I came across the word ‘toothsome’ on dictionary.com, it was word of the day. I like the word (n. pleasing or desirable) as it seems particularly appropriate for food, and I get bored of over-using words like delicious, awesome, amazing.
Well it’s even more appropriate today, as I’m curled up on the sofa, snivelling, swollen-glanded & aching from a wisdom tooth infection. Again. Eating is not as fun as it usually is right now, as I seemed be munching on half of my cheek at lunchtime. All I want is tea, and something… well… toothsome does seem appropriate doesn’t it?
Luckily I still have a stash of some rather nice biscuits, which are soft, chewy, spiced and sweet. They were the first thing I made in the run-up to the party last week, the decoration chosen because I wanted to make something nice for Seb coming over, and the flavour because there is something I have always been yearning for: the perfect gingerbread.
In my mind, gingerbread shouldn’t be a hard biscuit with only a hint of ground ginger, with a crumbly crunch. Gingerbread should be thick and chewy, with an icing on the top which snaps instead, and it should taste of spices and Christmas. I think my cooking has become a little Christmassy recently hasn’t it!
It’s important to me though, as well as trying out new & difficult recipes, to be able to perfect my cooking skills when it comes to texture & taste in more basic cooking. So, following on from my masterclasses in making the perfect choux pastry, yorkshire puddings and flapjacks, you can have my tips for great gingerbread!
Here is the recipe I used as a base, and afterwards I will tell you about my changes to it. (Makes quite a large quantity of biscuits!)
Ingredients: 350g flour / 1.5 tsp baking powder / 0.75 tsp baking soda / pinch of salt / 2 tsp cinnamon / 1 tbsp ground ginger / 90g butter / 175g soft brown sugar / 1 egg / 8tbsp treacle / 2 tsp vanilla extract / 1 tsp lemon zest.
Method: Mix dry ingredients together. Separately, mix butter/sugar/egg/treacle/vanilla & lemon zest. Blend these 2 together and refrigerate for 2 hours.
However, at this point my mixture was still very very loose, and in order to cut out the delicate moose shapes especially, it was impossible. So you need to use your judgement for this – I’m actually not sure whether I miscounted the spoons of the treacle or not! Well… come on, treacle’s all sticky and icky, it’s easy to get distracted! So I decided to add a lot more flour to the mixture, just by gently kneading it in before rolling it out. You might need an extra 1 or 2 cups I think. By this point however, I didn’t want to refrigerate them all over again, but they cooked absolutely fine and didn’t spread too much anyway. Just handle the mixture as little as possible.
Bake at 180 degrees for about 10 minutes – take them out while still a little soft but beginning to brown, as they will firm up on the tray. You can refrigerate the shapes for 10 minutes before cooking if you’re worried about spreading.
Extra tips to help: dip your cutter into flour if it’s quite detailed before cutting every couple of shapes. Heat your tablespoon before you spoon out the treacle (I hold it over a steaming kettle, be careful though!), then it’s much easier to handle. But don’t lose count like I did!
Usually it’s a bakery no-no to add lots of flour to a recipe by using copious amounts to roll it out. However, I quite like the fact that this is a game of how soft you can make your gingerbread, without it sticking to everything (I got gingerbread EVERYWHERE!) by adding flour gradually.
To finish, I used royal icing, which it turns out is dead easy to make, and looks so lovely! And it gives that snap, against the chewiness of the biscuit.
The funny thing is, although Seb loved the gingerbread and was very impressed by its quality, I forgot to get it out for the party! Oh well… I’m appreciating it now.