Gingerbread

GingerbreadPreparation and cooking time: 90 minutes. Resting time: two days.

350g sugar
280g golden syrup
200ml milk
250g butter, cut into 2cm cubes
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground cloves
1 tbsp ground cardamom seeds
2 tbsp ground cassia cinnamon
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tbsp ground allspice (optional)
300g whole blanched almonds and 100g pistachios (optional)
1kg soft wheat flour, plus extra to dust
1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda (or potash)

Combine the sugar, golden syrup and milk in a pan, bring to a boil, then take off the heat and leave to cool a little. Put the butter, salt and spices in a bowl and pour on the still warm (but not hot) milky syrup. Stir until the butter has melted and the mixture has cooled down to room temperature (add the nuts now, if using).

Sift the flour and bicarb into the bowl and mix with your hands until fully combined. Shape into a tight lump, wrap in cling-film and put in the fridge to rest for 48 hours.

To make gingerbread rounds, unwrap the dough (it will be rather stiff) and divide it into equal-sized workable portions. Roll each piece into a log, then cut it into 3mm slices (or thicker, if you prefer); if you have added nuts to the dough, you will need a really sharp knife to cut it neatly. Alternatively, to make gingerbread shapes, unwrap the rested dough and divide into workable portions. Roll out each portion on a very lightly floured work surface (too much flour will make dough dry), then cut it into the desired shapes with a knife or a cookie cutter (I like to make little pigs).

Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6 and line several baking sheets with baking paper. Arrange the gingerbread shapes on the sheets and bake for no longer than five minutes; keep an eye on them, because they burn very easily. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the baking sheets. It doesn’t matter if the gingerbreads are a little bit soft in the middle, because they’ll harden as they cool down.

Knäck (Swedish Christmas toffee)

Knäck is the Swedish word for “break”, so I assume the name of this seasonal toffee refers to its texture. I prefer my knäck a bit chewy, so I cook it for a slightly shorter time than is usual. Knäck is traditionally poured hot into small paper moulds and left to set. For those who make their knäck very sticky in texture, the paper won’t let go of the toffee once it’s cool, so you have to eat the whole thing, paper and all.

If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the consistency of the knäck – and thereby see if it’s cooked to your liking – by spooning a drop of hot toffee into a cup of cold water: after a few seconds, when it has cooled, you will have a decent indication of the knäck’s final texture. As a general rule of thumb, 122C produces a soft but not sticky toffee, while anything below that will be sticky; 125C will make a firm toffee, and anything above that will produce a hard one. Most Swedes regard knäck as essential over the Christmas period. These quantities will make 45-60 pieces of toffee, depending on how long you boil it and how big your moulds are.

200ml cream
170g sugar
280g golden syrup
2 tbsp salted butter
2 tbsp finely chopped almonds and/or breadcrumbs (optional)

Mix all the ingredients except the nuts and/or breadcrumbs in a heavy pan (I use a cast-iron skillet or frying pan). Bring to a simmer on medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon from time to time, and cook until the mix reaches your preferred temperature – 30–40 minutes. As soon as the toffee is ready, mix in the almonds and/or breadcrumbs, spoon into moulds and leave to set.

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