Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Gingerbread Cookies

For the past few years I have been making Christmas Gingerbread Cookies. That's not to say that I don't make gingerbread cookies all year round, but this way they look extra special when decorated for Christmas. The cookies make a great gift for family and friends. This year I made them for my Christmas Dress-Up Party and work colleagues, and they went down a treat. The following recipe makes about 35-37 cookies.

Ingredients for Gingerbread Cookies 
125g unsalted butter
100g brown sugar (firmly packed)
125ml golden Syrup
1 egg yolk
375g plain flour (and a little extra for dusting)
2tbs ground ginger
3tsp mixed spice
1tsp bi-carb soda

With an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the golden syrup and egg yolk and beat until combined. Sift flour, spices and bi-carb soda and add to the mixture. Once combined, taste the mixture as this is the best time to tell whether you need to add more spice. When you're happy, turn the mixture on to a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth. If the mixture is a little too wet, slowly knead in some flour. Break the dough into two parts and flatten them to the shape of round discs, then cover with cling wrap and refrigerated for 30mins-1hour.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to approximately 1cm thick (you may need to knead the dough first to make it workable). Using your desired cookie cutters, cut out the shapes and place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper. I have a set of Christmas cookie cutters which are fantastic and use the shapes that I think are easily recognisable once decorated. Bake the cookies for 10mins or until brown at 180'C. Careful not to over bake them, as they can burn quite easily. Let the cookies cool on a wire rack.

Before placing the fondant on the cookies, I use a thin spread of my Dark Chocolate Ganache on top of each cookie. This helps the fondant stick to the cookie. Alternatively you could use jam with a little boiling water to create a syrup (although make sure you strain the liquid as it needs to be smooth).

Fondant Icing 
You can buy fondant from any cake decorating store. I buy it in white and then add the desired gel colour (also found at decorating stores). Some colours are best to buy pre-mixed, as you cannot physically reach the colour depth with gel colour. I strongly recommend buying red fondant pre-mixed and coincidentally my red is called Christmas Red. Please note that when you are not using the fondant, it should be covered in plastic (cling wrap or freezer bags) as it will dry out quickly. For each different cookie's decoration you will need approximately a handful of fondant in order to cover about 6 cookies.

These are very simple as you can use white fondant and do not need to colour it. Roll out the fondant to  desired thickness (I aim for 2-3mm) on a flat surface sprinkled with corn flour - this will stop the fondant from sticking. Cut out the shape with an angel cutter and place it on top of the cookie. Use you fingers to perfectly mould the fondant on to the cookie.

The snowmen are exactly like the angels (follow instructions above). For the cute little hat, knead equal parts of red pre-mixed fondant with white. This is necessary as the pre-mix will be quite sticky and hard to work with on its own. Make a large amount of red as it will also be used for the candy canes and red poinsettias. Once rolled out, I use the top of the snowman cutter for the shape and then use a knife to trim the hat. For the eyes and mouth, use a skewer or something similar to poke holes in the fondant.

Christmas Trees
Your white fondant will need to be coloured for these cookies. Use your thumb to create a well in the centre of a ball of white fondant and place a few drops of dark green gel colour (I use Forest Green). Knead the fondant until the colour is blended. Once the colour is even (and the right shade), roll the fondant out to desired thickness (I aim for 2-3mm) on a flat surface sprinkled with corn flour. Cut out the tree shapes and use your hands to mould the fondant to fit the cookie.

Red Poinsettias
As done for the snowman hats, knead equal parts of red pre-mixed fondant with white. This is necessary as the pre-mix will be quite sticky and hard to work with on its own. Make a large amount as the red will also be used for the candy canes. Roll out and cut the fondant, and place the shape on the cookie.

Candy Canes
These are done exactly the same as the poinsettias. Roll out and cut the red fondant, and place the shape on the cookie. You can also make white and red candy canes, and use strips of the alternate colour to wrap around the cookie.

Now it is an absolute requirement that you try one (or two, or three) of your fabulous gingerbread before sharing them around! These gingerbread cookies are a great gift for those special to you in the festive season. All the effort and love you have put into gifts such as these make them even more special to the receiver. I use clear cellophane to wrap the cookies and tie a nice red ribbon for decoration.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dark Chocolate Ganache

Ganache...I am a silky irresistibly rich icing or filling that usually comes in dark or white chocolate. I am used by chefs, cooks and bakers all over the globe. Sometimes I have a starring role in a delectable treat, but more often than not I accompany other flavours that make you go back for that naughty second helping.

Before placing fondant decorations on my cupcakes (see Vanilla Cupcakes), I always use a good helping of my Dark Chocolate Ganache. Ganache not only helps you mould the perfect foundation for fondant, but it also tastes absolutely fabulous. For 12 cupcakes I make the following batch of ganache, which will leave you enough guessed it, lick the bowl!

Ingredients for Dark Chocolate Ganache
1/2 cup Pure Cream
250g (1cup) Dark Chocolate
Mostly I use dark cooking chocolate found in the baking goods aisle (the 'melt' buds come in circles the size of a 20c piece). It's reasonably priced and the result tastes great, but for something a little more special you can use dark chocolate with a high coco ratio.

Place the cream in a small saucepan and slowly bring to the boil. When little bubbles start to form, take it off the heat and add the chocolate. Stir the mixture until smooth, then pour into a bowl or container to set. Once set, the perfect consistency for icing cupcakes is like smooth peanut butter. 

Ganache is best left to set overnight and I usually leave it out on the kitchen bench covered in clingwrap. If you don't have much time, you can place it in the fridge to speed up the setting process. However the ganache will need to come back to room temperature before you use it, otherwise it will start to sweat while you're icing.

Ganache can used for so many other wonderful purposes when in the kitchen, some of which don't require it to be set. If served warm, it is fantastic dribbled over a baking treat. When not using fondant icing, I sometimes carefully pour the ganache (slightly warm) over cupcakes while they are still in their paper cases. As the ganache is still runny, it perfectly covers the cupcakes and sets beautifully. There will be many recipes to come where I will refer back to this moreish baking accompaniment.