The Christmas baking started a couple of weeks ago around here. A little early, yes, but I had an excuse: I attended a cookie exchange for my friend Mackenzie's wedding shower. It was a great excuse to make up a big batch of dough for the holiday season. There's still some in the freezer for the coming weeks.
The wedding shower was great. Unfortunately I couldn't eat most of the tasty-looking treats, but since neither the host nor I can eat gluten, her mother brought a few gluten-free chocolatey things from the Old Strathcona Farmers' Market which were delicious.
The cookies I made are my first attempt at converting a favourite Christmas recipe, and they were a huge success. . J and I first made Nigella Lawson's Christmas Decoration Cookies five years ago (!) when we were living in our first apartment together in Charlottetown, the site of the original little red kitchen. We've loved them ever since. I think it's the unexpected spiciness from the black pepper, and the use of brown instead of white sugar. It turns them into a cross between sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies. They adapted perfectly well to my whole-grain gluten-free flour blend, without any xantham gum or guar gum. The dough was easy to work with and the taste was just what I remembered.
The icing is a nice way to dress up these cookies, but I'm not sure it's entirely necessary. I think the spicy flavour comes through better without it.
(We don't usually make these to hang on the tree anymore - we'd rather eat them fresh. But they do look lovely if you want to turn them into decorations.)
J and I are getting pretty excited about Christmas. We're staying here in Edmonton, and it's the first year that neither of our families will be coming to visit us. A different, quieter Christmas, but I think it's a good thing. From here on out Christmas will probably be crazy, since there will be an added element.
Yes, this is our last Christmas just the two of us. By next year we'll have a seven-month old for everyone to spoil and enjoy. We're expecting our first baby on May 25. Needless to say, we're pretty pumped about it!
And that's the main reason the blog has been so quiet over the past few months. I haven't been feeling so great - lots of nausea and fatigue. It's been an adjustment, and blogging is not a big priority. But having rounded the three-month mark a few weeks ago, I'm hoping that more energy lies ahead. We'll see how it goes.
Enjoy these cookies and the start of your holiday season! These days I'm really enjoying candlelight in the evenings and looking at the sparkly coloured lights on the legislature grounds outside our window. Here's to lighting up the Edmonton darkness however you can.
Gluten-free Pepper-Spiced Christmas Roll-out Cookies
adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Christmas Decoration Cookies
For the cookies:
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) unsalted butter, softened
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) dark brown sugar
10 1/2 ounces (300 grams) Gluten-free All-purpose flour mix, plus extra for dusting (I used this one)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 to 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (I like it with 2 teaspoons)
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons clear honey
For the icing and trimmings:
2 ½ cups icing sugar, sifted
6 tablespoons water
Gold or silver sugar balls or sprinkles
Ribbon or wire, for hanging
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (170 degrees C).
Place the butter and sugar in a clean bowl and beat with an electric mixer until the color and texture of the mixture becomes pale. Place the mixture into the bowl of a food processor* and add the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and freshly ground black pepper. Blend the mixture. While the food processor is blending, gradually pour the eggs and honey down the funnel of the food processor's lid into the bowl until a dough has formed (you may not require all of the liquid if the dough has come together before it is used up). If the dough is too dry add a little water to the mixture. If the dough is too wet add a little flour.
*If you don’t have a food processor – blend the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then add the butter and sugar mixture and beat with the electric mixer until it is a sandy texture. Then gradually add the egg and honey while the beaters are still on until the dough comes together. Stop and test after you’ve added about two-thirds of the liquid to see if you can squeeze the dough together into a ball. If not, continue to add liquid until you can.
Halve the dough. Wrap one half of the dough in plastic wrap, place it in a freezer bag, and refrigerate. Place the other half of the dough onto a floured work surface. Roll the dough, with a rolling pin, into a disk to about 1/4-inch thick. Using cookies cutters, cut decoration shapes out of the dough. Re-roll the remaining dough and cut out more shapes until the dough is used up. Remove the second half of the dough from the fridge and repeat this process.
If you want to hang your cookies on the Christmas tree: with the pointed end of a small icing nozzle, puncture a hole just below the top of each decoration (through which ribbon or wire can later be threaded to hang them).
Arrange the decorations on baking sheets lined with a layer of reusable silicon baking parchment and cook for 15-20 minutes or until they are cooked through and golden-brown in color. Transfer the decorations to a wire rack to cool.
To make the icing, mix approximately six tablespoons of boiling water with the sifted icing sugar and stir until you’ve got a thin, glossy glaze. Ice the cold decorations using a teaspoon (use the tip of the spoon for dripping the icing onto the decoration and the back of the teaspoon for smoothing). Scatter sprinkles or gold and silver balls as you desire. Cut the ribbon into short lengths and thread the ribbon through the holes in the decorations.