Gingerbread is like the perfect red lipstick. I am always, always on the hunt for the one. Christmas for me means gingerbread biscuits and here is one that definitely delivers. These townhouse beauties come from the book Brilliant Biscuits, written by Pamela Giles of Adventures in Biscuits. The author has turned a hobby of decorating biscuits into a successful home business and written a book about her craft to boot. She is also a friend. Now, this would be the time to say that Pamela has never asked me to do a review of her book on this blog (or any other for that matter!). I tried out the gingerbread recipe in Brilliant Biscuits, loved it and decided to tell you about it. So there.
This gingerbread recipe is extra special because it actually came to Pamela via a Finnish girl, Riika, from the foodie group we all belong to. I was attracted to it by the ease of the method. You could knock up a huge batch of these with rather minimal effort. The sugar, treacle, spices and butter are melted together in a pan, a yolk is added, then flour and all are combined to make a soft dough. The real clincher for me was the orange extract that Pamela recommends using. I couldn’t stop eating the dough. The orange somehow lifted and rounded off the spices. The baked result was dark in colour, chewy in texture, deeply aromatic with the spices and scented with orange extract. I tell you, I have made three batches of this recipes in three days as the biscuits I made for friends were stolen by wee hands! Incidentally, the wholemeal biscuits in her book is a recipe I have used exclusively for decorated cookies. It has great flavour, lovely golden colour, a good snap, holds it’s shape beautifully and doesn’t get soft as quick as other recipes when loaded with icing. She road tested loads of recipes and finally settled on this one. I am happy to take advantage of her hard work!
I was also keen on trying out my shiny new townhouse cutters with matching stencils. I loved the fact, that with a light smear of icing, I could get a very clean, neat, pretty design. Since I had batch upon batch to make, the stencils made the production easy. I used Pamela’s Royal Icing recipe which worked a treat. If you are interested in purchasing the cutters, then check out this website. You will have to order out of the US. I haven’t managed to find these in the UK, yet.
If you are interested in giving biscuit decorating a go, really look no further than Brilliant Biscuits. The feeling I get when I read this book is of generosity. Pamela has not held back on any of her personal experience with biscuit decorating. Her tips are some of the best parts of the books, the small bits of information that make a huge difference to your experience. Like when you really need to chill the dough, how to come up with designs, how to translate a design you like into something pipe-able, how to achieve the right shade of colour, whether to tone or contrast and so much more. The book is divided into collections or themes, each one differing in technique, which she explains in good, clear detail. By the time you are through, you will have mastered the basics as well as the more advanced techniques. The photographs are gorgeous, the book is well written and there is a Kindle edition to boot. Here are some examples of her work, included in her book with instructions on how to do the same, in the comfort of your own home kitchen.
Armed with all this information, your imagination (and budget) will be your only boundary. You are warned, cookie cutter shopping is dangerously addictive and immensely satisfying. There isn’t an occasion that cannot be marked or celebrated with a decorated cookie. It’s a small work of art, is satisfying to make and even more pleasurable to give away. And since this is the season for good will to all those around us, I say a gingerbread cookie is a good way to begin.
Lucian Piparkakut (Saint Lucy's Gingerbread)
90g / 3 1/4 oz golden syrup
40g / 1 1/2 oz treacle
75g / 2 1/2 oz sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp pomerans (dried mandarin powder) or 1/2 tsp orange extract
1 egg yolk
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
275g 9 3/4 oz plain flour
Put the butter, syrup, sugar and spices in a large saucepan and let it melt together on a medium heat. Take off the heat and let the mixture cool down a bit, gently whisking. Beat in the egg yolk. Mix the baking soda in the flour and add to the butter mixture. Beat until it comes together, which is easy and quick enough. Divide into two flat discs, wrap with clingfilm and let it rest, cool and firm up in the fridge. This dough is very soft and needs a decent chilling time, until it’s firm. When rolling, roll to around 4mm thickness, cut the shapes, place them well apart on a baking sheet and place the filled sheet into the fridge. This helps prevent the biscuits from spreading too far in the heat of the oven, thereby maintaining it’s shape. If at any time, the dough softens so much that it’s difficult to work with, simply place it back in the fridge to firm up again. Also, the cut out dough can be placed in the freezer for 10 minutes instead of the fridge.
Bake at 190 deg (375F/ Gas Mark 5 / 180 deg C for fan ovens) for 10 -12 minutes. These huge cookies took around 18-10 minutes in a 180 deg oven. They were done when the edges were ever so slightly darker and the surface of the cookie hinted at firmness. It hardens up a lot during cooling, so don’t get too nervous if it feels quite soft straight out of the oven. Let it cool completely before decorating.
Riika’s Recipe Notes:
If you want your cookies to be very very “snappy”, you can leave out the baking soda. Sometimes this also helps if you want to cut out complicated shapes.
If you can’t find or make pomerans, you can just leave it out. Perhaps then add a bit of cinnamon and ginger, or even subsitute with plain ginger if you like the heat. Or if you have a favorite gingerbread spice mix, you can use 3½tsp of that in place of the spices.
Recipe Source:This recipe is originally from my 7th grade home ec book Keitämme ja leivomme (“We will cook and bake”) by Aura Liimatainen and Tuula Teerikangas.
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