I came into Jeff's life relatively free of baggage: I had never been married, I had no children, I was debt-free...really all I brought into this house was a metric ton of books, a special needs cat, a whole lot of paintings, and my happy self.
Last Christmas was our first as husband and wife, and that was when I discovered that I didn't bring any holiday doodads to the table beyond a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Jeff, who had spent his entire adult life before me married and a father to boot, had four or five of those giant Rubbermaid storage containers full of the stuff. So when we decorated our tree, the ornaments were all Jeff's, save for a handful of last-minute owl ornaments I had scooped up at Meijer. I decided that next Christmas would be different.
While reading the incomparable Nigella Christmas over the past couple of months as a sort of nightly bedtime story, I kept coming back to her recipe for edible Christmas tree ornaments. They seemed to be no more difficult than the sugar cookies I normally make, and a morning's work would result in something like forty hand-made ornaments. I baked and decorated them yesterday, and even though I did not have a couple of Nigella's British ingredients, my substitutions worked. I also did not add the 1-2 teaspoons of pepper that she included in her recipe as a child-deterrent. We're all adults here, I reasoned, and besides, what if some of them break?
Below is Nigella's recipe, in case I have any U.K. readers, with my substitutions alongside in italics.
- 2 C flour
- pinch salt
- 1 t baking powder
- 1 t cinnamon
- 1/4 t cloves
- 1-2 t pepper
- 1/2 C butter, room temperature (1 stick)
- 2/3 C soft dark sugar <-- Question: what exactly *is* soft dark sugar? I did a little research and learned that it is not dark brown sugar. It's something else, and we don't have it here as far as I can tell. So, feeling bad, I used dark brown sugar.
- 2 large eggs, beaten with 4 T runny honey <-- In a few of her recipes, Nigella calls for "runny" honey. Is that somehow different from ordinary, squeeze-bear honey? Because that is what I substituted, except I discovered too late that our honey was crusty and clogged the dispenser. I sighed and put in corn syrup instead.
- 2 1/2 C powdered sugar
- 3 T boiling water
Preheat the oven to 325.
Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and pepper (or not!) in a food processor (stand mixer). With the motor on, add the butter and sugar, then, slowly, the eggs and honey, though don't use all of this liquid if the pastry has come together before it's used up. Form two discs and put one, covered in plastic wrap or in a plastic freezer bag, into the fridge while you get started on the other. Have ready two baking sheets and line with parchment paper if not non-stick.
Dust a surface with flour, roll out the disc, also floured, and cut out your Christmas decorations. It was at this point that I realized that my dough was too sticky, and I had to knead some extra flour into the dough, after which it was fine. Re-roll and cut out some more, setting aside the residue from the first disc, well covered, while you get on with rolling out the second. When you've got both sets of leftover clumps of dough, roll out and cut again and keep doing so till all the dough's used up.
Now take a small icing nozzle and use the pointy end to cut out a hole just below the top of each cookie (through which string can later be threaded to hang them). You could also just make a hole with a toothpick and wiggle it around a bit. The holes I made closed up slightly while baking, so you might want to make your holes larger than you think you're going to need. I lost a few cookies after baking when I tried to re-drill the closed-up holes.
Arrange on the baking sheets and cook for about 20 minutes. It's hard to see when they're cooked, but you can feel; if the underside is no longer doughy, they're ready. Mine (smallish stars) were done after around 13 minutes. Bigger cookies = longer baking time. Transfer them to cool completely on a wire rack.
Make up an ordinary icing by mixing approximately 3 tablespoons of boiling water with the powdered sugar, and stir until you've got a glossy glaze.
My stars! Without the pepper, they're pretty tasty, and they became crunchy in no time. I was impatient to decorate them, but we did not have any dragees at home. I figured I'd pick them up at my local craft superstore.
Except M.L.C.S. did not have them, which struck me as completely insane. I had visions of Gianni Versace dancing in my head, and all they had to offer me was a lousy vial of workmanlike red and green sprinkles? Pshaw. Then I had a revelation: It's not like we'll be eating these; who says we have to use edible decorations? This place is LOADED with sparkly beads and things like that! So I bought some silver stars and tiny things that totally looked like diamonds. As Jeff and I drove home I told him, "I don't think you can truly understand the magnitude of my need to make these ornaments right now."
Once home, I spent the entirety of A Prairie Home Companion (which I listen to semi-ironically) putting these together:
I named the one with the cluster of five big stars "Elton." Later I took things one step further by brushing on some glitter paint I had on hand. Yes, I am a 40 year old woman with a stash of glitter paint.
We put the tree up this afternoon, and as I write this I am gazing lovingly at my flamboyant little creations, dangling alongside Jeff's ornaments. It's like they belong together.