The Holy Trinity of Christmas biscuits: cookies, florentines, and biscotti - the family favourites I
I’m a big fan of Christmas, not least for the opportunity it affords me to bake for no other reason than it being a perfect time for baking, and while the shops are full of ridiculously tempting sweets and biscuits and chocolates (I’m looking at you, M&S ) I get a lot of satisfaction from making my own, and giving them as gifts, or reducing my junk food guilt by eating home-made junk. I confess, though, I do use supermarket own-brand, cheapo chocolate for these, because the fruit and nuts are already quite expensive, and the value chocolate tastes perfectly good. It's a mistake to think it's any worse than branded stuff.
Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti
My mum places an order for biscotti every Christmas, and this is her favourite. Biscotti means twice baked (bis meaning twice in Latin, and cotti, meaning cooked in Italian),
because this is how these are baked. You make a simple dough, form it into a loaf, bake that, slice it, then bake the slices. It has the advantage of being free of butter too. I haven’t attempted to make this gluten-free as I can live without them, and try to limit sugar intake to things I can't resist. But my mama can’t dispense with them at this time of year so they are always a feature of our Christmas. Best dipped in coffee, and delicious, if I recall from my gluten-eating days. And you can substitute almonds or hazelnuts if you prefer. If you make them you'll wonder why you'd consider paying £1.20 for single slice in a high street café...
175g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
150g caster sugar
zest of 1 orange, finely grated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
50-100g shelled, unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped
50-100g dried cranberries
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and prepare a large baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper or a silicon baking sheet.
2. Beat the eggs with the sugar until slightly frothy, and then add the zest and vanilla extract.
3. In a separate bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder and the nutmeg.
4. Fold the four mixture into the egg mixture, and add the fruit and nuts, and mix. You will end up with a sticky dough.
5. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and using floured hands form into two flattened loaves, each about 20cm long.
6. Transfer them to the baking sheet leaving space for them to expand, and bake for about 20 minutes. When they are firm and golden but still light-coloured remove them from the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes.
7. Then, on a chopping board and using a serrated knife, cut the loaves into slices about 2cm thick. Hold the loaf and cut slowly and carefully to avoid them crumbling at the edges and breaking, especially if they've been in a bit long.
8. Arrange the slices back on the baking sheet and bake for another 10 minutes. Then turn them over and bake for a further 5 minutes, depending on how crunchy and golden you like them. Bear in mind they continue to harden once removed from the oven.
They will keep well for a week or two in a biscuit tin. Makes 25-30.
This is my favourite, and I am delighted to announce that they are exactly the same gluten-free, which is a discovery that brought me great joy this week. The flour is only used for making a sauce similar to a roux, so no gluten required. In fact I think the GF flour works better, perhaps because it's more starchy so the sauce thickens better.
These are utterly delicious, the ultimate taste of Christmas for me. Chewy, nutty, fruity, chocolatey -heaven. I find myself eating them too fast so I can get as many in as possible before I relise what I'm doing, or my will power - ever-slow to act - kicks in. I don’t recommend that particular tactic. Better to savour one or two. Maybe three, but only because it's Christmas.
Even if it seems like a faff I recommend making these because theyre actually pretty easy – she says, having messed up a lot of batches over the years. But I'm going to explain it so you can avoid make the mistakes I did repeatedly, and so it will be a cinch. I used Nigella's recipe, but have adjusted it a little because it didn't quite work for me as it was. People always coo over them, and I can’t lie, I’m a sucker for the enthusiasm of others for foods I find delicious. Interestingly Flora is not a fan of these. But she is a fan of the next one…
25g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
100g flaked almonds
100g chopped candied peel
50g glace cherries, roughly chopped
150ml double cream
100g each dark and what chocolate
1 heaped tablespoon of plain flour, or GF flour.
1. Preheat the oven to 190C and prepare two large baking sheets lined with greaseproof paper or silicon baking sheets.
2. In a saucepan melt the butter and the sugar on a low heat, but make sure it doesn't burn, so stay near and stir gently when the butter become liquid. Try not to let the sugar sit in the pan unmoved. Then add the flour and mix into a dry paste.
3. Now whisk in the cream quickly, and keeping the heat low and stirring regularly allow it to thicken slightly, like a white sauce.
4. When the batter is smooth and thickened, remove the pan from the heat and add the fruit and nuts. Stir them in.
5. Now place teaspoons of the batter onto the baking sheets, allowing plenty of room for them to expand, and then bake for 10-15 minutes, one sheet at a time, and staying close to the oven.
5. When they start to look brown and caramelised around the edges, and the middles look just cooked, remove them from the oven and leave to harden on the baking sheet for a few minutes. Then transfer to a wire rack using a slice or serving knife. If they've overlapped you can use a metal spatula to gently separate them.
6. Once they have cooled completely, you can add the chocolate. Melt it in a double boiler, being very careful with the white chocolate as it needs to be done slowly. You can actually just place a dish over a pan of water from the freshly boiled kettle and leave it for five minutes, and then stir. If it's not quite enough just put the heat on very low and leave another two minutes.
7. Using a pastry brush (silicon is much easier - no stray hairs in the chocolate) paint the underside of each florentine, and leave to dry. You can also use a knife and spread it on, or dip if you like, but it's harder to dry them this way. The chocolate is not the main event here, so you can just lightly brush it on, or more thickly if you feel that way inclined. I find this makes more mess and takes ages to dry so I just coat them lightly. You can put them in the fridge for a while to set if you're in a rush.
Makes about 20-40 depending on the size,
White chocolate, macadamia and cranberry cookies
Dad, hubby and toddler’s favourite. And they are fantastic. They can also be made gluten free while retaining their deliciousness, and you can be as mean or generous as you like with the chocolate and fruit and nuts. They’re very aromatic but not too Christmas-spicey. And who doesn’t love a cookie, at any time of year? Macadamia nuts are wonderfully buttery and crunchy at the same time, but you can also use hazelnuts if you prefer.
As with all of these biscuits I don’t make them at any other time of year, and I’m not sure why, but I guess it’s because there’s always something seasonally appropriate to be making. Christmas calls for cinnamon, orange, dried fruit and nuts. So take your pick! The whole family will thank you!
300g white chocolate, chopped
200g unsalted butter
100g light muscovado sugar or light brown soft sugar
100g golden caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
350g plain flour, or GF flour if preferred
2 tsp baking powder, GF if preferred
1 tsp cinnamon
100g dried cranberry
100g macadamia nuts, chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 180C, and
2. Melt 150g of the chocolate in a double boiler very slowly indeed, as white chocolate is temperamental.
3. Beat the sugars, butter and eggs with the vanilla extract. Easiest to do this in a tabletop mixer if possible. Then add the white chocolate when it has cooled slightly.
4. Add the flour, baking powder and cinnamon, and when you have a nice thick batter add the fruit and nuts, and the rest of the chopped chocolate.
5. Measure teaspoons out onto the baking sheets and be sure to leave space between them to they expand.
6. Bake them one sheet at time for 12-15 minutes, depensinf on how chewy you want them. Once they start to turn golden and look firm they are cooked enough, and they will firm up once removed from the oven.
7. Transfer them to wire rack and allow them to cool as long as you can manage before distributing them.
Makes about 40.
You can also freeze the uncooked cookie dough by freezing the spoonfuls on a baking tray until hardened, and then storing the frozen balls in a plastic container, ready to bake. Just bake them for about 20 minutes at the same temperature.