Christmas advent calendars and cranberry chocolate pistachio shortbread

It has become apparent to me recently why ‘child friendly Advent calendars’ were invented. It was to assist parent conversations with time conscious, anxious seven year olds. In a Christmas nutshell; it was to avoid the parent in question, doing their nut and rocking in a corner with their thumb tucked safely in their mouth.

Kid 2, in his hyper awareness of the universe and it’s going ons, likes to know exactly what we are doing and when, what time it is, how many days until…..I mean it folks. He wants to know the answer to these questions, more than once a day.

Kid 2, to me, for the zillionth third time: ‘Mum, how many more days until Christmas?’
Me: (Imagine a sweet mummy voice here full of patience and infinite love.) ‘I don’t know darling, go and count the days on the Advent calendar.’

It is because of this calendar that, when faced with a constant barrage of Christmas time questions, I can present a patient, non-yelling like a deranged banshee parental face. This mummy can now rest safely at night, knowing that the authorities will not be knocking on the door anytime soon.

I blathered on about what shortbread means to me last year. In short, Christmas is shortbread and shortbread is Christmas. Up to today, this Cheergerm has baked good old fashioned shortbread, gluten free shortbread and chocolate ginger shortbread. (Hmm, I see a pattern.) Now I present to you a very grown up chocolate, pistachio and cranberry shortbread.

The buttery goodness of this biscuit mixed with tart berries, rich dark chocolate and a nutty crunch, is a festive delight and a wonderful Christmas edible gift. To top it off, this recipe can easily be made gluten free or not. The flour is a straight swap, just make sure you use a good quality gluten free flour blend.

It’s not so bad being a grown up if you get to eat biscuits such as these. Even if you do get asked the time and date more than one very human being ever should be.

CRANBERRY, CHOCOLATE PISTACHIO SHORTBREAD, GLUTEN FREE OR NOT

WHAT YOU NEED
250g unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 3/4 cups of gluten free plain flour or regular plain flour (I use a good quality gluten free flour such as White Wings.)
1/4 cup rice flour
1/2 cup lightly toasted pistachios, finely chopped
1/2 cup dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper and sift the flours together into a bowl.
Cream the butter and add the sugar gradually (I used a mixer), beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Work in the flour gradually until the mixture is just combined.
Add the pistachios, cranberries and chocolate and knead lightly to bring together to a dough. (I do this in the bowl.) Knead a little longer for a regular version.
Divide the dough in half, roll each half out to a 3-4 cm log. Wrap in clingwrap and refrigerate for half an hour to an hour.
Slice the logs into 1-2 cm thickness, depending on your fancy, place 10mm apart on a baking tray and prick each piece all over with a fork. This mixture was a bugger to cut due to the chocolate and nuts, so the colder the better. Some shortbread may go out of shape but just form it back into a similar shape using your hands.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp and straw-coloured. (Regular shortbread will be quicker to bake, probably only 15-20 minutes.)
Cool down on wire racks.
Makes about 20-25 pieces.

Cooking Notes: When adding the flour to the mixture, I pop a teatowel over the mixer to stop the flour ‘floofling’ (an exact culinary term) all over the joint.

A Cheergerm adaptation of a Margaret Fulton recipe from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook

Old school shortbread:
https://cheergerm.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/shortbread-for-christmas/

Gluten free shortbread
https://cheergerm.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/shortbread-for-a-hungry-silly-yak/

Chocolate, ginger and spelt shortbread
https://cheergerm.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/chocolate-ginger-spelt-shortbread


Chocolate ginger spelt shortbread

Kid 2: I am bad at smelling things but really good at hearing.
Kid 1: I am good at everything except doing the splits and things like that.

Me, I am good at baking shortbread at Christmas time. (I am not good at the splits and things like that either.) The kids had been asking for shortbread a lot lately. Being the kind and doting parent I am, I acquiesced and thought I would bake them some.

The idea of spelt shortbread has been creeping and a crawlin around the deep dark recesses of my brain box for quite a while now. A little flavour experimentation was in order. (Cue mad scientist laughter.) Then it dawns on me. Chocolate and ginger. A culinary match made in heaven. (They got married quite a while ago but nobody asked me to the wedding.)

These biccies give you a punch of bitter chocolate with a peppery ginger hum in the background. Kid 2 loved them, Kid 1 wasn’t a fan. All other grown up human beans who consumed them were enamoured. You be the judge.

Chocolate and ginger spelt shortbread

WHAT YOU NEED
1 cup spelt white flour (I use an organic brand of spelt flour)
1 1/2 cups wholemeal spelt flour
1/4 cup rice flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
3 tsps ground ginger (seems like a lot but you need it to get past the chocolate)
250g butter, room temperature (but not too soft)
1/2 cup raw caster sugar

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
Sift the spelt flours, rice flour, cocoa powder and ginger into a large bowl.
Cream the butter and add the sugar gradually, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Work in the flour gradually and with a light hand, knead to form a dough. (I do this in the bowl.)
Divide the dough in half, roll each half out to a 3-4 cm log. Wrap in clingwrap and refrigerate for half an hour.
Slice the logs into 1-2 cm thickness, depending on your fancy, place 10mm apart on a baking tray and prick each piece all over with a fork.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until crisp. It is a bit tricky telling when chocolate shortbread is ready. Also, because of the wholemeal spelt, hese little beauties needed a little more time in the oven than regular Joe shortbread.
Cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 20-25 pieces.

A cheergerm adaptation from a Margaret Fulton shortbread recipe


99


Frozen cheesecake anyone?

Two weeks ago, whilst searching for a gluten free cheesecake recipe, I came across this little beauty on a great blog, The Gluten Free Scallywag. Now, being immensely fond of the word scallywag, it just had to be tried.

Too much citrus is never enough for this cheergerm, so I added a tad more lemon juice than the recipe said. As a result, when the springform pan was undone, it was a bit too melty to serve. To the freezer I cried! After an hour of nervous nail biting (or completely forgetting it was there due to the odd champers or two) we discovered, a frozen cheesecake! A delicious accident.

Kid 1 and The Yak loved it so much, I churned out another one for a Christmas get together the other night. Frozen cheesecake, that’s how we roll now baby. Before serving, I tumbled some blueberries atop in a very Nigella type manner.

My wee changes:
Grated the zest of one lemon and lime, halved it, added half to the base mixture and half to the cheese mixture.
Not having baked The Gluten Free Scallywags GF graham crackers, I used half GF arrowroot and half GF rice coconut biscuits.
I added 2 tablespoons of lime juice in the cheese mixture and sneaked in 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla paste as well.
Big cheesecake tip,always bring the cheese to room temperature before mixing.
I put the cheesecake in the fridge overnight then popped it in the freezer a few hours befor serving. Make sure you pull it out for about 15 minutes or so to ensure you can cut it.

Go here for the fantastic recipe!

http://www.glutenfreescallywag.com/2010/02/no-bake-cheesecake-gluten-free.html


Christmas Ginger Muffins

It’s 10.30 am and the temperature outside has already hit 32 degrees celsius. Perfect baking weather. The smell of ginger and spice wafts through the kitchen. Little boys wander in on a break from the continual games of Trouble, chess and various Trash Pack and Lego scenarios.

‘What’s for morning tea Mum?’ Yup, school holidays have begun. ‘Christmas muffins,’ is my inspired response. ‘Fantastic!’ they cry. Add the word ‘Christmas’ and anything sounds good. Christmas spinach and brussel sprout pie anyone?

I adpated these wee beauties from an old muffin recipe book, giving them a bit of a ‘health makeover’. They exude a warm ginger glow and are not overly sweet. It’s worth baking them just for the smell of the spices alone. (Although perhaps on a cooler day than this.) Today I used wholemeal flour, they are equally as good using 1 cup of wholemeal and 1 cup of wholemeal spelt flour.

Speaking of spices, my very favourite to use are Herbie’s. You do pay a little more but the quality is worth it. On saying that, this cheergerm is not a food elitist and will happily use the cheap and cheerful supermarket brand as well.

Get these down ya my lads, then bugger off! I mean, go and play dear sweet children of mine. It’s mumma muffin and coffee time.

YOU NEED
2 cups wholemeal plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup coconut sugar (or rapadura, or brown or caster)
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice

2 tablespoons golden syrup
80ml rice bran oil (or grapeseed oil)
2 eggs
1 cup milk (I use low-fat milk)

METHOD
Preheat oven to 200C. Line a 12 hole muffin pan with paper cases.
Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl.
In a microwave dish or saucepan, gently warm the oil and golden syrup. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
Add eggs and milk to oil mixture and beat well.
Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix lightly.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until the centres spring back when pressed.

Adapted from Marvellous Muffins by Alison Holst

Some magnficient muffin tips: I always use paper cases because I am lazy and it lessens the washing up. Try to get your ingredients to room temperature before baking. Sieve your dry ingredients. Add all the liquid and extra ingredients at once. Fold the dry and wet ingredients together with as little mixing as possible.

IMG_5915


Shortbread for a hungry Silly Yak

IMG_5832

‘It’s not fair!’, cried The Yak, stamping his coeliac foot and crossing his coeliac arms. ‘Everybody except me gets to eat your shortbread at Christmas.’ Pouting doesn’t normally work in this household but I am nothing if not kind. Also, I had previously set myself a challenge and it was time to woman up.

Gluten free shortbread has arrived and the Yak is once again a happy man.

The experiment started with golden butter from New Zealand that glittered like Smaug’s treasure. Then basically, I just substituted the plain flour in my regular recipe with a quality brand of plain gluten free flour.

Methinks the key is to only knead the mixture for a minute or two, just enough to bring it together. It also requires a bit longer baking than my usual shortbread.

A batch was sent along to the Yak’s place of employment….although he is a begrudging sharer. The feedback was glowing. (At least that’s what The Yak told me.) They are delicate and moreish, and the Yak thinks every bit as delicious as the gluten laden version.

I concur Sir Yak, I concur.

The big test? Neither Kid 1 or Kid 2 clocked that they were GF…..a pretty good test in my books.

Sure, you can find store bought gluten free shortbread these days but I challenge you to accept the challenge that I challenged myself to. (You still there?). The enjoyment that this therapeutic bake provides, let alone the scrummy eating, far outweighs any convenience from buying it pre-made.

And as a very famous French woman was once reputed to have said ‘Let them eat shortbread’. (Well, she would have if she’d tasted this shortbread).

YOU NEED
250g butter, unsalted
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 3/4 cup gluten free plain flour
1/4 cup rice flour

METHOD
Preheat oven to 180C.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper and sift the flours together into a bowl.
Cream the butter and add the sugar gradually, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. (I use a mixer for this.)
Work in the flour gradually and with a very light hand, knead to form a dough. (I do this in the bowl.)
Divide the dough in half, roll each half out to a 3-4 cm log. Wrap in clingwrap and refrigerate for half an hour.
Slice the logs into 1-2 cm thickness, depending on your fancy, place 10mm apart on a baking tray and prick each piece all over with a fork.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until crisp and straw-coloured.
Cool down on wire racks.
Makes about 20-25 pieces.
adapted from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook

IMG_5806


Shortbread for Christmas

To me, Christmas is shortbread and shortbread is Christmas.

It’s the only time I make it. Batch after batch is baked, packed in various ways and given as a tasty holiday treat. This gives me the opportunity to delve into my collection of vintage kitchenware and present it on quaint china plates or quirky glass bowls. (A great way of justifying my hoarding tendencies).

I never try new recipes for my Christmas giveaway. After years of perfecting this recipe, I would hate to disappoint the yearly recipients. I assure you it’s not due to laziness. Or is it?

In my extended family, we could start Shortbread Wars (like Star Wars but more delicious.) Our family is full of shortbread bakers. Nana Dorothy used to bake shortbread, my mum bakes it, as do two of my sisters. (The baby of the family has gone renegade and has so far resisted this hereditary primal urge..I give her another year…).

This shortbread is short (like myself), light, with a hint of crispness and not overly sweet. I have used the iconic Margaret Fulton’s recipe for the past few years and find that adding the 1/4 cup of rice flour adds that textural bite and lightness that makes me want to sing.

A piece of this shortbread with a cup of tea is ambrosia.

The smell makes little lads salivate and hang round the oven door.

In our house, its mandatory for Santa to be left a piece with the obligatory glass of milk.

This recipe is not gluten free which makes The Yak very sad. My mission (if I so choose to accept it) for the next few days, is to perfect a gluten free version. Fingers crossed.

Shortbread hints and tips: Knead the dough with a lightness of hand for about 3-5 minutes until its smooth and buttery. Do not attempt this on a very hot day unless you have airconditioning or you will end up with buttery mush! I use my trusty KitchenAid mixmaster but I have also used a handbeater. Or use your a wooden spoon and arm power if you feel like a workout!

YOU NEED
250g butter, unsalted
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 3/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup rice flour

METHOD
Preheat oven to 180C.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper and sift the flours into a bowl.
Cream the butter and add the sugar gradually, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. (I used a mixer for this.)
Work in the flour gradually and with a light hand, knead to form a dough. (I do this in the bowl.)
Divide the dough in half, roll each half out to a 3-4 cm log. Wrap in clingwrap and refrigerate for half an hour.
Slice the logs into 1-2 cm thickness, depending on your fancy, place 10mm apart on a baking tray and prick each piece all over with a fork.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until crisp and straw-coloured.
Makes about 20-25 pieces.
The Margaret Fulton Cookbook