The Christmas Chronicles, Part II – ginger cookies, homemade gifts and new tuck tins.

Whilst my daughter skated with her netball teammates at the ice rink recently I did a rare bit of shopping in the food hall nearby and picked out a replacement tuck tin for all those homemade cakes and biscuits I might have time to rustle up over Christmas when friends pop in. Flapjacks are a favourite at this time of year – apple flapjacks usually make an outing for bonfire night and regularly until the end of December. But stem ginger, cloves, star anise and cinnamon find their way into most recipes around Christmas.

I’ve blogged before about stem ginger shortbread. Today I might whip up some ginger cookies, the very ones which proved such a boon many moons ago when I had a touch of morning sickness in the early stages of pregnancy and whereas I’ve never been able to face camomile tea since those heady days, I love these beauts. Now I have an enthusiastic baker daughter vanilla fudge, gingerbread and mince pies are also on the cards. The fudge is likely to make their way into some pretty bags as a homemade gift for her friends who have birthdays this week. My own friends know that at this time of year I usually turn up clutching something edible.

The best stem ginger cookie recipe is this one from The Great British Book of Baking. Turn up with these over Christmas and you’re guaranteed a warm welcome

350g self-raising flour

1 tbsp ground ginger

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

200g caster sugar

115g unsalted butter

85g golden syrup

1 medium egg, beaten

35g stem ginger, drained and finely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 170c/350f/gas 3

2. Melt the butter and syrup over a low heat. St aside to cool.

3.Sift the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda and caster sugar into a large mixing bowl. Once your butter and syrup mixture is barely warm, pour this into the flour mixture and add the beaten egg and stem ginger. Mix with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.

4. Roll the mixture into 24 walnut-sized balls using your hands. Arrange them on three baking trays lined with baking parchment. If you only have one baking tray (like me) you can arrange them on baking parchment and swap it out once your previous batch is done.

5. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown (they shouldn’t be too pale). If your cookies brown unevenly, you could turn the tray halfway through.

6.  Leave the cookies to cool on the trays for a couple of minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store these in an airtight container. If your cookies turn crunchy because you’ve left them out too long, you can add a slice of fresh bread to the airtight container to soften them.

Stir up Sunday

Here on the plot we’re hurtling towards another milestone on the journey towards Christmas readiness – *Stir Up Sunday* which will give us plenty to take our mind off the howling winds,rising flood waters in the middle of town and the fact that we are rapidly developing trenchfoot.

Time was that this was a community event with family members each taking a turn at stirring the mix from East to West before trooping down to the village hall with their carefully marked pud and placing it with all the others in the communal steamer. Time for a knit and natter, catching up on the local news before taking your pud home, rewrapping it and stowing it safely away in the pantry for the day itself.

We are likely to be mixing our pud post rugby mudfest in the privacy of our own kitchen on Sunday afternoon. Unlike the cake the pud is an old favourite inherited from my Great grandmother and includes the addition of a couple of grated carrots. Secreting a vegetable or two into sweet treats obviously runs in the family.

Granny Scourfield’s Christmas Pudding

Ingredients

  • 300g fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ whole nutmeg, very finely grated
  • 350g raisins
  • 100g mixed peel (we’re not keen on mixed peel so substitute a mix of peel, dried cranberries and dried apricots finely chopped)
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 250g suet
  • 225g demerara sugar
  • 225g sultanas
  • 225g currants
  • 2 carrots, peeled and very finely grated
  • 2 cooking apples, peeled and very finely grated
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 small glass of brandy
  • 2 tbsp black treacle
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten

Method

Put the breadcrumbs in a very large mixing bowl. Sieve in the flour together with the mixed spice, cinnamon and nutmeg. Then add the remaining dry ingredients including the dried fruit..Add the  grated carrots and apples.

Combine all the wet ingredients in a jug. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix together, from east to west, with a big wooden spoon. At this point you can add lucky charms to the mix for lucky people to find on Christmas Day. My granny used threepenny bits. The whole family should take it in turns to give it a stir, closing their eyes and making a wish.

Cover the bowl with a clean, damp teacloth and leave overnight.

Butter 2 x 1.2-litre pudding basins and spoon the mix into them. Place a disc of baking paper on top of the puddings, then seal with a big sheet of baking paper with a central pleat, to allow expansion. Cover with muslin cloth and tie with string. Steam for 6 hours in steamers, You can use a pan of simmering water if you don’t have a steamer. It needs to reach  2/3rds up the sides of the basins. Be sure to keep the water topped up.

Remove and allow  to cool.

When cool, re-cover the basins and store in a cool, dry place. On Christmas day steam for another 1-2 hours. Turn the pudding onto a plate, then pour 75ml of brandy into a ladle and carefully warm over a low heat for 1 minute or so. Light the brandy using a long match and tip over the pudding just before serving.

picture courtesy of Local Morsels

Cally’s Homemade Christmas

 Readers I have sinned. I watched Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas last night. There. I’ve got it off my chest. Yes I know it’s a load of media hyped tosh. Yes I have calculated her probable carbon footprint as she jaunts from one end of the country to another in search of a ‘bargain ‘or help from an ‘artisan’ in her dashing red landrover. And yes, I am aware that  it’s all too good to be true. Most working mothers with smaller bank balances and less time on their hands can’t model themselves on good old Kirstie in her tartan nightie. This is feel good TV, where the media elves make it all look so ‘like anyone can do this, right? Absolutely.’ It’s a bit like listening to Wham and Chris Rea when you’re stuck in a festive traffic jam but it makes you excited about going to buy that hot water bottle for your granny nevertheless.

I find it hard to believe that there are any children who haven’t made salt dough decorations…….or is my children’s school stuck in a time warp? And what mother hasn’t experienced the joy of still  hoovering up glitter in August after an afternoon of Christmas card making? But lets accept  that watching is a harmless way to spend an hour.  It might even inspire someone to turn their back on the commercialism and spend a bit of time  with their children, their friends or their neighbours doing something homemade and inexpensive. I would have liked to see Kirstie and her friends make a pig’s ear of biscuit making  using the cheapest possible, locally sourced ingrediants whilst their children had a paddy in the corner…….but that’s evil of me and doesn’t make for escapist festive TV.

On the positive side here on the Plot we are ahead of the game in some areas. We have dabbled with a bit of chutney making for presents, made the cake and planted up pots of scented narcissi bulbs. But there are only so many hours in the day and so I have saved up my hard earned pennies and splashed out on  a door wreath from an ‘artisan’ acquaintance of mine’ Snapdragon Jane. I’ll post up a pic when it arrives. And whilst my friend Cath and I merrily chop veg for the soup at the school Christmas fair next week, we might find a bit of time to slice up some oranges, dunk them in lemon juice to keep their colour and dry them in her ancient aga to enhance our gift  wrapping experience. Great with a bit of  string, brown paper and cinammon sticks. But no, I won’t be blowing my own baubles this year or scouring antique shops for necklaces to take to pieces in search of that perfect table decoration. Though I might make it home from watching Sarah’s appearance as a fiesty cockeral in the school nativity play tonight  to watch  plucky Kirstie go that extra mile (literally) in search of a homemade Christmas.

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