It has been a quite a while since I last wrote – about 40 years to be exact, but hey, it’s the thought that counts. Except when it comes to presents, and then they should be just what I needed and never knew I wanted… so no pressure for the elves there then. Anything from a decent cookshop would be fine you see, because this year I’ve been doing a bit of baking. Such fun. Except when it goes wrong, tastes awful or gets dropped on the floor -none of which ever happens to me of course.
My local cookshop, Abbott’s, is run by two very nice men who always have a chat and make me a cup of coffee as well as dispensing words of wisdom. Their one failing is that they won’t let me have something I don’t need or won’t make good use of. Could you please have a word in their ears and tell them that when I lie on the floor kicking and screaming because they won’t sell me yet another Bundt tin, that I am not having a tantrum? I’m just entertaining their other customers. In fact I’ve just had a great idea for a TV show, a sort of baking X Factor, without the rigged voting. What do you think?
Anyway, the one thing the nice men at Abbots will let me buy are cookie cutters. Apparently it is ok to have lots and lots of those as Nigella has masses and collects them, so anything she does is ok. Except losing weight of course. Now all the men think she is even more attractive than she was before and they loved her lots then. Except for the Daily Mail which can’t make it’s mind up- so maybe you wouldn’t want to try and deliver anything on their Christmas list since they’ll only make you take it back to Marks and Spencers when the sales are on and it’s an absolute nightmare.
So as I have lots of new cutters I have decided to make you something different from the mince pies I usually leave out for you. Since you are from the frozen North, I think you might like my version of Lebkuchen which I found in a really sweet cookbook called ‘Scandinavian Christmas” by Trine Hahnemann.
There are lots of pretty pictures of food and it is all very Christmassy, plus if you believe Mrs Hahnemann as well as Signe Johanssen, Scandinavians drink a lot of Glögg at this time of year. Which appears to be quite alcoholic. It is a wonder how you don’t fall off the sleigh after a few Glöggs, so please be careful as I don’t want my presents to end up with someone who doesn’t like cooking all that much (like my sister) nor would I want you to be arrested. What would the reindeer do then if you are banned for 12 months?
This recipe is quite easy to make although the dough is so sticky it really does need to be left overnight. Extremely well floured baking paper is essential to roll the lebkuchen out and once cut they need to be lifted and handled carefully, They puff up more than they spread out in the oven and are cooked when slightly brown at the edges. Although I couldn’t wait once and covered them in chocolate the next day, if they are left in the tin for a week, they go softer and become more cake-like when covered with chocolate then. The best thing about them is the huge amount of chocolate needed to cover them as the recipe makes lots of biscuits (depending on the size of your cutters at least 20) so expensive chocolate isn’t necessary, just one you like. I stick them on a wooden kebab stick to cover them in chocolate and drain it off over the bowl. They keep for up to 3 weeks in a tin, so I’m making them now so they’re ready for you when you come with my presents. They should be nice and soft and chewy then, so if you’ve forgotten your dentures, you can suck them like a grown up rusk.
Do leave me lots of nice presents, so much thought has gone into these Santa, that I hope you’ll agree, like Cheryl Cole, I really am worth it.
Lots of love
Danny 45 (but would like to be 38 again if you could fix that too with some very nice wrinkle cream)
Maple Syrup Lebkuchen
500g maple syrup, light kind, number 2 grade (or half and half maple syrup and plain honey to reduce cost)
3 small/medium egg yolks
500g plain flour plus more flour for rolling out
100g rye flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground mixed spice or allspice
400-600g finely chopped chocolate. Dark is usual but doesn’t need to be high cocoa solids, 50% is fine
Oven temperature 170 degrees C. You may need to bake in batches.
- Melt the syrup and honey if using until liquid (no need to do this if using all maple syrup)
- Add the egg yolks and buttermilk to the syrup/honey and mix.
- Sift the flours, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda plus spices into a bowl. Empty the rye pieces left in the sieve back into the bowl.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold in gently. The mixture will be very sticky and sloppy. If it is too sloppy to handle you can add a little more flour.
- Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge overnight.
- Sprinkle the dough with flour and cut the dough roughly into half. Roll the dough out between two floured sheets of baking parchment to 1cm thick. Peel off the top layer of parchment, cut and carefully remove cookies onto a baking tray lined with parchment.
- Repeat with other piece of dough. Spare dough can be re-rolled.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes depending on size (you will need to check after 12 minutes)
- Remove biscuits from tray and cool on a wire rack before string in a tin for up to 1 week.
- Cover with melted chocolate (temper the chocolate if you wish to make them shiner and glossier) and place on baking parchment to cool and set.
- Store in an airtight tin for up to 3 weeks.