Life

Kim-Joy: Why we need some good baking at home this Christmas

Great British Bake Off finalist Kim-Joy is back with a festive book full of cute recipes. Prudence Wade finds out more

Kim-Joy Hewlett, author of Christmas With Kim-Joy: A Festive Collection Of Edible Cuteness (Quadrille, £15)

CHRISTMAS and Kim-Joy are a match made in heaven. The baker burst onto our screens as one of the finalists in the 2018 Great British Bake Off, winning a legion of fans for her adorable animal-inspired creations.

For Kim-Joy, writing a Christmas baking book was a no-brainer. “I love colour, cute things and all the Christmas flavours like cinnamon and cardamom and all those warming spices,” says the 29-year-old, whose previous book – Baking With Kim-Joy: Cute And Creative Bakes To Make You Smile – was released in 2019.

She admits Christmas might be “a bit weird and different this year” – and says that’s why “we need some good baking at home”.

The cookbook is everything we’ve come to love from Kim-Joy, full of sweet bakes made to look like cute animals and whimsical creatures. This includes snowmen meringues and reindeer Bakewell tarts, as well as recipes with more unusual flavours – like the matcha bamboo swiss roll decorated with festive pandas.

With such delicate and seemingly perfect decorations, some people might be put off trying to tackle Kim-Joy’s recipes themselves. However, the baker is all for giving things a go in the kitchen – regardless of the outcome. “I taught myself to bake and I definitely got to a decent level by messing up a ton,” she says. “And I still mess up – I just don’t talk about it as much!”

For Kim-Joy, full name Kim-Joy Hewlett, it’s all part of the process. “I have had times I’ve messed up in the past and it’s got me down for a little bit,” she admits. “But after that, you pick yourself up and you learn from those mistakes – but they’re not always mistakes.

“A lot of people say how baking is really sciency and specific and exact, but I don’t think it is – a lot of my good ideas have come from complete mistakes and turned into something nice.”

She has recently been applying the Japanese technique of kintsugi to her baking. This is the art of gluing broken pots back together and painting the cracks with gold, so that the breaks become part of something beautiful – and in the kitchen, Kim-Joy has been painting the cracks in her meringues gold. “I think that perfectly encapsulates making mistakes and then making it work for you,” she says. “And actually, it’s even better.”

Even if things do go wrong, Kim-Joy still advocates baking to boost your mental health. Before entering Bake Off, she worked as a psychological wellbeing practitioner and says: “One of the treatments for depression is something called behaviour activation, which basically means getting people to slowly increase the amount of activities they’re doing that they’re enjoying. Because when you’re feeling depressed and down, you don’t want to do things – you don’t have that motivation, and it’s hard to get it back.

“Baking is one of those things that gives you a sense of purpose once you do it. It touches on all your senses, like feeling things, the smell of things and the taste of things, and it’s also an activity you can lose yourself in and forget about time. Not only that, but at the end you have a bake and you feel really productive. You can give it to somebody else and feel even more useful.”

Christmas can be a difficult period for many people, particularly now after such a tough year, and Kim-Joy’s recipes could be a much-needed balm this festive season.

But perhaps surprisingly for someone who’s written a whole book of festive bakes, December 25 has never been that much of a big deal for Kim-Joy.

“Christmas is a weird one, because I stopped kind of celebrating it as a kid,” she says with a shrug. “My family just stopped kind of doing it, I think because we were a bit broken up.” Since then, she’s spent the holiday with friends, working in care homes, and even in Japan.

So what about this year? Like so many of us, Kim-Joy is planning a low-key Christmas. “It’s just going to be me and my partner, Nabil, and our cats Inki and Mochi,” she says with obvious delight. “We’ll get them some treats and put stockings up and decorate – it will be lovely.”

Christmas With Kim-Joy: A Festive Collection Of Edible Cuteness by Kim-Joy is published by Quadrille, priced £15. Photography by Ellis Parrinder. Below is a recipe from the book for you to try.

ROBIN COOKIES

(Makes 12)

For the speculoos cookie dough:

250g salted butter (or replace with vegan butter – for the best results, use vegan butter that’s close to 80 per cent fat)

250g brown cassonade sugar (or light brown muscovado sugar)

¾tsp ground cinnamon

¼tsp ground nutmeg

?tsp ground white pepper

?tsp ground cloves

?tsp ground cardamom

Pinch of ground anise

¼tsp bicarbonate of soda

½ egg (or 2tbsp aquafaba)

350g plain flour (or gluten-free flour plus ?tsp xanthan gum) plus extra for dusting

You can also add the finely grated zest of 2 lemons or 2 oranges to flavour

For the sugar centre:

225g caster or granulated sugar

150g liquid glucose

50ml water

Orange gel food dye

For the royal icing:

40g egg white (substitute with aquafaba for a vegan version)

225g icing sugar

Plus extra egg white (or aquafaba) and icing sugar to adjust and get the right consistency

Plus:

Black and orange gel

Food dyes

Sprinkles of your choice

Method:

For the cookie dough: line a baking sheet that you can fit in the fridge with baking paper and set aside for now. Cream the butter and cassonade sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk attachment until the butter and sugar is soft, fluffy and paler in colour. Scrape the sides and base of the bowl occasionally.

Add all the spices, bicarbonate of soda and egg or aquafaba, then mix for a few more seconds until completely combined.

Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and add all the flour. Use your hands to rub the butter and sugar mixture into the flour, then combine into a ball.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface, then use cutters to stamp out circles, about 7.5cm in diameter, and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. On half the cookies, stamp out a smaller circle, about 4cm from the lower third area (refer to the photo for guidance).

Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to colour. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.

When the cookies are cool, make the sugar glass for the centre. Add the caster sugar, liquid glucose and water to a small saucepan and stir to combine. Add a drop of orange gel food dye to colour. Heat over a high heat, but don’t stir at all until the mixture reaches 150C. Remove the pan from the heat and use a large spoon to spoon the sugar syrup into the centre of the cookies. Immediately scatter over sprinkles. Leave the sugar syrup for 20 minutes, or until completely hardened, then peel off the baking paper.

Next, make the royal icing. Use a stand mixer (or handheld electric whisk) fitted with a balloon whisk attachment to combine the egg white/aquafaba and icing sugar until you get a smooth consistency. Then add tiny amounts of extra egg white (or aquafaba) and/or icing sugar to get the right consistency. Spoon one-third of the mixture into a piping bag, then divide the remaining icing between two bowls. Stir black food dye into one bowl and orange food dye into the other to colour.

Transfer each colour to a piping bag and cut a small opening on each. Use to pipe a robin design (refer to the photo for guidance). The wings are an optional extra decoration. You can make them by letting the leftover sugar syrup (used for the centres) cool, then pulling it into a long wide ribbon using your hands and cutting it into pieces with scissors. Just be careful not to do this when the sugar is too hot! It needs to be cooled to the point where it can be stretched and is malleable. It’s not a problem if this doesn’t work for you, as the robins still look good without the wings!

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