It probably does nothing for my stress levels to give myself lots of extra jobs at this time of year but I love giving presents and my favourite ones to give are edible gifts. While I don't have an especially sweet tooth I love to give sweet treats as Christmas, after all, is a time for indulging. I also find that letting my creative side out through the decorating or presentation of my gifts is a great catalyst for a festive mood; as long as you can balance your baking time against the stress of everything else.
These cookies are essentially a basic shortbread with the addition of some winter spices to give a festive vibe. You can keep the icing plain or add some flavour depending on the liquid you choose. Make sure not to roll the dough out too thinly as it can become quite delicate, especially for your more intricate cutters; many of my Rudolphs ended up missing a leg, Santa was getting very worried about who was going to pull the sleigh!
christmas cookies (adapted from the Ballymaloe Cookery Course)
50g caster sugar
110g cold, cubed butter
175g plain flour
a large pinch of each of the following:
freshly grated nutmeg
Will make about 16 large cookies or more, depending on the size of your cutter.
Sieve the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar and butter. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour and sugar. It will become sandy in consistency and shortly after that you will be able to press it together into a ball (don't worry if it still looks a bit crumbly). Place the dough on a floured surface and, with a floured rolling pin, roll out to 5mm thick. Cut out festive shapes and release them from the work surface by sliding a sharp knife under them. Place them on a non stick baking sheet and bake for 10 mins at 160°C (fan oven) or until they are golden brown in colour. Move to a wire rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.
50g sifted icing sugar
small amount of water/lemon juice/rose water
a few drops of food colouring
Stir the liquid into the icing sugar a teaspoon at a time until you get quite a thick but runny consistency, you won't need much liquid at all. Add a few drops of food colouring if you wish. I iced the cookies above by spooning the icing into a parchment decorating bag that I bought but you can make your own. Make sure you only snip the tiniest amount off the tip so that you can control the flow of the icing. Leave to dry for at least an hour before packaging.