Friday, November 24, 2006

Good enough to Eat

Although healthy foods should have priority, on breakfast TV today there was a short clip of a single parent in a supermarket, complaining of how it was impossible to buy healthy foods such as fruit and veg. on a low income. He had small children with him and it did seem that the first foods he felt he needed to put in his trolley were large packets of crisps. Each of these would probably cost around £1 a pack, and this does make me sad for you can buy a lot of good food for that money. Start buying the sensible stuff first, leave the snacks to the end and then only if you can afford it and not at all if you can get away with it.

After all I've said, today I'm giving you the treat I promised. Gingerbread. This version is a type of firm cookie which can be made into houses, or cut into shapes to hang from the Xmas Tree. If used for decoration, best eaten with a week of making, otherwise they dry out too much. In Germany, they make them up to a month in advance then leave them in the open air. After using for decoration only, they are wrapped in cling-film and stored to used for display the following year, and maybe years after that. From many recipes, this is the easiest:
Lebkuchen - (spice biscuits)
2 oz butter, softened, 3 oz soft brown sugar
1 egg, beaten, 7 oz plain flour
1/2 tsp. bicarb. soda, 1 tsp mixed spice
1 tblsp. runny honey OR golden syrup
Beat the butter and sugar together until light, then beat in the egg. Sift the flour with the bicarb and the spice and fold in. Add the honey or syrup. The mixture needs to be quite firm. Put in a polybag and chill for several hours, or you could make it now, freeze it and thaw it out to bake nearer Xmas.
Tip: If using for decoration only, you could omit the spice. To make a darker shade use half syrup and half treacle.

Roll the dough out on a floured board to 1/2cm thick, then cut into required shapes. If needing to hang from a tree, then make a hole near an edge with the end of a chopstick, or end of a biro (first wrap in foil). The simplest shape for a house is first to cook the gingerbread in one piece, then cut when cold. To form the house, follow the instructions after baking.
Put the shapes onto greased and floured baking trays and bake at 180C/350F/Gas 4 for 6-8 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. If you want them just for decoration, and you feel they are too soft when cool, you can return them to the oven for a further 2 -3 minutes.
To assemble a house: The simplest way is to cut the shapes in card and then use these as a template. Draw a line on the card to the width you want (suggest 4") then draw a line up from the middle to about 6" - 8". Draw a line from each end of the base line to the top of the middle line and you get a triangle (is that called an equilateral triangle?). Cut two of these to make the ends of the houses. If possible, have a piece of gingerbread larger than the completed house to use as a base.
For the roof, cut two oblongs from the gingerbread, the depth of each the same as the side of a triangle and as wide as you want. Pipe on windows and doors with icing (you can buy this in tubes), and stick the roof to the ends with some very firm water, royal, or tube icing leaving a little bit of the roof overhanging the front. Leave to set before finishing.
To complete the decoration, pipe on more icing to look like icicles, and stick small sweets (such as Smarties) on the roof and around the door, using blobs of icing as glue.
It is even better decorated with home-made royal icing which can be poured over the roof to set to look like snow and icicles.
Tip: to make royal icing soft enough to cut without shattering, beat in a few drops of glycerine.