Christmas means different things to different people. For me, it’s a chance to spend time with some of my favourite people and to spend time in my favourite room: the kitchen. Having become quite the theatrical event in recent years, Christmas affords an enthusiastic baker the luxury to try out the most ridiculously camp culinary creations, liberally dusted with edible glitter.
I had set my mind on creating a tree of biscuits but gingerbread ruled itself out as a flavour option a week before Christmas. I made 25 gingerbread people for work, all of whom went in the oven looking perfectly wonderful but all of whom fell foul of some kind of obesity epidemic during the baking time. As appealing as a tree of randomly-shaped star-adjacent biscuits might be, I opted instead for a recipe that promised less bloating.
Orange & Cinnamon Biscuits (enough for a tree, including trunk)
350g plain flour
100g self-raising flour
½ tsp cinnamon
125g granulated sugar
grated zest of 2 oranges
125g salted butter
1 large egg
125ml Golden Syrup
Sift together the flours and cinnamon into a mixing bowl, then add the sugar (which won’t go through the sieve – I tried) and orange zest, and mix together with a fork. In much the same way you do when making pastry, rub the butter in with your fingertips until it looks a bit like sand. Add the egg and syrup and use your hands to mix it all together until it forms a ball. Divide the dough into four equal portions, shape into fat discs, cling film and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 170C and prepare a few baking sheets by lining them with baking paper.
When it came to rolling, I found I only needed a little flour to stop it sticking but I often roll between two sheets of baking paper. Roll the dough to approximately 5mm thick, then cut out your shapes. You can re-roll the dough a couple of times but not too many, hence my dividing the dough into four batches. Theoretically, you should then refrigerate the sheets of cut-out biscuits for 20 minutes but who has that kind of fridge space in the week of Christmas? Bake for 14-18 minutes until golden, then cool completely on racks before icing or storing.
450g icing sugar
3-6 egg whites
Beat three egg whites until frothy, then add the icing sugar and beat. I confess I haven’t yet perfected the art of getting royal icing to the right consistency so you might wish to consult someone more reliable on this, but I added egg white and lemon juice until I got a toothpaste consistency. I splurged about a quarter of this stuff into a bag with a 1.5 (fine) tip to pipe borders, then carried on adding egg white / lemon juice until I thought the rest was fluid enough to be flooding icing. It turns out I was wrong, but a wet paint brush helped me to push it around a bit. Beware: if your icing isn’t sufficiently fluid, your poor wrists and hands will have to work very hard. But if, like me, you’re doing this at midnight on Christmas Eve, the motivation to slop it back in the bowl and dilute it further will be wholly absent.
Keep the leftover icing for the build stage.
Manual control had suffered a fatal blow from the piping work, hence the somewhat slapdash application of red edible glitter.
The following morning (once the icing had set hard), I built the tree.
Finally, I put a slightly bigger tip (2, I think) on the border icing bag – the thicker stuff – and piped strings between star tips. Quite pretty.