, they also make a perfect gift once threaded with ribbons, boxed and presented as if they were Christmas decorations.

Makes about 30

Ingredients

100g/6½ tbsp butter, softened and cubed

75g dark muscovado or dark brown soft sugar

1 tsp golden/corn syrup

1 egg, lightly beaten

200g plain flour, sifted

1 tsp baking powder

Grated zest of 1 clementine

2 tsp ground cinnamon

A generous pinch each of ground nutmeg, allspice and cloves

For the decoration:

100g icing sugar

6-7 tsp lemon juice

Edible silver balls

Edible white glitter

Equipment:

Star-shaped cookie cutters in assorted sizes

2 prepared baking sheets

Method

Put the butter, sugar and golden/corn syrup in an electric mixer (or use a large mixing bowl and an electric whisk) and mix until combined. Add the beaten egg little by little, alternating with a spoonful of flour, and still mixing. Add the rest of the flour, the baking powder, clementine zest and spices. Mix to combine.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and bring it together in a ball. Press the ball into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C (400˚F)/Gas 6. Halve the chilled dough and roll one half out on the lightly floured work surface until it is about 4 mm/¼inch thick. Cut out stars with the cookie cutters and arrange the shapes on one of the prepared baking sheets. Gently re-form and re-roll the dough, then keep stamping out stars. Use a cocktail stick/toothpick to make a hole in the top of each cookie.

Repeat with the other half of the dough. Bake in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes for smaller stars (about 6cm/2½inches) and 12-14 minutes for larger stars (about 8.5cm/3º inches). When they are ready, the dough will have risen slightly and the edges will be tinged with brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

To decorate, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in the lemon juice — add it little by little until you have a drizzling consistency. Decorate each star with a little icing (you can pipe it if you are feeling fancy). Finish with edible silver balls and glitter and thread some fine ribbon through the holes to finish.

These crunchy, pretty little pistachio-coated trees look really festive at Christmas time and are perfect for packaging up in brown paper and tied with ribbon to give as grown-up edible gifts to friends and family.

CRUNCHY CHRISTMAS TREES

iw Crunchy Chr.jpg  

Makes 20-25

Ingredients

125g butter

125g caster sugar

1 whole egg

250g plain flour

For the decoration:

1 egg white, lightly beaten

100g finely chopped pistachios

Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)

Equipment:

2 prepared baking sheets

Christmas tree-shaped cookie cutters in assorted sizes

Method

Preheat the oven to 180˚C (350˚F) Gas 4. Beat the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Add the whole egg and beat until fully incorporated. Stir in the flour and bring the mixture together to make a soft, but not sticky dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

On a clean, lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out into a large rectangle about 3-4 mm/¼inch thick. Cut out Christmas trees using the cookie cutters. Lay them on the prepared baking sheets, leaving a little space for spreading between each one. Bring the trimmed dough together and roll out again to cut as many cookies out of the dough as possible. Arrange on the baking sheets with the other cookies.

Brush the top of each cookie with the lightly beaten egg white, leaving the trunk of the tree without the egg white wash. Scatter the chopped pistachios over the branch part of the tree.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10–15 minutes, until golden and firm. Leave to cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes or so, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Dust with icing sugar to emulate freshly fallen snow, if liked.

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