Forget glittery aubergines and hand-tied wreaths: the best decoration is an edible decoration, preferably homemade. Sweetly spiced gingerbread of the crunchy nut variety, rather than the sticky cake or crumbly Cumbrian kind, is the ideal material for stars and trees – or even the odd festive dinosaur. Decorate gaudily, tie with ribbons and try not to eat them all before the big day.
Prep 20 min (assuming children might be doing this)
Cook 10 min
Makes about 30
225g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra to grease
340g soft brown sugar
340g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1½ tsp grated nutmeg
1½ tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tsp ground ginger
75g crystallised ginger or dried apricots, finely chopped
225g icing sugar (optional)
Hundreds and thousands (optional)
1 Cream the butter and sugar
Put the softened butter in a bowl and beat briefly to break it up. Add the sugar and beat again until there are no lumps and the mixture is well combined – you can use a wooden spoon for this if you’re feeling strong, or the beating tool on a food mixer, which will be quicker and easier.
2 Add the egg
Break the egg into a cup or jug and beat with a fork to mix the yolk and white. Very gradually beat the egg into the butter and sugar mixture, a little at a time so it doesn’t curdle. If it does start to look grainy, don’t worry – just add a little flour to bring it back together.
3 Add the dry ingredients
Put the flour, baking powder, salt and spices in a separate bowl and whisk to mix and help break up any lumps. Now stir them into the butter and sugar until the mixture comes together into a dough. Stir the finely chopped crystallised ginger or dried apricots into the dough as well.
4 Roll out the dough
Spread a large rectangle of clingfilm on a work surface and put the gingerbread dough on top. Cover it with another large rectangle of clingfilm, then gently roll out with a rolling pin until the dough is about 3mm thick. Transfer to a baking sheet or chopping board, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
5 Cut out the biscuits
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 190C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6 and lightly grease two baking sheets. Remove the top layer of clingfilm, cut out the biscuits using cookie cutters of whatever shape you like, then arrange on the baking sheets, leaving a couple of centimetres between each one, so they have room to spread out while they bake.
6 Now to bake
Bake for 10 minutes. Make sure you have a skewer or cocktail stick ready and, as soon as you take the biscuits out of the oven, poke holes big enough to thread a ribbon through in the top – it’s important to do this when the biscuits are still warm, because if you wait until they cool, they will break.
7 Let them cool
Very gently transfer the biscuits to a wire rack (they will still be soft, but don’t worry – they’ll crisp up as they cool) and leave to cool completely before you begin to ice them. If you put the icing on when they’re too warm, it will just run off.
8 The decoration
If you want to ice the biscuits, sift the icing sugar into a wide bowl to get rid of any lumps. Stir in just enough boiling water to make a smooth paste, then dip one face of each biscuit in the icing. Sprinkle with hundreds and thousands, if using, then put back on the rack to set.
9 Finishing touches
Alternatively, decorate the biscuits with writing icing or melt some chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of boiling water (or in the microwave) and drizzle over the cooled biscuits. Poke through the holes again if they become clogged with icing, then thread through a ribbon or a piece of string, to hang up the biscuits with.