Monday, December 08, 2008

Decorating the tree with Christmas biscuits

I had a thoroughly festive weekend. On Friday evening I travelled down to the beautiful city of Bath to meet my mother. We stayed overnight in a hotel just outside the city centre and on Saturday morning headed into the crowded centre to visit the Christmas market. It was fantastic (..if heaving with other people). The scent of mulled wine was in the air as we moved from stall to stall admiring the wonderful artisan and original gifts. Within an hour, I'd managed to tick seven people off my list and was thrilled with the original presents I'd found.

As the crowds began to get a little too much, we headed to Bath's fantastic shops. Before long we were in need of sustenance and stopped of at The Fine Cheese Company for an excellent lunch of Somerset rarebit and Tunisian orange cake. For my review of this place (along with other reviews I've written), do hop across to
Trusted Places. Though do be sure to hop back again too!

I got back to London with overflowing bags of Christmas goodies. On Sunday morning up was up early(ish) and went to visit a friend who was exhibiting at the Young Designers Christmas Bazaar at Shepherds Bush. Then it was off to choose a Christmas tree.

I'm exceptionally picky about Christmas trees. Firstly, they have to be real. I don't care about the needles or that a fake one costs less when you consider how much you spend each year on a fresh tree. I'm sure it would be better for the environment if I didn't have a fresh tree each year. But for me, an artificial tree just isn't the same. It doesn't have that lovely Christmassy fragrance. There isn't the annual excitement of heading out in the cold to pick the perfect specimen.

And I'm very picky about the shape. I won't buy one that is already in its string bag. Oh no. I have to look at it carefully. Walk round it a few times. I have to fall a little bit in love with it in fact. Is that odd?

I found my little tree this year and took it home. I unravelled the lights. Discovered they still worked (a miracle?) and then started to decorate it. I'm picky here too. Red and silver only.

But this year, I felt it needed a little something extra. Inspired by Nigella's Christmas, I decided to bake and decorate some edible tree biscuits. What fun it was! The flat filled with a wonderfully spicy, festive aroma and I really enjoyed piping the decoration on the biscuits (...even if I am clumsy...).

I'm so pleased with how they look, dangling from their silver ribbons, that I thought I'd share them with you. Nigella's recipe makes around 40 biscuits, so I halved it (my tree is only wee). I also altered the spices slightly to suit what I had knocking around.

Spicy Christmas Tree Biscuits
Makes approx 20


150g plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
50g soft butter
50g soft dark muscovado sugar
1 large egg
2 tbsp runny honey
royal icing

1. Pre-heat oven to 170C. Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

2. Whizz together flour and spices in a food processor. Add butter and sugar and whizz until you have fine breadcrumb consistency.

3. Beat together the egg with the honey. With the motor running, slowly add the egg mixture. Go carefully as you may not need to add it all - stop when a dough is just formed.

4. You could chill the mixture for 10 minutes or so. Alternatively, if you are impatient like me, you can get started straight away. Liberally dust the work surface with flour and roll out the dough. Cut out your favourite festive shapes (I had snowflakes, starts, Christmas trees, hearts, gingerbread men and, that wonderfully festive of creatures, the butterfly). Work quite quickly and set the biscuits on the cookie sheet.

5. Using a skewer, cut a small hole just below the top of each biscuit so that you'll be able to tie ribbon through later for hanging on the tree. Bake for around 20 minutes, or until the biscuits are no longer dough-ey in the middle.

6. Transfer biscuits to a wire rack and allow to cool. Mix up the royal icing according to the packed instructions. Spoon into a piping bag and decorate the biscuits once cool.

7. Be patient and leave the icing to set. Don't be like me and get all impatient and try to thread the ribbon through before the icing has set as it will smudge (of course). Once set, wait another ten minutes or so (just to be sure) and carefully thread pretty ribbon through the holes. You may need a cocktail stick to re-pierce the holes slightly. Whilst doing this be sure to 'accidentally-on-purpose' break a couple so that you have to eat them. Marvel at how they actually taste rather good!

8. Hang on the tree and admire. Invite everyone to ooh and ahh at your artistic talent!

I'm entering my edible tree decorations into the December edition of 'No Croutons Required', a monthly event hosted by the lovely Holler of Tinned Tomatoes. She is inviting people to submit a Christmassy picture - I hope that these will evoke the festive spirit for her!


Jules said...

Your not fussy about Christmas trees at all, I exactly the same. I also use this Nigella recipe to make christmas tree biscuits. I love making them and it has become a bit of a tradition in our house.

Anonymous said...

Like you and Jules, I'm exactly the same about the tree :)

I've made these biscuits too but they didn't look as good as yours. I hope you managed to eat some too :)

Beth said...

Hubby made me buy a fake one this year!!!! Im going to buy a real one and put it outside though!!! Love the biscuits - will have a go at these with Lowen

Cassie said...

What a great idea to decorate the Christmas tree with biscuits.

Grace said...

see, now i could never do this because i'd take a bite out of each and every one as they went up. they'd never make it to the tree. :)

nicisme said...

They are all gorgeous!

Sam said...

I'm with you, real trees all the way!

Indigo said...

I LOVE edible tree decorations; they remind me so strongly of being a little kid, even though I can't actually remember a specific time we made these when I was little. Not sure that makes sense, haha...

Margaret said...

I'm with you - I too must have a real Christmas tree.
The biscuits are beautifully iced and I see with a very steady hand too!!

Antonia said...

Jules - I think it will be a tradition for me too from now on.

Ginger - oh yes, don't worry, I kept a few back for eating. I'm sure yours looked just as good!

Beth - that is a great idea, I am sure Lowen will enjoy helping with these!

Grace - it was rather tempting. I deliberatly over-cooked them a touch so that they would be hard and strong enough to hang. Secretly though, it was so that I wouldn't be as tempted to eat them!!

Nic - thank you.

Sam - hooray - another 'real tree' person. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Indigo - they remind me of my childhood too though we never made these. So I know exactly what you mean.

Margaret - thank you. I'm not usually very good at keeping the hand steady for piping so I was quite pleased how these turned out.

Elra said...

Those gorgeous christmas cookies, Antonia!

Reeni said...

They look beautiful!

Katie said...

Your cookies look fab. I love the snowlakes in particular. I know what you mean about the aroma filling the flat - its wonderful.

Lucy said...

Real Christmas trees all the way! Otherwise there is no Christmassy smell! Yummy looking cookies too - I think I would probably eat them all before they have been on the tree very long... :D x

Loving Annie said...

How pretty that is !

And I agree with you that nothing smells as delicious as a real tree :)
except for a cookie :)

Julia said...

They look lovely Antonia :-)

Antonia said...

Thanks Elra and Reeni!

Katie - the snowflakes are my favourites too! I slightly wish I'd done only snowflakes.

Lucy - I did save a few for eating, of course!

Annie - cookies and Christmas trees - both heavenly smells indeed.

Julia - thanks!

Maria said...

Love these Christmas biscuits, they look very festive!


Bellini Valli said...

I watched Nigella bake these ornaments on the Food Network. My daughter and I still decorated sugar cookies this year even though she is now 21. I would have loved to attend the Christmas market in Bath or the market Nigella went to for her Christmas special one year. There are still 2 more delivery days before Christmas so the cookbook may still be under my tree so don't worry.Have a wonderful Christmas Antonia!!!And as far as the tree goes most trees come from a Christmas tree farm where they don't actually kill the tree, they cultivate it in a certain way so that another one will grow on the same trunk. Therefore the environment is getting the benefit of the tree cleaning the air and our gardens get the wood chips at the end of the season.

Katy said...

I'd run out of honey so I used half and half golden syrup and treacle - it worked really well and added some nice depth compared to the first batch (with honey). I haven't made gingerbread with pepper before, but wow! :) Don't skimp!

Lisa (aka Loopygirl) said...

Thanks for sharing your recipe, I made some - they tasted & smelt delicious. Some have made it to the Christmas tree & they give the house a wonderful Christmassy smell.
Happy Christmas!

Mamun said...

What a thoughtful posts. It was enough to get me to browse through your earlier posts. I'm really glad. You've created a great spot to visit and I'll definitely be back. I hope you have a great day.