So here it is folks. December is finally here and silly season is officially underway!
Regular readers of my blog will know that (along with festival season) Christmas is unquestionably one of my favourite times of year.
Although, this Christmas is already shaping up to be slightly different from usual.
Generally on the first weekend of December (usually without fail), we head off to our local Christmas tree farm, to pick the Nordman Fir that will stand — in all its festive glory — in the corner of our sitting room until twelfth night.
Then there’s the ritual of getting the decorations down from the attic. Unwrapping all the much-loved trinkets that we’ve collected over the years.
Decorating the tree and the house with the Christmas songs playing, the fire lit, and a big mug of mulled wine is literally one of my favourite things in life.
But this year, as we’re in the middle of our house renovation, none of these things are going to happen.
It’s going to be a very strange Christmas indeed.
Usually by now, the tree is up, the house has been decorated to within an inch of it’s life and I’ve made (and eaten) at least two batches of mince-pies and gingerbread.
And whilst I’ve not done the first few — I have made (and eaten gingerbread).
It seems that no-matter how topsy-turvy life is, there’s always time for little Christmas rituals.
Last year I decorated the gingerbread biscuits to look like snow globes, whilst this year I’ve created biscuits to look like tiny Nutcracker dolls.
I took the inspiration from one of our decorations; and whilst we don’t have a tree to decorate this year, I figured I could decorate the biscuits instead.
If you’d like to have a go yourself, here’s the recipe:
How to Make Iced Nutcracker Biscuits
For The Gingerbread
You will need:
200g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
50g dark muscovado sugar
½ teaspoon ground ginger
100g salted butter softened and diced
½ teaspoon cinnamon
50g black treacle
½ teaspoon mixed spice
Nutcracker biscuit cutters
Preheat the oven to 170C/150C fan/gas 3 before you begin making your biscuits or when ready to cook.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl and add all the spices. Add the sugar and mix well. Add the butter and — using just the tips of your fingers — rub the ingredients together until they resemble fine breadcrumbs.
When all the butter is mixed in, make a well in the centre and add the treacle.
Bring the mixture together to form a soft dough.
Knead lightly until it has an even colour with not too many streaks of treacle (I do this bit in the food mixer to avoid handling it). Lightly form into a ball, then divide into two and squash it into two even-sized flattish discs.
Place one disc of dough on a sheet of grease-proof paper. Begin by gently squashing the dough down with the rolling pin or your hands, cover with a second sheet of parchment then use the rolling pin to roll properly.
If the top sheet crinkles, just peel it off, smooth it down gently and start rolling again. Gently roll the dough until it is 5mm thick all over.
Transfer the sheet of rolled dough, still sandwiched between its parchment, to a baking tray and place in the fridge to chill for at least 20-30 minutes before cutting. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough.
Using your cookie-cutter, cut out the biscuits as close together as possible, lifting each one on to a parchment-covered baking tray and making sure that they are not too close together, as the dough will spread a little on baking.
Evenly space the trays in the oven and cook for 10-16 minutes, depending on your oven. Keep a close eye on the first couple of batches you cook until you get used to the recipes and your oven (mine cook in just 10 minutes in the top of the top oven of our AGA).
To decorate the biscuits, make up some royal icing. There are tons of recipes on the internet — all showing various quantities — but I make mine like this:
You will need:
450g icing sugar
1 egg white
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
Food colouring gels
Beat the egg white with an electric whisk or mixer until it goes frothy. Then add the lemon juice, followed by the sifted icing sugar spoon by spoon, on a high speed until you have the desired consistency.
I make my lining icing the consistency of toothpaste. The above icing recipe was perfect for this but you can add a little water to make sure you have the right consistency. Next add your food colouring to the icing and mix well.
Decorating the Nutcracker Iced Biscuits
Spoon the icing into a plastic piping bag and snip the end off. Not too much though — you want your lines to be thin and neat.
Pipe a line around the edge of the biscuit first, then leave to dry for 10 minutes. To flood the background of the cookies, thin the icing down with a little water. This makes it much easier to work with, as it’s much looser — almost like the consistency of single cream.
You can use a toothpick to tease the icing into all of the corners.
Once the backgrounds are dry — it’s worth leaving them overnight (if you can wait that long!) — you can begin to add your details to the nutcracker biscuits. Use the same icing consistency that you used for the outlines.
Decorate your nutcracker dolls however you like. You can add beards or moustaches, shiny boots and buttons using the lining icing.
Then you can add sweets, sugar balls and edible glitter too.
I find it’s easier to work in colours; layering each one on to the biscuits, then letting them dry until I begin the next.
It’s a satisfying process — not to be rushed. Even though, you may have an audience of little helpers who are keen to sample the goods before you’re finished!
If you do manage to fend them off, the gingerbread is relatively long lasting — even in the open air — which means the biscuits can be used as decorations (either on the tree or dotted around the house).
They’re a great thing to keep a little stock of, for sweet-toothed Christmas visitors, plus these little nutcracker sugar cookies make such great Christmas stocking gifts.
There are a few companies selling similar biscuit gifts — Fortnum and Mason biscuits,
Lakeland nutcracker biscuits, plus a festive Biscuiteers biscuit box that contains all of the characters from the Nutcracker suit — not just Nutcracker biscuits!
But I think anything homemade is always so well received.
Plus, by making them, you’ll be filling your home with the aroma of gingerbread and creating wonderful festive memories for many years to come.
Many thanks to the lovely team at Laura Ashley for providing the Nutcracker themed products for the purposes of styling this tutorial.