Every year, on Christmas Eve Eve, we would make biscuits. More accurately, I would get out the ingredients, they would sing along to Christmas songs. Someone would try to eat plain icing sugar. When the mixer was turning, someone would throw a dusting of flour. Someone else would slap obnoxious floury hand prints on black sweaters or tight jeans.
I would hand out rolling pins and balls of spiced dough. Heat the oven. Sort through the traditional cookie cutters. Somehow, through much pinching of raw scraps and criticising of the lopsided sheep, we would turn out trays and trays of chocolate hearts, ginger trees and brandy-sugar kangaroos.
Because of the (dominant) Australian side of the family, Christmas cookies had to have kangaroos, sheep and even a Sydney Opera House. It just wasn’t Christmas without them.
Then there would be hot chocolate, or hot cinnamon cider, but no cookies. Too full. I’d religiously put holes in the tops of the trees and backs of the sheep, strung them with green ribbon, but I have been informed that they never made it as far as the Christmas tree.
This year: well, there is one girl in Australia. One in Antartica. Only two left to throw flour and make gingermen/girls. We made a valiant effort, even experimented with piped icing. They weren’t quite the same without our big oven, without the nosy cats or the whole larder lined with jars of raisins and figs and sesame seeds. But still a little bit of Christmas, nonetheless.
Speculoos (Spiced St Nicholas biscuits)
350g plain flour
1 tbs (tablespoon) baking powder
1 tbs ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground aniseed
1/2 tsp ground ginger
125g dark brown sugar
100g caster sugar
50ml sherry (or orange juice)
Mix flour, baking powder and spices. If you can grind them fresh (in a coffee grinder) you will get an intense spicy flavour.
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add dry ingredients, then sherry to make a soft dough.
Press into two flat discs, clingfilm and refrigerate. Roll out thin (about 2mm) and cut shapes! Make holes at the top with a skewer for hanging on tree.
Bake at 180C for 15 minutes on a paper-lined baking tray. They will be a little more brown – but will crisp up properly when cool. Redo the holes if they have disappeared.
Make icing with lots of (sieved) icing sugar. Add a few drops of egg white at a time to get the right runny consistency. Spoon a little icing into plastic sandwich bag, cut off one corner and use to pipe smiles and squiggles. Sprinkle on extra kitsch decorations, thread a ribbon through and hang. Or don’t kid yourself, eat them straightaway.