Christmas eve is a strange day, and kids especially are over excited and bored. A bit of Christmas baking keeps them occupied. Even if you don’t have kids, it’s a nice way to get into the Christmas spirit, and your house will smell fabulous.
Many years ago I lived in Germany, where I was introduced to the crack cocaine of all Christmas baking, the snickerdoodle.
These are soft, chewy, buttery little cookies that are rolled in sugar and cinnamon before going to the oven. While in the oven the sugar and cinnamon melts and crisp up around the already delicious cookie.
I sincerely apologise in advance for any weight gained as a result of these cookies. I know there is a lot of butter and sugar, but it is Christmas after all ( these are delicious at any time of year though, and work really well as a base for a scoop of vanilla ice cream too)
Please do try them though, they smell absolutely heavenly, and you can always off load the extras (as if), on friends and family. These live very happily in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
For the cookies
370 Grams Plain flour
2 Tsp Baking powder
230 Grams Butter
1/2 Tsp Salt
300 Grams Caster Sugar
For the coating
50 Grams Caster sugar
1 Tbsp Ground cinnamon
Add the flour, salt and baking powder to a bowl
In a separate bowl beat the softened butter, and sugar for 2 minutes or until light and sluff
Add the eggs one at a time, and the vanilla, then add the flour mix gradually.
When all the ingredients have been thoroughly combined, chill in the fridge for an hour to allow the dough to firm up
After an hour take mix out of the fridge, and mix the sugar and cinnamon for the coating together in a small bowl
Make small balls of cookie dough about the size of a walnut. Roll in the sugar mix
Place the balls if cookie dough on baking parchment on a cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes in an oven preheated to 200 degrees. Make sure to give them plenty of room to spread od else they stick together
Remove from the oven and allow to sit on the baking sheet for another 10 minutes
I love shortbread, but I had horrendous flashbacks of trying make it in Home Economics class in school. It was a nightmare to roll out, stuck to the counter top, and was impossible to cut out and transfer to the tin neatly.
All this changed, when I discovered this recipe from the amazing women who run the The Edible Flower, in Ballyinahinch. This recipe is incredibly easy, doesn’t need to be rolled out, and is easy to cut into neat fingers for serving. These also make lovely little gifts if you fancy them up in a nice bag, or tin.
315 Grams Butter
350 Grams Self raising flour
120 Grams Caster sugar (plus a little extra to dust the finished shortbread with)
120 Grams Corn flour
1/2 Tsp Salt
1 1/2 Tsps Cinnamon (optional)
Preheat your oven to 140 degrees
Melt the butter in a pam over a low heat, or in a microwave in short bursts
Weigh out all your other ingredients in a bowl and add the melted butter
Mix until it is a soft dough, making sure there are no floury bits
Press the dough into a 20cm x 30cm Swiss roll tin. You can smooth the top with a palette knife if you want it completely smooth, but don’t worry if you don’t
Bake in the preheated oven for 60 minutes. Once cooked, cut into fingers, while still warm. Sprinkle lightly with a little caster sugar
Makes 28 large or 56 small fingers of shortbread. This shortbread freezes really well, and also makes really nice gifts for people
Anyone one who follows this blog will probably have guessed that I usually don’t do dainty.
But trapped in the house on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I decided to rustle up something different . Macarons are cute little almond meringue cookies, and can have a variety of fillings including butter cream or jam. I have used chocolate ganache, which sounds fancy but is basically just cream and chocolate.
If you’ve seen macarons for sale they can come in a variety of rainbow colours, and can be eye wateringly expensive. This is a bit of a rip off considering that while they might be a bit fiddly they’re not especially difficult to make. They also make great gifts.
For the mcarons
210 Grams Icing sugar
95 Grams Ground almonds
3 Egg whites (at room temperature)
50 Grams Caster sugar
1/2 Tsp Vanilla paste
Food colouring (this is optional, but it does help them look nice. I would recommend using gel or powdered food colouring)
For the ganache
100 Grams Dark chocolate
150 Grams Double cream
Add the icing sugar and ground almonds to a food processor and whizz for a couple of minutes
Sieve the sugar and almonds into a bowl, and discard any bits of almond that don’t go through the sieve
In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites with an electric whisk until they form soft peaks Gradually add the caster sugar, vanilla and food colouring until you have stiff peaks (you’ve probably saw on cooking shows when the cook holds the bowl over their head and nothing moves)
Start to fold in the sugar and almond mix with a spatula or large metal spoon in small batches
When fully combined, transfer the batter into a piping bag
On a sheet of baking paper, mark out circles about 3cm each. Put a dot of the batter on the four corners of a baking sheet and lay the baking paper on top (this will help it stay in place)
Pipe a blob of the batter on the pre drawn circles until you have used up all the mix. I ended up using 2 baking trays
Once you have piped all the mcarons, lift the trays a couple of inches and tap it down on the counter to get out any air bubbles. If you have any little tails of batter sticking up after piping, wet you finger and flatten them (it will stop them burning)
Allow the macarons to sit out for 30 minutes, this helps them set and forms a skin
Bake in an oven preheated to 150 degrees for 17 minutes, cool before filling
To make the ganache, break the chocolate into small bits and put in a microwave bowl. Melt the chocolate in the microwave (blast for 30 seconds at a time, be sure not to burn)
When the chocolate is melted, add the cream and stir until properly combined, allow to cool
When the ganache is cool, take a palette knife and spread the filling on the underside of a macaron the sandwich with another. Continue until all the macaron halves have been sandwiched together
Halloween is a big thing in Ireland. Before all the commercialised plastic jack o laterns, fake cobwebs and Americanised trick or treating, Holloween was an ancient Celtic festival. According to legend Halloween was the night your ancestors souls returned to earth. Mischief and mishaps could occur, and there is also sorts of folklore that changes depending on where you go in the country.
Barm back (bairin breac in Irish, and apologies to all Irish speakers if I’ve misspelled this) was traditionally eaten at this time. This roughly translates as speckled loaf. The loaf is speckled with raisins and sultanas plump from being soaked in tea. There are stories that people would include different items and if you got it in your slice of the bread that would be your fortune for the year. These included things like if you got a ring you would get married, a dried pea meant you would stay single, and piece of cloth foretold poverty. There are various recipes, some use yeast, this one doesn’t and is much more straightforward. I used ordinary tea in this recipe, but you can also use teas like Earl Grey, or fruit teas. Some people include treacle, but I don’t like it so I left it out. The grated orange zest isn’t traditional but it’s what I like.
275 Grams Raisins
100 Grams Sultana
50 Grams Mixed peel (some supermarkets sell mixed fruit, so you can just total up to 425 Grams and use this instead)
300ml Black tea
200 Grams Brown sugar
225 Grams Self raising flour
1 Tsp Cinnamon
1/4 Tsp Nutmeg
Grated zest of 1 orange
The night before you make the barm brack, make 300ml of black tea. I just added a tea bag to hot water for a couple of minutes, don’t let it stew for too long or it will get bitter. You don’t need to leave this overnight, but try to leave it at least 3-4 hours
In a bowl, add the sugar, flour, spices and orange zest and combine. Add an egg and then add the tea and soaked fruit and mix well.
Transfer to a round 8 inch baking tin and bake in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees for 90 mins. Because there is quite a lot sugar in this loaf, it goes quite dark. This is how it’s meant to be, but about half way through I cover the top with some tin foil to stop it taking on too much colour before it’s fully cooked.
One of my favourite places to visit in Northern Ireland is Newcastle Co. Down. There are lots of things to love, breathtaking scenery, amusement arcades, seaweed baths, a lovely promenade, and the world class Tollymore forest Park. I visited recently and tried to find a little bakery that used to sell the most amazing date and walnut wheaten bread. Sadly the shop is gone but the visit inspired me to come up with a version of it which isn’t half bad.
This bread is great just sliced and slavered in butter/jam. It’s also savoury enough to taste great when topped with cheese, or along side soup. You can also devide the bread mix into eight to make little wheaten rolls.
275 Grams Plain flour
200 Grams Wholemeal flour
175 Grams Dates (chopped)
75 Grams Walnuts (chopped)
50 Grams Butter (melted)
1 Tsp Baking soda
1/4 Tsp Salt
250ml Buttermilk (I didn’t have buttermilk, so you can improvise as I did. I used normal milk and added 1 Tbsp of lemon juice and left it to sit for 10 minutes)
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees
Add the flours, walnuts, dates, salt and baking soda to a bowl and combine
Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture, add the egg, and melted butter. Add the milk a little at a time until you have quiet a moist dough.I like to use my hands to mix the ingredients, but you can also use a wooden spoon.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface, and shape into a circle, around 14-16cm in diameter
Put the loaf onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cut a cross across the loaf, about a third of the depth of the loaf
Bake for 45 minutes, check the loaf is ready by tapping the bottom to makes it sounds hollow