Saturday 1 October 2016

Reach for the stars with edible gingerbread Christmas decorations

Mima Sinclair

Published 20/12/2015 | 02:30

The impressive Christmas biscuit tree.
The impressive Christmas biscuit tree.
Edible star wreath
Gingerbread Wonderland by Mima Sinclair

These gingerbread tree decorations are the perfect way to bring magic to your home at Christmas.

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Christmas biscuit tree

This biscuit tree is so simple yet it looks so impressive (even if the kids help to make it!). A little dusting of icing sugar or sprinkles add to the magic.

Makes 1 large tree.

Prep: 1 hour 30 minutes, plus chilling & setting.

Cook: 1 hour

You will need

1 x quantity of light or dark gingerbread dough (see below)

To decorate:

2 x quantity of Royal Icing (see below)

2 tbsp icing sugar

Sprinkles, optional

Method

Heat the oven to 160˚C/fan-assisted 140˚C/gas mark 3. Line 2 or 3 large baking trays with silicone baking sheets or greaseproof paper. Using a ruler, draw and cut out a 20cm star onto firm paper or card. Then inside this star draw smaller stars decreasing by 2cm each time, your last star being 2cm.

Cut a large piece of greaseproof paper and roll out the gingerbread on top of it to 5mm. Cut out three of the largest stars and using a palette knife transfer to the lined baking sheets. Place in the freezer for 5 minutes until hard then bake in the oven in batches for 6-10 minutes depending on size, until golden brown at the edges. Leave to cool for 5 minutes on the trays, then carefully transfer with a palette knife to wire racks to cool completely.

Trim the star template to the next size and cut out three dough stars, chill and bake as above decreasing the bake time to 6-8 minutes for medium stars and to 3-6 minutes for the small stars. Keep repeating until you have baked three of each star.

Add a little water to the royal icing until you reach soft peak consistency. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a medium round nozzle and pipe around each of the stars. Add a little more water to the remaining icing to make flood icing, and spoon or pipe into the lines of each biscuit spreading to the edges. Leave for 30 minutes to set, then stack the stars up starting with the largest and ending with the smallest on its edge. Dust with the icing sugar and decorate with sprinkles if you wish.

Edible star wreath

Bake this pretty wreath to hang on your door or serve it as a fun, sharing dessert! Prep: 2 hours, plus chilling and setting. Cook: 45 minutes

You will need

2 x quantity of light or dark gingerbread dough

2 x quantity of royal Icing

1 x quantity of caramel glue to decorate

Blue food colouring paste

10g silver balls

Star cutters approx. 3cm, 5cm and 7cm

Method

Heat the oven to 160°C/fan-assisted 140°C/gas mark 3. Line 3 large baking trays with silicone baking sheets or greaseproof paper.

Cut a large piece of greaseproof paper and roll out the gingerbread on top of it to 5mm. Place a 25cm plate on the dough and cut round it. Then use a smaller plate or bowl to cut out the centre - you want a ring 4cm wide.

Using different-sized star cutters, cut out shapes from the remaining dough. You will need about 30 biscuits. Place in the freezer for 5 minutes until hard. Bake in the oven in batches for 6-15 minutes depending on size, until golden brown at the edges. Bake the wreath ring for 15 minutes or until golden as it will need to be sturdy. Leave to cool for 5 minutes on the trays, then carefully transfer with a palette knife to wire racks to cool completely.

Add a little water to the royal icing until you reach soft peak consistency. Divide between 2 bowls and colour one with blue colouring paste. Spoon each into piping bags fitted with fine nozzles. Pipe outlines around half the snowflakes. Pipe decorations onto the plain stars.

Squeeze two thirds of the icing out of the piping bags into separate bowls and add water to make flood icing- a thick but runny consistency. Spoon into the biscuits lined with the same colour. Stud a few with silver balls. Leave to set for 2 hours, then use the remaining soft peak icing to pipe more detail onto the stars.

Arrange the largest stars on the ring. Once you are happy with the placing, brush the backs of the stars with caramel glue and stick to the circle. Repeat with the remaining stars. Leave to set. Hang with a ribbon.

Royal icing

Makes 300g

You will need

250g icing sugar

1 lightly beaten medium egg white

½ tsp lemon juice

1 tsp water

Method

Sift the sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the beaten egg white and lemon juice.

Whisk on a low speed, so you do not incorporate too much air into the icing, for 2–3 minutes until you have a smooth, but not wet, stiff peak consistency. It should be dense and spreadable but hold a stiff peak. If it looks dry and crumbly add a little water. If it looks slightly runny and glossy, add a little extra icing sugar.

You now have stiff peak icing for sticking shapes together and placing decorations onto icing. Transfer to a bowl and cover with a damp cloth to prevent it from drying out. The icing can be prepared ahead and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.

You can adjust this icing to make soft peak and flood icing:

Soft peak – Add a drop of water at a time until you have icing that holds a soft peak but does not spread on its own. Use for piping lines, borders and decorations.

Flood icing – Add a teaspoon of water at a time until you have a thick but runny icing that smooths out on its own within 15 seconds but not so runny that it runs off the edge of your biscuit. Use for filling in outlined areas of biscuits.

Light gingerbread dough

Makes 1kg. Prep: 10 minutes, plus 1 hour 15 minutes chilling. Cook: 5 minutes

This is a mild and sweet, light dough that is very versatile.

You will need

140g light molasses/golden syrup or honey

200g soft light brown sugar

200g unsalted butter

Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

4 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground nutmeg

¼ tsp ground cloves

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

500g plain flour

1 tsp salt

1 lightly beaten medium free-range egg

Method

Pour the light molasses into a large saucepan with the sugar, butter, zest and spices and melt over a low/medium heat, stirring frequently until the sugar has dissolved.

Increase the heat to bring the mixture to boiling point. Remove from the heat and beat in the bicarbonate of soda. The mixture will froth up at this point as the bicarbonate reacts — mix briefly until combined, then leave to cool for 15 minutes.

Sift the flour and salt, then fold into the mixture in batches, using a wooden spoon or a stand mixer. Beat in the egg using a wooden spoon or a stand mixer, until just combined. Do not overwork the mixture, or the biscuits will spread during baking.

The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but do not add any flour. Scrape out of the bowl onto a clean surface and knead together until just smooth. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.

Dark gingerbread dough

Makes 1kg. Prep: 10 minutes, plus 1 hour 15 minutes’ chilling. Cook: 5 minutes

A stronger, spicier dough and visually darker because of the use of dark molasses.

You will need

80g dark molasses/black treacle

60g light molasses/golden syrup or honey

200g soft dark brown sugar

200g unsalted butter

Zest of ½ unwaxed orange

4 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground nutmeg

¼ tsp ground cloves

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

500g plain flour

1 tsp salt

1 lightly beaten medium free-range egg

Method

Pour the dark and light molasses into a large saucepan with the sugar, butter, zest and spices and melt over a low/medium heat, stirring frequently until the sugar has dissolved.

Increase the heat to bring the mixture to boiling point. Remove from the heat and beat in the bicarbonate of soda. The mixture will froth up at this point as the bicarbonate reacts — mix briefly until combined, then leave to cool for 15 minutes.

Sift the flour and salt, then fold into the mixture in batches, using a wooden spoon or a stand mixer. Beat in the egg using a wooden spoon or stand mixer, until just combined. Do not overwork the mixture, or the biscuits will spread during baking.

The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but do not add any flour. Scrape out of the bowl onto a clean surface and knead together until just smooth. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.

Taken from Gingerbread Wonderland by Mima Sinclair. Published by Kyle Books, priced €14.20. Photography by Tara Fisher

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