Bake with Michelle Darmody: Handy recipes for last-minute Christmas preparations

Christmas falls nicely this year. We have these few days of the weekend to ease ourselves gradually into holiday mode, or hit it with a bang. Whichever the case may be there are a few recipes here that will be handy to have in the cupboard over the festive period. 

If you are in a rush, cutting all the pastry circles needed for regular mince pies using a rectangle tray can be an easier option. You can then cut the tray bake into squares once cooled. It takes much less time to assemble than individual pies. Crusaders returning from the Middle East brought sweet meats and what were then very exotic spices on their return journeys. Originally there was meat in the recipe but now it is usually just suet or for the most part a vegetarian version of suet used instead. The pies have also reduced in size since their origin when they were baked in large oblong dishes. The mince pie which we are more familiar with was shaped in Victorian times. It is still one of my favourite things at Christmas time. I enjoy making them, but this quicker method is also quite handy if you are too busy to cut and assemble each little pie, they can be fiddly.

The scones are great for a breakfast or an afternoon snack, particularly if you have guests arriving. Like pastry, the less you handle the scone dough the lighter the scones will be, so it is good to be careful and not handleit too much. Gently bring it together and spend as little time rolling and cutting as possible. If you do feel that the dough is getting a bit greasy pop the tray of scones into the fridge before putting them into the oven.

The ginger cookie recipe is different to a traditional gingerbread. The dough is a little easier to work with as it does not seize up as quickly. The cookies are very nice served as they are but at this time of year it can be fun to decorate them, they will last a week or so in a sealed box.

Christmas Mincemeat Squares

For the pastry

225g flour

Half tsp of ground cinnamon

140g of cold butter, cut into cubes

55g of golden caster sugar

1 egg

For the filling

8 tbs of mincemeat

Heat the oven to 160C.

Grease and flour a small rectangle baking tray that has at least a centimetre lip all around the edge.

Mix the flour and the cinnamon and rub in the butter, until it looks like rough breadcrumbs, do not over mix.

Stir the sugar into the egg, mix it lightly and add to the flour with a fork. Bring together with your hands then rest the pastry for an hour in the fridge or overnight if you wish.

Roll half of the pastry on a flour dusted surface to about 4 mm in thickness. Roll it just larger than the rectangle tin. Place the pastry on to the baking tray and very gently press it into place. Prick it all over with a fork and bake it for 10 minutes until it is beginning to turn golden. Allow it to cool for 10 minutes.

While it is cooling roll the rest of the pastry so that it will fit on top.

Spread a layer of mincemeat on a baked sheet and then lay the other layer on top.

Pinch around the edges and flatten with the prongs of a fork. Make a few small holes in the lid with the point of a knife.

Bake it again for a further 15 minutes at 180C until the pastry is golden.

Allow to cool in the tin and then cut into squares.

Sour Cherry and Vanilla Scones

275g of plain flour

1 level tsp of bread soda

2 level tsp of cream of tarter

a pinch of salt

40g of cold butter, cubed

40g of caster sugar

1 tsp of vanilla essence

1 egg, lightly beaten

buttermilk – place the egg into the measuring jug and then top it to 150 ml with the buttermilk

a handful of dried sour cherries, chopped (or dried cranberries)

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment.

Sieve the dry ingredients together and rub in the butter, then stir in the caster sugar.

Lightly mix the egg with the vanilla and pour them into the measuring jug. Add the buttermilk until you have 150 mls of liquid.

Pour this into the rest of the ingredients and bring together to form a dough. Stir in the sour cherries with a fork or spoon until evenly mixed throughout the dough. The mixture should be soft but not sticky.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and pat to about an inch and a half thickness. Cut and place apart on baking tray.

Bake for 15 minutes until golden on top. Allow to cool on the tray for five minutes then transfer to a wire rack. They are delicious served warm with a scrape of soft butter.

Gingersnap Christmas Cookies

150g of soft butter

120g of golden caster sugar

80g of treacle

1 egg, lightly beaten

280g of plain flour

1 ½ tsp of baking powder

2 tsp of ground cinnamon

1 ½ tsp of ground ginger

Beat the sugar and butter together until light and fluffy.

Stir in the beaten egg and treacle until combined.

Sieve the flour, baking powder, ground cinnamon and ginger together. Stir it into the rest of the ingredients until combined and smooth. Wrap the dough in baking parchment and place into the fridge for at least an hour to firm up.

Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 4 mm in thickness. Cut with your chosen cutter and place onto a lined baking tray. The biscuits will spread a little while baking so leave at least a centimetre between each one.

Bake for about twelve minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool on the tray for about five minutes then place onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Ice the biscuits if you wish or eat as is.

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