christmas: making and baking

baking plansTime to dust off a favourite cookery book – Linda Collister’s Christmas Treats to Make and GiveThe girls are still in full baking mode (both Martha and Bea have been to GB Bake-off themed birthday parties in the last fortnight, and their cousin is threatening Matilda with something similar along the lines of Come Dine With Me), so I thought it would be a good idea to channel their enthusiasm and get them to bake some Christmas presents.

For my part, I am planning to make a few treats from Diana Henry’s excellent Salt Sugar Smoke. I have already raided Ikea’s kitchen department and have a large stash of jars at the ready, along with some really lovely labels (also from the Swedish giant). Just need to brave the high street in search of the ingredients…

and we’re off…

Phew! The school term is over and we are now galloping towards the 25th. It’s not as though the date comes as any sort of surprise, yet every year I feel slightly caught out by Christmas. Anyway, having had the requisite seasonal bout of Bah! Humbug, a trapped nerve in my shoulder and the three-way bicker-fest that heralds the start of all our holidays… seasonal cheer has finally entered the household, and at last we have a tree. All we need now are some decorations. Yesterday evening biscuits were baked using this recipe, which I wheel out every year, and wonder why I don’t use at other times.

And this morning we sat and iced them. And someone tested them. Quite thoroughly as it turns out. And now I am wondering whether we might not need a second batch.

This afternoon, once the scattered siblings have regrouped, we will hang the biscuits  on the tree and I will feel ready for the drink that at any other time of year dare not speak its name: advocaat. I’m not even sure that I like it that much, but for some reason it seems to suit the business of decorating the Christmas tree. In fact I’d say that the way in which my thoughts turn to this sticky, custardy gloop as soon as I start fiddling about with fairy lights and baubles is Pavlovian.


Having signed up to a mad, month-long writing project which involves attempting to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days (NaNoWriMo), I find that all I want to do is bake stuff. And biscuits, in particular, have become very appealing: they are quick to make and, perhaps more significantly, easy to eat whilst alternately drinking coffee and typing. Or, more typically, staring into space.

The biscuit obsession began during half term when Bea rustled up a batch of peanut butter and chocolate cookies for her godmother, Jess. Whilst overseeing production, I was struck by the speed with which biscuits can be made, cooked, and dispatched.

I know there are recipes out there for cakes which can be whipped up in minutes (Delia has a very good basic sponge that springs to mind), but even so, biscuits seem quicker. I suppose it’s partly because biscuits tend not to be iced, which means that you don’t need to wait until they’ve cooled before diving in. In fact these cookies are particularly delicious when they’re still warm. The recipe is from Christmas Treats by Linda Collister.

But of all the biscuit recipes I’ve looked at recently (and it’s been quite an intense period of research), shortbread must be the easiest. It only has three ingredients, all of which are store cupboard basics: caster sugar, butter, flour – cocoa powder if you’re feeling flash.

The recipe for this chocolate shortbread came from The Great British Book of Baking, which accompanied the first series of The Great British Bake Off. It’s very rich.

And finally, for now anyway, from the same book, Jumbles. So called, I guess, because you sling a jumble of whatever nuts, fruit or chocolate you have to hand into the basic biscuit mix. Quick and easy, Jumbles are delicious and smell heavenly as they bake. All three of these biscuit recipes have been made on a loose rotation for the last two weeks. I have plans for some freezer biscuits this weekend – you make a dough, freeze it and then, when you want biscuits, you take it out and let it thaw slightly before slicing off the number of biscuits you want to bake. I love this idea. Though I can see some problems – chief among them being the temptation to bake a biscuit or two with every cup of tea.

Of course all this domestic goddess malarky is just a complicated, and fattening, way of avoiding my daily word count. Still, making biscuits is more fun than the endless vacuuming I found myself doing when I was trying to revise for my RHS level 2 exams.

Fortunately my daily walks with Sybil go some way towards ensuring that my bottom doesn’t take on bus-like dimensions as I sit in front of the computer.

These walks also give me a chance to get outside to enjoy my favourite season.

Enough! I have biscuits to bake. No, what am I saying? I have a novel to write. My cardboard characters are demanding a better plot. They say their situations are boring, their motives shaky. I am inclined to agree*. All my baking, walking, gardening**, quilting***, knitting, and blogging, have conspired against The Great Project. It is now 2,000 words behind schedule. Back to the grindstone.

* I don’t really care though, the exhilarating thing about Nanowrimo is that you just plough on, churning out words without a backward glance. I know that when the 1st of December dawns I will have some cringe-inducing prose awaiting me, but I will have thrashed out the framework for a story I’ve been thinking about for years.

**Despite several mornings on my knees, I still have 200 bulbs left to plant. 

*** It’s finished! I will write a post about this later. 

PS If anyone wants the recipes, just leave a message and I’ll post them as soon as I can. I’m sure it’s alright to post someone else’s recipe as long as it’s credited. Just can’t face typing them up right now.