Rachel Allen: Some new ideas on Christmas baking

Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what my favourite festive aromas are made of.

There’s nothing like a bit of Christmas baking to get you in the mood for the season ahead. As the sweet scent of warm buttery spices wafts through the house, I’ll put some Christmas tunes on and be gently lulled into the zone.

This mincemeat crumble cake is a bit of a favourite. Comprising three layers, the mincemeat sits on top of a buttery sponge and snugly under a sweet nutty crumble. It’ll keep happily for a couple of days. I love to gently warm it up before enjoying with a good cup of coffee.

The Scandi Christmas biscuits I adore, and probably because they contain one of my favourite spices of all, and definitely when it comes to baking: cardamom. Topped with a soft meringue-like mixture before being baked, these never fail to bring me back to when I was little. Pack them into little bags or boxes and give to your favourite people this Christmas.

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Some more festive favourites that also make delicious edible gifts are the festive white chocolate and cranberry biscotti. They can be made today and will keep all through Christmas, just perfect dipping into a coffee or a glass of chilled dessert wine. Now that’s a treat.

Rachel recommends

For cutting the biscotti into long thin slices at an angle, I recommend a sharp serrated knife, if you have one.

In season: Raspberry jam

While it’s now the season for using mincemeat, the Crumble Cake is great made with raspberry jam any other time of the year.

Rachel’s top tip

Use the back of a teaspoon for the best result when spreading out the icing on the Scandi Christmas biscuits before they’re baked.

Scandi Christmas biscuits

Makes 30

These biscuits may be stored in an airtight tin for up to 2 weeks.

For the biscuits, you will need:

110g self-raising flour

Pinch of salt

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

50g caster sugar

50g butter

2 egg yolks

For the icing you will need:

1 egg white

110g icing sugar

To decorate, you will need

35g nibbed almonds

1 Cover two baking trays with parchment paper.

2 Place the flour, the salt and the ground cardamom in a bowl and add the caster sugar. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolks and mix to a firm dough. Flatten out to about 1-2cm thick, cover the dough and chill for 30 minutes.

3 Preheat the oven to 180˚C, 350˚F, Gas 4.

4 Roll out the biscuit dough on a lightly floured work top until 5mm thick. Cut into rounds, about 6cm in diameter. I like to use a fluted cutter. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking trays.

5 To make the icing, whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage and gradually add in the icing sugar and continue whisking until the mixture is thick. Put a small teaspoon of icing in the centre of each biscuit, smooth it slightly and sprinkle the nibbed almonds on top of the biscuits.

6 Bake in the preheated oven for 15-18 minutes, or until a light golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Mincemeat crumble cake

Serves 8-10

For the crumble, you will need:

110g plain flour

75g caster sugar

75g butter, diced

25g flaked almonds

For the cake, you will need:

110g softened butter

110g soft brown sugar

2 eggs

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

175g plain flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons milk

4 generous tablespoons mincemeat

Icing sugar to dust

1 Preheat the oven to 180˚C, 350˚F, Gas 4. You will need a 20cm spring-form tin. Make sure the base of the tin is upside down, so that when the cake is cooked you can slide it off the base using a palette knife, and so the ‘lip’ of the tin base isn’t in the way.

2 Rub the base and sides the tin with a little butter. I use a bit of butter wrapper for this.

3 Next make the crumble topping. Put the flour and the caster sugar into a bowl. Rub in the diced butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in the flaked almonds. Keep aside.

4 Now make the cake. Cream the butter until soft in a bowl. Add the brown sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one by one, add the vanilla extract, and stir in the sifted flour and the baking powder, and then the milk.

5 Spoon the mixture into the tin, leveling off the top. Spread the mincemeat over the cake mixture. Sprinkle the crumble over the mincemeat. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the centre feels set in the centre. It should look golden on top. Allow the cake to sit in the tin for 10 minutes, then slide a small sharp knife around the sides of the cake to free it from the tin. Remove the sides of the tin and slide it off the base (if you wish) and transfer the cake to a plate. Once the cake is just cool, dredge it with icing sugar. Serve with softly whipped cream.

Festive white chocolate and cranberry biscotti

Makes about 12

You will need:

100g flour

100g caster sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

75g white chocolate, chopped or in pieces

50g dried cranberries, chopped slightly

50g candied orange peel, roughly chopped

1 egg

1 Preheat the oven to 160˚C, 320˚F, Gas 3.

2 Place the flour, the sugar, the baking powder, the cinnamon and the nutmeg in a large mixing bowl. Add the white chocolate, the dried cranberries and the chopped candied orange peel and mix well.

3 In a small bowl, whisk the egg, then mix into the dry ingredients to form a soft dough.

4 Flour your hands, then turn the dough on to a lightly floured work surface and form in to a sausage about 30cm long and 3cm wide.

5 Place the long piece of dough on a baking tray and bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown and just set. Now carefully remove and allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

6 Place the baked piece of biscotti dough on a chopping board and cut into slices, at an angle, about 1cm thick, then lay flat on the tray and bake for a further 10 minutes.

7 Take the tray out of the oven, turn all the biscotti over, then return to the oven and continue to bake for 10 minutes more. There should be a light golden colour on both cut sides.

8 Cool on a wire rack, then transfer to an airtight container where they will keep for up to six or eight weeks.

Photography by Kip Carroll

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