Sunday, 21 December 2008

Christmas Tea Party

'Tis the Season for unnecessary baking! I have to say it doesn't feel like Christmas 'til I've started making excessively iced cakes and biccies and so on. Today, I had some friends and their 5 children round for tea before going off to our Parish Carol Service -an excellent excuse to make some sweet goodies, and try out my new camp-as-Christmas cake stand.

Cliché it may be, but as ever my first stop was Nigella's Domestic Goddess - the Christmas section is wonderful, and it is just one of those books that makes you feel like you can aspire to the Christmas baking dream. I went for her Christmas tree decoration biscuits, as well as her festive Christmas cupcakes.

It was a great tea party (made better by the addition of some nice red wine - but then, aren't all things better with red wine?), and it certainly feels like Christmas now!

Christmas Decoration Biscuits

These are lovely, spicy bics that can have ribbons added and be hung on the tree. Or, they can be gobbled up! I made these yesterday, and was initially a bit disappointed. The mixture was very soft and difficult to roll, so I had to use a lot of flour on the worktop - and, unsurprisingly they turned out a bit tough. However, the addition of icing and an overnight rest rendered them much softer and less dry. I also found that the second batch I made, which I rolled out a little thicker (more like 8mm than 5), and cooked two minutes less were far better.

In terms of spice, I found them to be much milder than expected (she suggests that the 2 teaspoons of ground black pepper means they are not really child-friendly). However, I added in an extra couple of teaspoons of ginger and still found them warming, but not overwhelming. And the kids definitely ate them quite happily! They could probably have taken a bit more pepper and spice, to be honest!

In conclusion - definitely a winner, and doing the coloured icing was highly entertaining.

300g plain flour
Pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed ground spice
(I also added 2 tsps ground ginger)
1-2 tsps freshly ground pepper
100g unsalted butter
100g dark muscovado sugar
2 large eggs beaten with 4 tsps runny honey

1. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingertips, 'til it resembles breadcrumbs.

2. Slowly add the mixture of the eggs and honey, until it resembles a dough (I didn't use all the eggs, and it was still very wet).

3. Refrigerate the dough in a disc-shape, and pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees C.

4. Roll out the dough on a floured surface - to about 8mm thick. Cut out Christmassy shapes with cutters and place them on a lined baking sheet.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the bottoms seemed cooked and firm-ish.

6. Cool on a rack, then ice with bright or minimalist icing of your choice.

Christmas Cupcakes

These are dense, rich spicy-chocolatey bites of loveliness. Really moist, and grown-up enough for the adults, whilst the chocolate means the kids should still eat them. Not only do they look ever-so pretty, but the taste matches the cuteness. My only 'moan' is that some of the cakes didn't stick to the inside of their cases very well, and the cases gaped a bit, which didn't look amazing - but the icing soon stuck them back together!

150g plain flour
Half tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground mixed spice
Pinch of salt
160g dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tbsps sour cream
125ml boiling water
75g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
1 tsp instant coffee
150g instant royal icing
Ready-to-roll green icing
Cranberries (or balls of red icing!)

1. Mix the flour, bicarb, baking powder, spice and salt.

2. In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar.

3. Add the eggs to the butter and sugar, one at a time, mixing well.

4. Add the flour mixture to the sugar and butter, in three parts - adding 1 tbsp of sour cream after each 'third' of flour.

5. In a pan, put the chocolate, water and coffee. Melt the chocolate gently over a low heat.

6. Add the chocolate to the cake mixture, and fold in gently and quickly.

7. Pour the (fairly runny) mixture into 12 muffin cases in a muffin tin, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 200 degrees C for 20 minutes.

8. Leave the cakes in the bun tin for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a rack to cool.

9. When cool, ice thickly with the made-up white royal icing, then decorate with holly leaves made from the green icing, using either cranberries or balls of red icing as berries.