Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas baking

The kiddies and I did the token Christmas baking activity today. You know, the trendy one where you cut out different shaped stars, bung them together, decorate them, and they look like a gorgeous wee Christmas tree all stacked up. 'Twas interesting. Taste-wise, it was a definite success, so I'll include both the regular and gluten-free recipes we used. In terms of management and resulting clean-up, however... lets just say the Spray'n'Wipe and elbow grease was given a work out today. That glace icing can STICK!

Before I totally put you off the activity, I must praise its virtues. It has the potential (with ONE child, preferably 3 and up ;-)) to be awesome for teaching geometric and measurement knowledge. We found ourselves using language like 'small', 'smaller', and 'smallest', 'large', 'middle-sized' etc, and had lots of fun ordering the stars in size order. Basic stuff, but a hugely important learning step. Estimating the size of spaces then fitting the shapes in around each other while cutting them out was also a skill we practiced (far from mastering this one!) and of course the standard baking skills of measuring, pouring liquids and powders, mixing etc that are the normal learning experiences for an activity like this. Good fun. Just don't turn your back for a SECOND when you give a two year old a bowl of icing and jar of sprinkles **twitch-twitch**

The recipe below arrived in my email inbox last week, courtesy of my food heroine, Sophie Gray, of whom I have spoken in rapturous terms of at length in the past. Shan't repeat any of my adoring rhetoric here, except to say that if you haven't read any of her cookbooks, do. And if you can't afford to buy them, beg, borrow or steal them. Or just watch my blog and I'll probably eventually post all of my faves to save you the bother - I'm sure she won't mind :D

Lemony Star Tree Christmas Cookies

¾ cup sugar
125 g butter
1 egg
½ cup sour cream
2 tbsp lemon juice
Zest of a lemon
1 tsp baking powder
4–5 cups flour
Castor sugar for sprinkling
Silver balls to decorate

Cream the butter and sugar, add the egg and sour cream then stir in the lemon juice and zest.

Stir in the flour and baking powder and knead the mixture adding more flour if required to make a firm, roll-able dough.
Chill the dough for half an hour then roll out and cut into stars using a variety of star cutters if you have them, or the use the link above to download the star template. Cut plenty of extra stars in the smallest size as you will place these between the cookie star layers to give the tree some height.

Bake at 180°C for 10–12 minutes. Smaller stars will cook more quickly.

While the cookies are baking, make a bowl of glace icing – how much will depend on how many stars you use. I used about 1½ cups of icing sugar and enough lemon juice with a drop or two of water to give a good spreadable coating and a nice lemony zing.

Spread each star with the prepared icing and then quickly sprinkle on a few silver balls before the icing hardens.
Cake decorating shops sell silver balls in a variety of sizes. I used tiny ones, like stardust, as well as regular ones. Or use other pretty decorations, edible glitter or sweeties.

When the icing is beginning to firm, use a bread and butter knife to scrape the edges of each star, removing the drips and over-runs. The overall effect of the trees is better if the edges are clean and crisp.

To assemble the trees select the largest size stars to form the bases of the 3 trees. Place a blob of icing in the middle of each one and put one of the smallest stars on the blob as a spacer. Add another blob of icing and affix the next biggest star, then another blob of icing and another small star. Continue in this manner until you have used all your stars. You should have 3 iced Christmas trees. You may need to allow the icing to harden a little before adding each layer.
Dust with icing sugar if you like and wrap in cellophane to keep fresh.

Edit of the title my own. I love you dearly Mrs Gray, but if you ever dare to write the plurals 'tree's' or 'sweetie's' again, I shall have to take drastic action.

Here is my standard GF gingerbread man recipe. They are quite sturdy, particularly if you roll them out thick. Very popular around here, and happily eaten even by gluten gluttons. This is high praise.

GF Gingerbread Men

275g GF flour mix (Simple worked well, as would the Destitute Gourmet #1 with a bit of Guar Gum, I expect)
1 1/2t ground ginger
1/2t baking soda
125g butter OR DF spread
125g caster sugar
2T melted golden syrup

Preheat oven to 170deg C.

Sieve dry ingredients. Rub in butter, then stir in sugar and golden syrup. If dough is too dry, add water a sprinkle at a time until it forms a dough.

Roll between two baking paper sheets to a thickness of about 5mm, then cut in shapes and bake for 10 minutes. Don't move from baking sheets until cool, as they are bendy at this stage!

Decorate as desired.

Just a bit of friendly co-operation...

And two little friends walking up the hill on a gorgeous sunny morning - until the Southerly thunder storm hit a few hours later!

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