Take the stress out of cooking this Christmas
We’ve all been there: you’re relaxing with a glass of mulled wine when the phone rings. Some unexpected guests are on the way and the cupboards are bare.
Make the cooking chaos a ghost of Christmas past and whip up batches of these make-ahead recipes.
Snowflake jam sandwich biscuits
These delicious biscuits require a bit of effort, but the results are beautiful. Make them in a variety of sizes, filled with different types of jam, such as ginger and red plum.
Makes: 20 sandwiched biscuits
You will need
175g unsalted butter, softened 200g golden caster sugar 2 large eggs 1 tsp vanilla bean paste 425g plain flour, plus extra for rolling out 1 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp fine salt 3 tbsp each ginger jam and red plum jam
1. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until pale. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Tip into the wet ingredients and combine with a spatula to form a soft dough.
2. Divide the dough into two and shape each half into a disc. Wrap inclingfilmand chill for 1 hour or up to 3 days to firm up. Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4. Line two large baking sheets with non-stick baking paper.
3. Dust a work surface generously with flour. Take one disc of dough and cut it in half. Keep all the remaining dough in the fridge. Roll the first quarter out to a thickness of about 1/2cm. Using a plain round, 7 ½ cm (3in) biscuit cutter, stamp out circles, dipping the cutter in flour to stop it sticking. Carefully transfer the biscuits to the baking trays with a palette knife, leaving space between them to allow for a little spreading.
4. Using a 5cm snowflake-shaped biscuit cutter dipped in flour, stamp out snowflakes in the centre of half the rounds. Repeat with the remaining dough to make about 40 biscuits, 20 whole and 20 stamped-out with snowflakes.Bake for 8-10 minutes, until lightly golden.
5. Let cool and firm up on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to wire racks and cool completely.Spoon a scant teaspoon of jam of your choice over the centre of the whole biscuits, spreading it out evenly. Top with the stamped-out tops, pressing down gently so the biscuit doesn’t snap or crumble, and dust with a little sieved icing sugar to finish.
6. The filled biscuits will keep for up to 3 days, kept in a cool place in an airtight container, or may be frozen for up to 3 months.
Spiced Christmas mittens
Try using a tube of writing icing if you find nozzles and piping bags off-putting. The dough is a forgiving one and will keep its shape in the oven as long as it is chilled and rested before rolling and shaping.
You will need
400g plain flour, plus extra for rolling 1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda 2 tsp ground ginger 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon 90g salted butter 120g dark brown soft sugar 1 large egg 150g treacle 1 tsp vanilla bean paste 1 tsp finely grated orange zest 200g royal icing 2 tbsp orange juice
1. Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl. Add the ground ginger, mixed spice and cinnamon and mix well to combine evenly.
2. In a second mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, treacle, vanilla bean paste and orange zest.Gradually add the dry ingredients, whilstmixing with a wooden spoon to form a dough. Divide the mixture in two, flatten each into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and leave in a cool place for a minimum of 2 hours or overnight. If the dough is not rested properly it will be too sticky and won’t hold its shape in the oven. It can be chilled at this stage for up to 4 days.
3. Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4. Line two large baking sheets with non-stick parchment paper. Take one portion of dough, leaving the rest for another day if you like.Lightly flour a work surface and a rolling pin.Roll the dough out to the thickness of a pound coin. Flour the cutter to stop it sticking and stamp out biscuits, as close together as possible. You can also cut biscuit shapes out freehand with a sharp knife.
4. Transfer carefully to the lined trays, leaving 3cm between biscuits toallow for spreading. Bake for 8-10minutes, or until very lightly browned. Set aside to cool and firm up on the trays for 5 minutes then cool completely on wire racks before icing.
5. Repeat with the remaining dough to make 4trayfuls, or keepthe second batch of dough chilled and make another two trays of biscuits up to 4 days later. To decorate the biscuits, put the royal icing sugar in a mixing bowl and stir the orange juice in to make a thick and shiny mixture with no lumps remaining.
6. Transfer toa piping bag fitted with a tiny round piping nozzle. Nozzle numbers (sizes) 1 or 1.5 are ideal (youcan use a plastic food bag with a tiny corner snipped off, but the results won’t be quite as precise). Decorate the top surface of the mitten biscuits by using the icing to ‘draw’ borders and patterns all over them.
Raspberry cheesecake macarons
Don’t worry too much about imperfections; wonky macarons will still taste fabulous. As a guide, 1 large egg white weighs around 28g so you should use 3 in total.
Makes: about 30 shells or 15 finished macarons
You will need
120g icing sugar 80g egg white, plus up to 10g extra, as needed 100g ground almonds 60g caster sugar For the filling: 100g cream cheese 3 tbsp icing sugar 1 lemon, finely grated zest and 1 tsp juice 60g seedless raspberry jam
1. Line two large baking sheets with silicone mats (such as Silpat) or baking parchment. Put the icing sugar and ground almonds in a food processor and blitz until finely ground. Check the mixture now and then – you don’t want it to become oily.
2. Sift twice, discarding any pieces of almond that really won’t fit through the sieve. Whip the 80g egg white with an electric whisk until soft peaks form. Continue to whisk as you add the caster sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. This should take about 2 minutes and the meringue should be thick and glossy. Add enough food colouring to turn the meringue pink and whisk in to combine.
3. Fold in the almond mixture in two batches, using a large metal spoon or a spatula. Now fold in enough of the extra 10g (unwhipped) egg white to loosen the mixture so it slides slowly when the bowl is tilted, like ‘molten lava’. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a plain, 1cm nozzle and pipe rounds of about 3 cm onto the baking sheets. Leave 2cm space between each for spreading. Bang the base of each tray down sharply a couple of times to get rid of air bubbles. Set aside for 1-2 hours until a rubbery ‘crust’ forms on the macarons (test by prodding one gently). The crust encourages the macarons to form a ‘foot’ around the base as they bake.
4. Preheat the oven to 150°C, gas mark 3. Bake the macarons for about 12-16 minutes, swapping the trays halfway, until crisp, but not coloured. Set aside to cool completely.
5. To make the filling, beat the cream cheese, sugar and lemon zest and juice together. Peel the macarons from the mats or paper and pair up in similar sizes. Spread one half thinly with raspberry jam and the other half more generously with the cream cheese mixture. Sandwich together and repeat until all the macarons are filled. They will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days or freeze for up to a month.
Recipes, Alice Hart