Ginger shortbread for Christmas

Just as ginger is spicy and hot, I too, am a bit of a hot mess. Losing two absolutely beloved people in one year and all that comes with that, alongside some health issues; my blogging and writing mojo is sporadic at best. Frankly, my Cheergerm soul is weary, low and well, not so cheery as of late. As I tried to write this post, nine year old Kid 2 was beside me, wrapped in my doona; bouncing, rolling and banging his skinny bony knees into me. Asking me the same question over and over again. I snapped at him, then felt bad. He told me his new job ‘is messing up beds.’ This made me laugh. No chance of an idealised writing environment in my life, where is that solitary attic with a wooden desk that I once dreamed of?

Its been hard to get excited about Christmas, a season that usually provides much delight. Having children pushes me to make an effort. Writing the stripped back truth about your feelings can smack of self-pity and over-introspection. Whilst I am more than happy to read of others struggles, to write about my own leaves me feeling exposed and vulnerable. In the midst of it, I also know that things are so much worse for so many and that our children are healthy and happy. Rather than continue in this vein, here is a list of little joys I have collated from this past week.

The young kindergarten lass at the school Christmas concert on Friday night who raucously and joyfully sang ‘la la la’ shaking her head (much as a headbanger would at a Metallica concert).

Watching Kid 2 at the same concert, impersonating a kookaburra during a song with great abandon, all self-conscious anxiety placed aside for a moment.

Our twelve year old Kid 1 picking out small Christmas gifts for his kindy buddies, selflessly and of his own volition.

All the appreciative folk who view our street’s Christmas lights with gratitude and wonder.

The ongoing support of family and friends and the camaraderie I have found in this online blogging community.

The Scottish people, my ancestors, for creating that delicious biscuit called shortbread. Attributed to Mary Queen of Scots in the 16th Century, it was an expensive luxury for the ordinary folk. In Shetland, it was once traditional to break a piece of shortbread over the brides head as she crossed the threshold of her new home. (Not sure how I would have felt about buttery crumbs through my hair but this shows how special this biscuit was.)

My creation this year combines warm spices with small nuggets of ginger that add a chewy, toffee-like surprise. I used a brand that stated it was ‘un-crystallised bare ginger’ but it still has some cane sugar on it, so I am not quite sure what the difference is. (I imagine it contains less sugar.) There is nothing quite like giving something homemade as a gift. Pop your baked goodies in a vintage tin or wrap them in some pretty cellophane and finish off the parcel with a darling bauble. Another little joy to add to my growing list. Merry Christmas to you all.

GINGER SHORTBREAD, (CAN BE ADAPTED TO GLUTEN FREE)

WHAT YOU NEED
250g butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 3/4 cups plain flour or gluten free plain flour
1/4 cup rice flour
2 1/2 tsps ginger powder
1/2 tsp mixed spice
30g bare uncrystallised ginger, finely chopped (if you can’t find this ‘naked’ stuff just use crystallised.)
Extra white sugar for sprinkling on top

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 170C and line 2 baking trays with baking paper Sift the flours and spices together into a bowl.
Cream the butter in a stand mixer then add the sugar gradually, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy then stir in the finely chopped ginger.
Work in the flour gradually until the mixture is just combined.
Knead the mixture lightly to bring together to a dough. (I do this in the bowl.)
Divide the dough in half, place onto a floured board and pat each into a square.
Using a rolling pin, roll each square into a 16cm by 16cm square, roughly 1cm to 1 1/2 cm thick. Gently lift the squares onto the prepared trays and cut each square into 12 rectangle fingers.
Prick the surface of the shortbread with a fork. (This helps in releasing moisture as it cooks, making the shortbread crisper.)
Sprinkle extra caster sugar over the shortbread.
Bake in the centre of the oven for ten minutes then reduce the temperature to 150C and cook for about 30 minutes to 40 minutes. It is ready when it is firmish to the touch in the centre and golden around the edges.
Remove from the oven and carefully run a sharp knife through the shortbread rectangles again to make it easier to break into fingers later.
Cool down on wire racks. Gently break the shapes apart.
Wrap up festively and give to your best people, and eat some, always eat some.

Cooking Notes: when making gluten free shortbread, keep in mind the mixture will be more fragile. You may want to shape it into a square rather than use a rolling pin particularly if you are baking on a hot day.

A Cheergerm adaptation from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook 2004 Revised and Updated Edition published by Jannie Brown and Suzanne Gibbs.

Click below for previous shortbread recipes.

Cardamom, cinnamon and brown sugar shortbread
Cranberry, chocolate, pistachio shortbread
Old school shortbread
Gluten free shortbread


Vegan peanut butter and chocolate chip biscuits

Joe (she added the ‘E’ because that’s how she rolled) was beautiful, sweet, wise, brave, funny, passionate, a letter writer, smart as a whip, suffered from a chronic illness but never complained. An absolutely devoted wife, her equally devoted husband is bereft without his soul mate. Beloved baby sister of the Yak, a loving daughter, a committed vegan, animal lover and mother to two very fine cats. An amazing Aunt, sender of wonderful Christmas packages to our boys, the best of sister-in-laws and a true friend to many.

We are lost, The Yak is undone. She died far too young. As I write this it’s raining, like some cliched Hallmark movie. Except that real grief is not like a Hallmark movie. It’s hard, cold and shit.

The Yak made it to her bedside in the UK hours before she died, he went thinking he would be keeping her company in hospital. He came home for a short time then flew back again for her funeral. The tryanny of distance. The lads and I are preparing to leave on our pre-planned trip to the UK to meet up with The Yak. The original purpose was to visit with our Joe.

I have not had the heart to bake, write or blog. But it had been in my mind for the longest time to do a vegan post just for her. So here it is. Vegan peanut butter chocolate biscuits, I hope Joe would have loved them. Just like we loved her.

VEGAN PEANUT BUTTER AND CHOCOLATE CHIP BISCUITS

WHAT YOU NEED
1/2 cup unsalted natural peanut butter
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white caster sugar (see cooking note below)
1/4 cup almond milk
1 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla bean powder or 1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp ground flaxseed (this can be omitted if you don’t have it, it assists in binding the ingredients a little more)
1 cup vegan dark chocolate chips

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 180C and line two baking trays with baking paper.
Place the peanut butter, grapeseed oil, sugars and almond milk into a large bowl. (If you are using vanilla essence add it here.) Beat well until the ingredients are well combined. (I used an electric hand beater.)
Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and vanilla bean powder into the bowl with the peanut butter mixture. Add the ground flaxseed and stir well.
Mix in the chocolate chips.
Roll heaped teaspoons full of the dough into round balls and place on the baking tray allowing room for spreading.
Bake at 180 for 12-15 minutes until light golden brown.
Let cool on the tray slightly then remove to a wire rack to complete cooling.
This made about 22 biscuits.

Cooking Note: it appears that in some parts of the world, some white sugar is processed using bone char. Ewww. That appears not to be the case in Australia but to be safe, I imagine vegans would check it out before they used a particular brand of sugar.

Recipe adapted from the Vegan Yoga Life blog. Link follows photos.

Original recipe:

Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies


Peanut butter chocolate brownies, GF

‘Starry, starry night, paint your palette blue and gray.’

Looking down upon this brownie reminded me (ever so slightly), of a two-toned version of Van Gogh’s iconic painting The Starry Night. Yes, it may be a stretch but this is possibly as close to creating a masterpiece as I shall ever get. My ‘swirling’ technique could use some work and my cake decorating skills are limited. I am a dab hand at the fine arts of ‘icing sugar dusting’, ‘coconut sprinkling’, ‘messy look icing’ and ‘rose petal strewing.’ Let’s just call it rustic styling.

Peanut butter is a recent joyous food rediscovery of mine and the chestnut flour contributes a wonderful light crumb. This fudgy brownie with it’s nutty ‘stick to the roof of your mouth topping’ is satisfying. A little bit goes a long way. Well, not in Kid 1’s opinion. He feels that a lot goes a long way and would have attempted to eat the entire tray if he was left to his own sweet-tooth machinations. ‘Tell Dad it’s not gluten free Mum. Please…’, he begged. After a little reconsidering, I realise I am an artist of sorts after all. And this child is one (of two) of my finest creations, no matter how gorgeously greedy he may be.

PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE BROWNIES, GF

WHAT YOU NEED
150g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
100g butter, chopped
75g chestnut flour
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 tbl cocoa powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 eggs, beaten
200g (3/4 cup) peanut butter (I used a natural peanut butter with no salt added)

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 160C and line a 16 X 26cm baking pan with non-stick baking paper.
Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl and place over a saucepan half filled with boiling water. Make sure the saucepan isn’t touching the water. Use a metal spoon to stir the chocolate until it is melted and smooth.(I actually just placed the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan and melted it over direct low heat whilst constantly stirring but this can be tricky so stick to the tried and true method.) Let it cool for a few minutes.
Sift the flour, sugar and cocoa into a large bowl and stir in the salt.
Mix the chocolate mixture to the flour mixture, then add the eggs and stir until just combined.
Pour into the prepared pan then spoon teaspoonfuls of the peanut butter evenly over the top of the batter. Use a round ended knife (a butter knife) to swirl the peanut butter into the chocolate batter.
Cook for 35-40 minutes or until crumbs stick to a skewer inserted into the centre.
Let it cool completely in the pan then cut into slices and eat it. A fine cup of coffee or good strong cup of tea is the perfect accompaniment to this toothsome treat.

A Cheergerm adaptation of a recipe from the Taste website. Link follows the photos.

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/16515/peanut+butter+and+chocolate+brownies

Note: The first quoted line is from the song ‘Vincent’ by Don McLean, a tribute to Van Gogh.


Lemon sour cream muffins

Kid 1: If I was to be killed and eaten, I would like to be put to sleep so I couldn’t feel anything, then have every part of my body used, eaten and nothing wasted. Kind of like a soft shell crab.

He really is showing an extreme commitment to the concept of nose to tail eating. During the school holidays, Kid 1 watched a junior baking show on television where ten year olds created intricate baked goodies. This put a fire in his belly and he insisted on baking these muffins completely by himself (under my supervision.) His egg-cracking ability has come along in spades and it’s lovely to observe his burgeoning kitchen confidence.

This is a standard recipe in our household and they are very good. The sour cream moistens the muffins and contributes towards a tender crumb and light golden exterior. They are tangy, creamy and moreish. The only thing that will be be left is the muffin wrapper.

LEMON SOUR CREAM MUFFINS

WHAT YOU NEED
1/3 cup vegetable oil (we use grapeseed)
2/3 cup caster sugar
2 eggs, 70g
Zest and juice of one medium size lemon (roughly 1 tbl of zest and 1/4 cup lemon juice. If I have extra lemons, I will often add another tbl of zest. We love ‘mega lemon’ flavour)
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup wholemeal plain flour
1 tbl baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 200C and place your muffin papers in a muffin tin or on a baking tray. I will often give the muffin papers a light spray with rice bran oil spray to avoid sticking.
In a large bowl, combine the oil and sugar.
Add the eggs and mix well.
Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and sour cream and mix well.
Sift the flours, baking powder and salt into the bowl then fold in gently. Do not overmix or your muffins will be not as tender.
Fill the muffins papers about 2/3rds full and bake for about 15-20 minutes until they are risen, light golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.
Eat them.

Makes 11-12 muffins depending on the size of your muffin papers

Slightly adapted from a recipe from Jens Favorite Cookies blog, link to original recipe follows.

Lemon Sour Cream Muffins


Chocolate chip biscuits and a hug

It was late and I had been lying next to my twelve year old lad with my arm draped over him. I stood and said good night, exhausted and ready to flop into the sweet comfort of bed and attempt some semblance of sleep.

Kid 2: Mum, could I please just have one more big proper hug?
Me: Oh mate, I just gave you a hug.
Kid 2: But this time I want a proper two-armed hug.
So, I leant down, scooped up his skinny little body and squeezed him hard. Cheek to cheek. I kissed him and told him I loved him.
As I stood to go he spoke these words to me.
‘I am so glad that I have your Mum hugs with me to go into the world. They make me feel strong and loved and special.’

Sometimes, I am grumpy, mean and tired. Sometimes, my children are grumpy, mean and tired. This motherhood gig isn’t always a lark. I am not whinging. I made my choice. I am also fully aware of all those women who have tried to become mothers and couldn’t, of mothers who mourn the loss of a child, of women who become stepmothers and all those in the sisterhood who have simply decided motherhood was not for them. Total respect and love to us all.

In the future, when feeling like everyone wants a piece of me, or the next time my children are feeling much the same way; I will think of the words from my ‘on the cusp of adolescence son’, take a deep breath, open my arms and just hug them.

These biscuits are on regular rotation in our household and are almost as good as a cuddle from a loved one. Using quality dark chocolate and a sprinkle of sea salt elevates them just a little past the ordinary, to the very bloody good. Happy Mother’s Day to all of us mothers, in whatever form that may take.

CHOCOLATE CHIP BISCUITS

125g butter
1/2 cup white caster sugar
1/2 cup soft brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence (or 1/4 tsp vanilla bean powder)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 3/4 cups self-raising flour
125g dark chocolate chopped (or 125g chocolate chips)
1 tsp sea salt

Preheat oven to 180C and line two trays with baking paper.
Cream together butter, sugars and vanilla until light and fluffy. (I use a stand mixer for this.)
Add egg gradually, beating well after each addition.
Mix in sifted flour then add the chocolate (or chocolate chips) and stir through well.
I often let this dough rest for half an hour or so before baking but it doesn’t matter if you don’t.
Shape large teaspoons of mixture into balls and place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Allow room for some spreading. Sprinkle a little sea salt atop each biscuit.
Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove the biscuits just as the edges start to colour so they don’t overcook and go too crunchy.
Makes about 15 to 20 biscuits, depending on how large you make them. (The photos in this post contain a double batch of these bikkies. Hence, the large amount.)

A recipe that a friend gave many years ago, slightly adapted.

Go here if you are looking for a gluten free chocolate chip biscuit recipe.


Illuminating cardamom, cinnamon and brown sugar shortbread

Nigh on three years ago, by perchance, we happened to move to a street that ‘does Christmas lights.’ Christmas and all that is associated with it, has always brought me great joy. My childhood memories, our ever evolving traditions, the special family time, the food (always the food), the spiritual connection, the wonder of children and the gift giving. However, the initial thought of having to buy (figuratively and literally) into the whole ‘lights’ palaver, filled me with trepidation.

The possibility of failing to live up to the expectation of hundreds of complete strangers traversing past our home was somewhat perturbing. I questioned the environmental aspect and whilst we do utilise solar lights as well as electrical, at some point, they will always need replacing. Not every house on the street participates, and there is no ‘Christmas Lights Committee’ (a fact for which the rebel in me is eternally grateful for.) In the end, the excitement of all the boys in our house overrode any misgivings on my part.

I often recount how in our second year, a person at my children’s school joyfully told me how much they loved our Chrissy light display. I asked which house they thought we lived in. Upon hearing their explanation of the abode they had seen, I informed them that sorry, that was actually our next door neighbours. (Ensue awkward silence on their part but some mirth on mine.)

Putting up a Christmas light display is strangely addictive and allows you connect to a community larger than your usual. It’s not all tinsel and sugar plum fairies. Shame on the man two years ago, who loudly dissed our display and almost made my then 6 year old cry. People, we aren’t deaf. Also, you lot out walking the street at eleven o’clock with small children on a school night? Go back to bed.

In the main, most people are positive and happy to enjoy the lights, in whatever shape or form they take. Apart from the joy it has brought to my own children and children we know, the absolute pleasure it brings to others has become our ‘Chrissy illumination raison d’Γͺtre.’ Early one December evening, the lads wanted to eat their dinner in the garage. We plopped ourselves down on camping chairs, happily eating and watching the growing contingent of passer-bys. One mum walked past with two young children under five. Seeing us sitting there, she stopped waved and said, ‘Thank you so much for doing this, our children absolutely love it.’

Then, just last night, as we finally completed our display (after investing in quite a number of new lights), two families with small children passed by. One wee lad in their contingent stopped and in the slightly sibilant way that pre-fives talk, pronounced, ‘I love your house. Its sooooo beautiful. Mummy, why can’t we have a house like this?’ Then his sister spoke in a voice dripping with wonder and awe, ‘I think that Santa probably lives here’. Our hearts stopped beating for a nano second. Yes, cheesy it may be but their delight set our souls aglow more than any electrical or solar light could ever do.

And that my friends, is why we put up lights. The world can always do with a little more illumination. The world can also do with a little more shortbread. This years concoction is a spicy, brown sugar version. The brown sugar adds a caramel-like flavour that pairs nicely with the cooling cardamom and warm cinnamon. This is one of those rare recipes where you can do a straight swap with the plain flour for gluten free. I lose track of how many batches of these biscuits are baked to give as gifts. They are either wrapped in cellophane or placed into adorable Christmas themed boxes. It seems a little nuts to be making butter based sweet treats in our hot climate, but then, some traditions just can’t be changed.

CARDAMOM, CINNAMON AND BROWN SUGAR SHORTBREAD (can be adapted to GF)

WHAT YOU NEED
250g butter
1/2 cup soft brown sugar
2 3/4 cups of plain flour or gluten free plain flour sifted (I use a good quality gluten free flour.)
1/4 cup rice flour
1 1/2 tsps cardamom
1 1/2 tsps cinnamon
1 tbl raw brown sugar for sprinkling

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C.
Line 2 baking trays with baking paper and sift the flours and spices together into a bowl.
Cream the butter and add the sugar gradually (I used a stand mixer), beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Work in the flour gradually until the mixture is just combined. Knead the mixture lightly to bring together to a dough. (I do this in the bowl.)
Divide the dough in half and pat each into a round.
Place onto the prepared trays and with the heel of your hand, push the dough out until you have an 1 1/2 cm thick circle, this will be 16cm -18cm in diameter, ensure the mixture is very smooth. I use my hands to do this, the original recipe suggests using a palette knife and smoothing over the edge and surface.
Crimp the edges by pressing the edge of the dough with your finger, and then pinching the edge together.
Use a sharp knife to cut the circle into 8 or 10 even shaped wedges. Prick the surface of the shortbread with a fork. (This helps in releasing moisture as it cooks, making the shortbread crisper.)
Sprinkle the extra raw sugar over the shortbread.
Bake in the centre of the oven for ten minutes then reduce the temperature to 150C and cook for about 30 minutes. The brown sugar in this recipe makes it difficult to judge if it’s baked, lightly press the middle of the shortbread to see if it’s not too soft. Should be firmish to the touch. My gluten free version took an about 35 minutes. It will depend on the flour blend that you use. (My first batch was a tad overcooked at 40 minutes.)
Cool down on wire racks. Wrap up festively and give to your best people, and eat some, always eat some.

A Cheergerm adaptation from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook 2004 Revised and Updated Edition published by Jannie Brown and Suzanne Gibbs.

Here are the links to my previous shortbread recipes.

https://cheergerm.com/2014/12/14/christmas-advent-calendars-and-cranberry-chocolate-pistachio-shortbread/

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

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

https://cheergerm.com/2014/06/01/chocolate-ginger-spelt-shortbread/


Keep cooly cool, orange and poppy seed cake

Earlier this year, our ten year old lad, on the cusp of eleven, said he wanted to sleep on the floor of our bedroom. When this happens, you stay calm (try not to let your excitement show). As the Jets gang sang in the iconic West Side Story movie, keep cooly cool, boy.

He brought along a mattress, a doona, his pillows with once again wrestled off pillow cases and a book.

He said that he loved our room, it made him feel safe. This was because it was on the second story and always felt comforting to him.

I told him you are always welcome here.

He read and shared some of his thoughts whilst I also read. Be cool, I thought. It was like entertaining a nervous gazelle. One false move and you could scare him off. I kept my breathing light.

‘Mum, did you know that Aztec children played a game of ball where they would rip each others limbs off?’

‘Really?’ I replied. (Gross was what I actually thought but ‘get cool’ I reminded myself.)

‘Mum, how old can you be before you get your drivers licence?’
‘Well,’ I said, ‘I think it is 16 for your learners licence.’
‘Is that too young do you think Mum?’
‘Maybe,’ I said. (Playing it very cool.)

I went to him, kissed his still soft cheek and told him I loved him and was proud of him. ‘I love you Mum,’ he said.

He fell asleep and his breathing evened. I am getting older and somewhat wise enough to know how rare these times are. I know I have been a less than perfect parent, that my impatience and temper have at times ruled the day when they should not have.

No-one can ever tell you how very scary this parenting journey is, how imperfect we all are, how many mistakes we will make. My new parenting motto for myself?

Keep cool.

All too soon, Kid 1 returned to his own boudoir. A fleeting moment indeed. He adores this orange and poppyseed cake recipe that the dearest of friends bakes on a regular basis. So, before the lad embarks on a school camp this week, I baked this cake, especially for him.

Slightly nutty tasting poppy seeds (which are actually considered a spice) combined with citrus in baking, is a long-standing tradition in many European countries. The zingy aroma of orange that permeates your kitchen as this cake bakes is drool worthy. The buttermilk adds a lovely moistness and the entire cake is low in fat. This fact is greatly appreciated by those of us older than eleven and keeping a close eye on their ‘ice-cream’ pants. The Yak stared at this speckled delight with great sadness and maybe (just maybe), a tear welled up in his coeliac eyes. A gluten-free version will be baked very, very soon.

Kid 1 was happy not to share.

ORANGE AND POPPY SEED CAKE

WHAT YOU NEED
2 cups self-raising flour, (I used white but you can use half white and half wholemeal.)
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
3/4 cups caster sugar (raw or white, my friend has used coconut sugar as well and it also works)
2 tbls poppy seeds
2/3 cup oil (grapeseed or rice bran oil)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup orange juice
grated rind of 1 orange

Icing
60g cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups icing sugar
2 – 3 tsps orange juice
shredded orange rind, to garnish

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 180C, grease and line a 23 cm round cake tin with baking paper. (I used a 20cm deep baking tin and my friend uses a bundt tin.)
Sift flour,baking powder and sugar together into a large bowl.
Stir in the poppy seeds.
Combine the oil, buttermilk, eggs, juice and rind in a separate bowl of jug.
Blend this mixture into the flour mixture and beat for one minute.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the cake is cooked when a skewer comes out clean.
Cool in the tin for five minutes.
Turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.
My friend never ices this cake and nor did I, choosing instead to dust with a light rain of icing sugar. I have provided the icing recipe in case you would like to.

Icing
Beat cream cheese and icing sugar until well combined.
Beat in the orange juice to achieve a spreadable consistency.
Spread over the cooled cake and decorate with the orange rind. Store in an airtight container.

Recipe from a friend, who found it, she knows not where.


Eggy bread and cooking with Kid 1

The only tenuous connection between this post and Easter is the use of the word ‘egg.’ Of course, one cannot live on chocolate alone (although Kid 1 would give it a good try.) At some point during the Easter celebrations, it is good to put something else apart from chocolate into your gob.

Kid 1 had been requesting a cooking lesson on what we call in our family ‘eggy bread.’ The naming of this bready treat harks from the Yaks’s British heritage. It is more commonly known as French Toast or in Frenchy speak ‘Pain Perdue.’ Whatever you call it, the process of soaking an enriched egg and butter bread in a creamy sweet egg wash and frying it up, makes a wonderful breakfast or in this case ‘breakfast for dinner’.

Enriched bread such as brioche or challah, will give you the best result. An even better result is achieved if the bread is one day old. You are looking for a crispy golden exterior and creamy soft interior. Kid 1 and I had a lovely time in the kitchen and both munchkins greatly enjoyed the puffy golden sweet, finished product. Next time, Kid 1 wants to make the brioche himself, grow chickens to make the eggs and farm our own cows for the milk and cream. Maybe we can just start with the brioche?

EGGY BREAD/FRENCH TOAST/PAIN PERDU

WHAT YOU NEED
3 thick (3cm or so) slices of brioche (or a similar bread such as challah, it is better if the bread is a day old.)
3 eggs
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup milk
1 tbl caster sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla bean powder or 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla essence
2 tbl butter
2 tbl oil
Maple syrup to serve

HOW YOU DO IT
Beat the eggs, cream, milk, sugar and vanilla in a large jug or medium size bowl.
Pour the egg mixture into a dish that will fit the brioche slices in side by side.
Place the bread in the dish and soak in the egg mixture for 5 minutes.
Turn the bread over onto the other side and soak for another for 5 minutes. Preheat the large non-stick frypan to a medium heat whilst the bread is soaking.
Add the butter and oil to the frypan and once the butter has melted, cook the bread for about 6 minutes each side until puffy and golden brown.
It can be kept in a warm oven for ten minutes or so until ready to eat.
Before serving you can dust the eggy bread in icing sugar but as this was for my kids and they go nuts with maple syrup, I didn’t.
Drizzle generously with maple syrup.
Serves 2 people.

Cooking Notes: To serve 4, simply double the recipe. If you would like to make a savoury version, leave out the sugar and vanilla. It is delicious served with crispy bacon and a sauce of some kind. (A relish, tomato sauce or hot sauce, whatever takes your fancy.)

A Cheergerm creation


Ginger Kisses and 80’s Rock Stars

80’s rock stars, how I loved your imperfect teeth, your curly hair, your baggy pants and billowing white pirate shirts. Your castaway on a desert island looks, your exuberance and subtle sexuality.

No overt flaunting of your nibbles and nobbles, be you lady or man. Just a luscious and gorgeous sensuality in the way you moved and dressed.

I am talking about you; David Bowie, Michael Hutchence and all of INXS. Yes, you Sting, the strangely sexy Prince, The Police, U2, The Church and The Cure. Yes; you Split Enz, Crowded House, Pat Benatar, Blondie and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten Duran Duran, Tears For Fears, Icehouse, Depeche Mode and New Order.

If I could, I would give you all a big Ginger Kiss. Rest assured, I am not smothering my lips in ginger sauce and going in for the pash. (Not that I wouldn’t mind giving a few of the above a smooch or two.) I am talking about that delightful New Zealand cake like biscuit, sandwiched with a buttery, mock cream type icing.

My childhood is embedded with memories of my paternal grandmother Nana J opening a packet of these wee puffy clouds from heaven. The spicy smell of them would waft towards you and your mouth watered with great expectation. Mr Bagpipes has memories of his mum baking them from scratch back in the day but by the time us grandkids had come along, Nana was busy running the business side of things for their trucking business. So, opening a packet of these ginger kisses was quicker by far. Nana still baked and cooked, her pavlova roll was legendary.

Baking these has been on the old ‘to do’ list for a while and I was very happy with the result. Warming, gingery and sweet. They were a real treat. Sure they weren’t quite as puffy as the store purchased ones, as I used a wholemeal flour but they had more substance. Try using the same amount of plain flour if you want an even lighter result.

GINGER KISSES

WHAT YOU NEED
115g butter, softened
85g caster sugar
1 egg, room temperature
2 tsp golden syrup, placed in a small dish and warmed slightly
125g/1 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp hot water

Filling
30g butter
120g icing sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla essence or 1/4 tsp vanilla powder
2 tbsp boiling water
1 tsp ginger or 1 tbsp preserved ginger

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C or 170C non-fan forced oven, line two baking trays with baking paper.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg, followed by the golden syrup.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and spices.
Fold the sifted dry ingredients into the butter mixture and lastly, stir in the baking soda, dissolved in the hot water.
Put the mixture in small teaspoonfuls (I did large teaspoonfuls and they spread quite a bit) on the trays, or use a piping bag with a 1cm/1/2 inch opening. (I am not a fan of the intricate art of piping so I didn’t.)
Bake for about ten minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.

Finishing
Making the filling by beating the butter, icing sugar and vanilla together. Slowly add the boiling water a little at a time and continue to beat until the mixture is very light and creamy. Once the icing looks light and fluffy enough, stop adding the water as you may not need all of it. (I added too much water too quickly and had to add extra icing sugar, so my filling was a little heavier than it should have been.)
Pair up the Ginger Kisses, matching the sizes, smear a small amount of filling on each lower half and stick them together.
Store airtight, this made about 12 very large Ginger Kisses, next time I will make them a tad smaller.

Recipe from Ladies A Plate, Traditional Home Baking by Alexa Johnston. Published by Penguin Books 2008


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