Jo Haywood and her daughter Mia take the biscuit when it comes to trimming the tree
If you prefer your Christmas crackers with a slice of Wensleydale and would rather eat fairy cakes than string fairy lights, then these could be the perfect festive decorations for your tree.
Mia, my nine-year-old sous chef, and I tested out a few recipes to see just how child-friendly they were. Some were too time-consuming (most children have the attention span of a forgetful goldfish), a couple were too tricky and others just plain didn’t work (we won’t mention the mixture we had to chisel off the work surface and manhandle into the bin).
But we did find a couple of corkers by best-selling children’s nutritionist Annabel Karmel and Lesley Wild, director of Bettys Cookery School in Harrogate.
Both were relatively straightforward – although we did have to call in the services of a hefty man with a hammer when it came to crushing our boiled sweets for the stained glass window cookies – and both resulted in tasty biscuits that were also sturdy enough to withstand an hour or two dangling from the branches of a Christmas tree. Or a minute or two if your family is anything like ours (ie gannets).
“It was fun making them and a tasty treat to eat,” said Mia, who recommended the recipes for children seven and over. “I liked the gingerbread Christmas tree best because it actually came out the right shape and looked really brilliant.”
At the end of our flour-festooned day, we were left with around 30 edible tree treats that, while not the most delicate decorations ever made, were a source of some pride to our cack-handed but enthusiastic kitchen crew.
Annabel Karmel’s stained glass window cookies
You will need:
350g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
175g soft brown sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup
Different coloured boiled fruit sweets
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Mix the flour, bicarb, ginger and salt in a bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar.
2. Beat together the egg and the golden syrup and tip the gloopy result into the flour mixture. Mix it until it becomes a smooth dough, kneading lightly with your hands.
3. Crush the sweets in their wrappers with a rolling pin (or, in our case, a hammer). Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface until it’s about ½ cm thick, then cut out fairly large festive shapes using cookie cutters (we got ours from Sainsburys) and transfer them – carefully – to lined baking sheets.
4. Cut out smaller shapes from the centre of each biscuit and completely fill the hole with crushed boiled sweets. Also remember to make a hole at the top of each biscuit using a drinking straw (we opted for a wooden skewer instead) for ribbon-threading later. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden.
5. Don’t remove the biscuits from the tray until completely cooled as the boiled sweets need to harden. But once they have, simply thread a bit of festive ribbon through the holes and pop them on the tree (or into your mouth, whichever is nearest).
Lebkuchen tree hangings by Lesley Wild
70g golden syrup
1 dessertspoon black treacle
70g soft light brown sugar
a pinch each of cinnamon, mixed spice, ground ginger and freshly grated nutmeg
1 tbsp water
a pinch each of baking powder and bicarb
100g butter, cubed
225g plain flour
(we also added a sprinkling of satsuma zest for an extra taste of Christmas)
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/ gas 4 and line a roomy baking tray. Stir the golden syrup, treacle, sugar, spices and water in a heavy-based pan over a low heat. Gradually bring to a boil, remove from the heat and let it cool slightly.
2. Dissolve the baking powder and bicarb in the mixture. Add the butter and whisk until completely melted.
3. Put the flower in a large mixing bowl and add the pan mixture, combining until it forms a smooth, soft paste (don’t overwork it – it’ll firm up as it cools).
4. When it’s completely cold, roll it out on a lightly floured work surface until about ½ cm thick and cut out various festive shapes (poking a hole in the top of each biscuit with a straw for stringing later).
5. Transfer to the tray and bake for about 20 minutes until firm and a little browned. Leave to cool on a wire rack then decorate in whatever way you see fit (water icing is good as it gives them a nice wintry sheen).