As you know, I have been feeling the absence of Christmas lately. This is all tied up with end of year tiredness and a generalised homesickness, of course, but those things are a lot less easy to remedy than a lack of tinsel. And so, knowing I have to wait another few weeks until I go back to the UK and there being no sign of a let up at work, I decided to focus on the “low-hanging fruit” (as we cringingly insist on calling it in the world of advocacy and lobbying).
The results? Well, it turns out that playing Christmas music on a loop, buying a Christmas tree, inviting your friends over and mainlining mulled wine are surprisingly effective remedies for the blues. Yes, I’m still struck by paralysing exhaustion every night at 9pm, and yes, I miss my family like crazy. But it’s all a lot more bearable with some baubles and soothing choral music.
These delectable ginger biscuits, a Scandinavian Christmas classic (pepparkakor, in Swedish – you can read more about them here) played a major role in lifting my spirits. Full of spicy, gingery goodness, they’re like a Starbucks gingerbread latte as it was meant to be enjoyed: in biscuit, rather than chokingly-sweet coffee, form. I guess they’d also make a good present, as they’re easy to make ahead and keep for up to a week in an airtight container. But we’ll never know as M and I are two cookies short of finishing the batch.
Makes: 40-45 biscuits
Time needed: 2.5 hours
What you need:
For the biscuits
120g butter, cut into chunks
150g soft brown sugar
4 tsp cinnamon
4 tsp ginger
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cloves
Grated zest of one orange
1 tbsp treacle
1 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp milk
420g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
For the icing
1 egg white
300g icing sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
How to make it:
- Cream the butter and sugar together in a blender until light and fluffy (or beat with a fork, if you’re feeling up to it).
- Add the spices, orange zest, treacle and syrup, and beat again until well combined.
- Add the milk and repeat.
- Now add the bicarbonate, then the flour a little at a time, beating constantly. Keep adding and beating until the mixture comes together into a smooth dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead for a few minutes. It shouldn’t be sticky, but it shouldn’t be dry and crumbly either. If you add too much flour, you can always add a splash more milk.
- Wrap the dough in cling film and rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
- While the dough is resting, line two baking trays with grease proof paper.
- Remove, and roll out onto a floured surface. To get the crisp, crunchiness of ginger biscuits like these, you need to roll the dough very thin – to around 3mm thickness.
- Next, use a cookie cutter to stamp out biscuits in whatever shape you want, and arrange them on the baking trays (these biscuits don’t spread much during cooking, so you can put them really close to each other. Make sure to re-roll the cuttings so that you’re using up all the dough.
- Once all the biscuits are cut out, place the trays in a cool place to rest for another 45 minutes.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C (mine is a fan oven, so adjust accordingly).
- Once rested for 45 minutes, bake each tray of biscuits for around 10 minutes, until the tops are nicely darkened. As they cool, they’ll harden to a nice, thin crispness.
- Allow the biscuits to cool completely (preferably overnight) before icing.
- To make the icing, beat the egg white until just turning white with a hand beater or fork. Sieve in half the icing sugar and beat again until combined. Add the lemon juice, then add the rest of the icing sugar a little at a time until you reach the desired consistency. I am no hot shot with a piping bag, so I just drizzle my icing. For this, you need quite a runny consistency (if you want to go wild with a piping bag, you’ll need a thicker consistency). Use a fork to drizzle your biscuits in as creative a manner as you wish.
- Leave the icing to set for a good few hours, until it is hard. Then enjoy.