I wonder what the etiquette of blogging about gifts is. Obviously, you should not post the description of something you are giving as a gift before you have given it if there is a chance that that person will spot it on your blog (The Standard has had almost 2,000 hits so far, and not all of them can be my mother). But, does it take away from something you baked as a gift if, say, the recipient could see just how much butter went into it? Or, for that matter, how easy it was to make? Neither of those are problems with the gingerbread biscuits (cookies) I baked and decorated to give to family friends who had invited us over for a drinks party, but especially around Christmas it is something that it would be good to work out.
The day before I arrived back in Australia my brother, Hugh, and his girlfriend, Natalia, had baked a whole bunch of gingerbread biscuits (cookies) to hang on our Christmas tree. By the time I had arrived, none had made it to the tree and there were only two left which had been saved for me with the warning that if I did not eat them soon, somebody else would. When, therefore, they gave me their recipe and suggested that I double it, I was eager to do so, as I was sure that it must only have produced a tiny number. I will give the original qualities here, as when I doubled them I ended up (many hours later) with over 70 biscuits. Apparently, it was not that they had been eaten so quickly because there were so few of them, but rather because they were just so delicious. This I can attest to – this really is one of the best soft gingerbread recipes I have tasted.
Start by mixing together 375g plain flour, 1 teaspoon of bicarb of soda, 2 teaspoons of mixed spice and 3 teaspoons of ground ginger. Separately, in a large bowl, beat together 140g butter (if you leave it out of the fridge for a while before starting it will be soft and easier to beat in) and 130g brown sugar. Once they are combined and smooth, you need to beat in one egg yolk (when you are separating the egg, keep the white for the icing) and 125 mL golden syrup. (Now it has come to my attention that golden syrup is not exactly common in the United States – it is like maple syrup, only a bit thicker and made entirely from sugar. If you have trouble finding it in the supermarket, then you might want to check out British specialty stores like Tea and Sympathy in Greenwich Village).
Add the flour, bit by bit, and beat together until combined. Then divide the dough into two and roll out between two sheets of baking paper – it needs to be about half a centimetre thick. Lay flat in the freezer for 15 mins or so. You are doing this because when it is a little frozen it is much easier to cut and transfer to a baking pan, so don’t take the second one out of the fridge until you have already cut the shapes from the first batch. If you have a lot of excess dough (which you should have left over from in-between the shapes you have cut, put it together and then roll it again between sheets of baking paper and put back in the freezer so you can use it in the same way.
After you put the dough in the freezer, preheat the oven to 160ºC (320ºF). When the dough is frozen, cut shapes and place them on baking paper on a baking pan. I had two different sized star cookie-cutters, as well as a snow-flake and an elephant. If you want to be able to hang them on your tree, remember to poke a hole before you put them in the oven. Place in the oven for 10 mins (or slightly less – you want them to be soft so don’t let them brown), and then let them cool before icing (frosting). They will harden slightly while cooling.
To make royal icing (frosting), just mix together (sifted) icing sugar and egg-white. Only add a little bit of egg-white at a time, as if mixture to be to runny you won’t be able to work with it. I used a icing piper, and added little silver cachous – it takes some practice to work out the best thickness and get your technique down, which was one of the benefits of having 70 to practice on. It took me some time to work out designs as well, so I have added some here which you can copy – just click on the image to make it bigger.
To end – here is a fantastic little tale illustrated in biscuits (cookies) that I saw in the New York Times this morning: