Having gone to a Christian school, K and I have “celebrated” Christmas in school ever since we were children. But the more traditional celebrations, with the tree and the gifts and the carols started only in our teens. And the first time I ever baked Christmas cookies was with two of my dearest friends in Zurich – J and R. And let me tell you, this is one of the most fun things you can possibly do with your family and friends. You don’t need to be expert bakers, because most cookie recipes are E-A-S-Y! Once you cut your teeth on them, and your home is smelling wonderful, believe me, you’ll be raring to try more complicated recipes!
What I discovered, when I walked into J’s house, which served as our operations centre that snowy December evening, was that a lot of cookies can be made by preparing one simple dough, and then dividing it into different portions and adding different flavourings and spices to get cookies that, in the end, taste completely different! J and R are old hands at Christmas baking, and we were working with one of their grandmother’s secret recipe for shortbread. Since it is secret, I can’t share it with you, but take my word for it, it was divine!
The real trick is in the organisation. You need to have things ready in sequence, if you’re doing the mammoth near-industry level baking that I found I’d walked into. I must admit, I was like their overgrown little kid, wanting to help, but only getting in their way most of the time! I settled for being photographer!
But let me tell you, I found my true calling when it came to icing the cookies! We had lemon icing in practically every shade of the rainbow, and I had a blast! J and R, being the professionals, considered icing along the lines of a necessary evil, because, let’s face it, it can be mind-numbingly monotonous. I however, looked at it as an opportunity to let my inner Picasso out! The results are self-explanatory!
And at the end of the evening, we were tired, and there was sticky icing everywhere, and our stomachs hurt a bit from eating too much raw cookie dough, but it was a glorious feeling of accomplishment! J had to dig out every single Tupperware box she had to pack the cookies in, for R and me. R had a special Christmas cookie tin that she’d thoughtfully brought along, but even so, it was a tight squeeze!
Apart from the secret shortbread, my favourites of the night were the Ginger Cookies. This recipe isn’t a secret – I think J or R found it in some magazine, so I’m going to share it with you! Tell me if you try it, and how it turned out!
Preparation time: 50 minutes
Ingredients (makes ~80 cookies)
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground powdered ginger
1.5 tsp powdered cinnamon
0.5 tsp powdered allspice
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp treacle
100g granulated sugar
80g brown sugar
100g butter, chilled
80g candied ginger, finely minced
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, spices and salt) together.
3. Stir the treacle, sugar and the egg into the chilled butter. This isn’t easy, but try not to heat the butter up too much while mixing.
4. Knead the butter mixture into the flour mixture until it forms a dough. Add the candied ginger and mix it well until evenly distributed.
5. Form small balls, place on lined baking sheet, and bake for 8-12 minutes.
6. Once done, cool slightly, and roll in sugar to get a light dusting.
Honestly, we talk a lot about the cards and the cookies and the gifts, but what we’re really celebrating is togetherness. Family and friends. And I’m writing this post about Christmas cookies, but what I remember most vividly from that wonderful day is the laughter and the silly jokes, not the taste of the shortbread or even the aroma of the baking. And now, there are miles between my friends and me, but memories remain to help bridge the gap.
I think I’m going to go bake some Christmas cookies, and then tell my friends they’re awesome and that I miss them. What are you going to do today?