Baking with kids? New book on homemade Scandi festive treats makes it wee buns
If you have time and the determination to hold your nerve over the inevitable mess, Christmas baking is a great way to spend time with your kids. Claire Spreadbury puts her daughters to work in the kitchen
BAKING with children sounds like an idyllic thing to do, especially at Christmas time. You can picture the scene, mum or dad guiding the small folk on what to do, spoons sneakily licked, festive tunes playing in the background.
The reality, however, as anyone who's cooked with kids will know, never quite goes to plan. Weighing everything out first and having it all ready to go cookery-demo-style is such a good idea, but there's never enough time to be that organised and it creates a mountain of washing up. Tiny fingers are drawn to hot pans and ovens like moths to a flame and inevitably, someone ends up losing their rag.
But, as new cookbook ScandiKitchen Christmas hits the shelves, I'm drawn in once again, and set about making its cutesy Swedish ginger biscuits with my daughters, aged six and nine.
What you need for 50-70 biscuits:
550g plain/all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1tsp bicarbonate of/baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground cloves
1tbs ground cinnamon
1tsp ground cardamom
1/2tsp ground allspice
Pinch of salt
100g granulated sugar
100g soft dark brown sugar
150g butter, at room temperature
200g golden syrup
150ml double cream
Making the dough:
The recipe says to make the biscuit dough in a stand mixer using the paddle attachment. This is all pretty straightforward. I took charge of loading up the scales while Poppy, my six-year-old, yelped 'Stop!' when the measurements read the right amount. She also enjoyed spooning in all the spices. So far, so easy.
When the dough comes together, it is pretty heavy, so an adult will need to retrieve it from the bowl. But then it's over the small folk to roll it into a giant sausage and wrap it in cling film.
Then it needs to rest in the fridge overnight. Prepare them for this. If your kids are anything like mine, the main joy of baking lies in the eating, so when they discover none of that is going to happen until the next day, there might be some tantrums. You can, however, bribe them back to happiness by giving them a hunk of the cookie dough to eat raw. Works every time.
Baking the biscuits:
The next day, preheat your oven at 200C and line baking sheets with parchment – a boring job, but something the kids can help with too. Then set up a nice floury worktop, break off a chunk of the dough (there's loads), let the little ones roll it out to around 2mm thick and cut out an array of Christmas-shaped biscuits.
Rosie, my nine-year-old, went first. Sometimes the rolling out got a teeny bit thin, but generally they found this pretty easy, and enjoyed taking it in turns to break off another hunk and make some more biscuits.
You can get a bit of a conveyor-belt system going as well. Because this recipe makes so many biscuits, it's good to get each baking tray in the oven as soon as it fills up. And you can do that easily because they cook to perfection in just six minutes.
Once they're out the oven, leave them for a few minutes before popping on to a cooling rack. Pleasingly, they also cool down really quickly, so the kids can crack on with decorating.
We did attempt to make some of these into Christmas decorations, but my puny skewer holes disappeared in the oven, so if you do want to hang them on the tree, be sure to make a sizeable circle to thread your string through.
Icing your bakes:
The best icing for these biscuits is a mixture of icing sugar, stirred into beaten egg white and a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice, because it goes hard when it dries and pipes beautifully.
However, if like me, you're in need of a break having got this far and just want to put your feet up and leave them to it, you can let little ones loose with colourful tubes of icing or even chocolate – sold in all good supermarkets.
These biscuits are actually wonderfully easy to make with kids, and if you can make them into decorations, even better. My girls loved it, and having decorated a grand total of eight so far, there's another 53 in an air-tight container waiting for them – perfect for the school holidays.
:: ScandiKitchen Christmas by Bronte Aurell, photography by Peter Cassidy, is published by Ryland Peters & Small, priced £16.99. Below are three Scandinavian Christmas recipes from the book for you to try
LUCIA BUNS (ADVENT TREATS)
(Makes 16 buns)
200 ml whole milk
0.5g (or the tiniest pinch) ground saffron
25g fresh yeast
75g tbs caster/superfine sugar
100ml quark or Greek yogurt
400-500g strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1/2 tsp salt
100g tbs butter, softened and cubed
1 egg, beaten (reserve half for brushing)
A handful of raisins
Pearl sugar (optional)
Heat the milk in a saucepan until finger-warm (no more than 37C), then add the ground saffron. In a stand mixer, add the fresh yeast and the milk-saffron mixture (again, no warmer than 37C or the yeast will die). Mix for one minute, then add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Stir in the quark or yogurt until incorporated, then mix in about half the flour, as well as the salt. As you keep mixing, gradually add more flour, taking care not to add too much (saffron is very drying, so if you have a dry dough, the end result will also be dry). Add the butter and half of the egg and keep mixing, adding more flour as needed. This will take around five minutes.
When the dough is springy and well-kneaded, leave to rest in a covered bowl in a warm place for about 40 minutes or until doubled in size. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead. Cut into 16 even pieces. Roll each piece into a 20cm-long roll. Take each end and twist them back in on themselves in opposite directions, so you end up with an S-shape. Line a baking tray with paper, then place each bun on it, ensuring there is good distance between each one (or you can shape into a wreath by placing the buns in a circle, leaving a 1cm gap between them, as they spread during baking). Gently press a raisin into the centre of each swirl. Leave to rise for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 170C. Gently brush each bun with the remaining egg and bake in the preheated oven for eight to 10 minutes, or until golden and done. Leave under a damp tea towel for at least 10 minutes as soon as they come out of the oven to ensure no crust forms. If you wish, scatter over some pearl sugar.
Saffron dough dries out quickly, so either eat the buns on the day of baking or freeze as soon as they're cool. You can also enjoy them slightly toasted when they're a few days old.
CHRISTMAS CHOCOLATE AND OAT BALLS
(Makes 30-40 balls)
250g, plus 2tbs butter, softened
400g rolled oats
150g icing/confectioners' sugar
3-4tbs (heaped) cocoa powder
4tbs brewed strong coffee, cooled
1tsp vanilla sugar
Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix until you have a good, uniform mixture. I usually do it in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, but this isn't difficult to do by hand. Make equal-sized balls (usually the size of a whole walnut), then roll in your chosen covering (see below), before chilling in the fridge. The traditional treat is simply rolled in pearl/nibbed sugar, desiccated/dried shredded coconut or hundreds and thousands/sprinkles.
Flavours and coverings:
Orange – This one is for the grown-ups only. Add two tablespoons of Cointreau and 1/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest to 200g of your mixture. Roll in chocolate sprinkles.
Almond – Another adults-only one. Add two tablespoons of Amaretto to 200g of your mixture, then roll in toasted, chopped almonds.
Raspberry – Children can enjoy this one. Add one tablespoon of raspberry jam/preserve to 200g of your mixture. Roll in freeze-dried raspberry pieces or chocolate sprinkles.
DANISH BUTTER COOKIES
(Makes 30 biscuits)
250g, plus 2tbs butter
375g plain/all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
150g icing/confectioners' sugar
1 egg yolk
3-4tbs double cream
Egg white, lightly beaten, for brushing
Sanding, pearl or demerara/turbinado sugar, to decorate
Mix the butter and flour together to form crumbs. Add the sugar and mix, then work in the egg yolk and, finally, the cream. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. Don't overwork the dough too much. Leave it to rest in a plastic bag in the fridge for at least an hour, until cold.
Preheat the oven to 200C Line two baking sheets with baking parchment. Turn the dough out on to a floured surface. Roll pieces of around 20-25g into thin 'sausage' shapes about 20cm long, then form each into a pretzel shape and place on the lined baking sheets (the biscuits will spread out during cooking, so make sure there is space between them). Repeat until all the dough is used.
Brush with egg white and top with the sugar, then bake in the preheated oven for eight to 10 minutes, until just baked through (don't allow them to brown too much). Leave to cool before storing in an airtight container.