It's Christmas Eve, and I want to bake. I want floury smudges on myself and cinnamon filtering under the door to my bedroom and sugary, buttery blobs of batter between my fingers. I choose some spiced Christmas biscuits from Nigella's domestic goddess cookbook. I grind pepper into a little bowl and rattle and clatter among the spice bottles for the mixed spice and soon a honey-fragranced dough is turning in the red KitchenAid.
Cutting out shapes in dough is a fabulous, time-travellingly Christmas thing to do. I never did it at Christmas when I was a kid -- mine was not a baking family -- but it makes no difference. It's a direct line to being four years old, like the smell of paste, cutting things out of the newspaper, making a sandcastle. In the brand-new chi-chi kitchenware shop that's just opened in Cambridge I chose the moon shape because I love the moon. And also they were completely sold out of stars.
The house smells evocatively of cloves and cinnamon and Bing and Harry Connick compete for crooning laurels in the living room. The bird loves the big band accompaniments and dances around looking like a tiny green Christmas decoration, with his festive red tail and burnished tummy feathers. There's a fantastically garish Christmas stocking from my Dad, sporting gilt-threaded appliqué snowman and Santa, under the enormous poinsettia that Pluvialis got for me before she left for Maine. A strand of soft blue yarn is peeping out of the box that my old friend Crinkly-Eyed Smile l sent me from Australia. A green-and-white bag all the way from China, from International Woman of Mystery, with exotic unknowns inside.
Later, I'll call my mother, whose timezone dances the sugarplum fairy ten hours before mine. She has a basketful of goodies from me. I wish I could sit on her bed and watch her open them. She might even like these biscuits, she of No Sweet Tooth. They're spicy and biscuity and have a hint of honey -- the vaguest scent of eucalyptus. My love affair with honey is decades old, and I couldn't possibly be unfaithful to my Australian bees.
Spiced Christmas Biscuits
300g plain flour 1 tsp ground mixed spice 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper 1 tsp baking powder pinch salt 100g unsalted butter 100g dark muscovado sugar 2 large eggs, beaten with 4 tablespoons honey
Preheat oven to 170°C and line baking trays with silicon paper.
Mix together the flour, salt, pepper and mixed spice in your mixer or processor. Add the sugar and butter with the motor running, and then slowly the egg and honey mixture. Don't add all of this if the dough starts to come together before it's run out. Form the dough into two discs. Wrap one in clingfilm and put it into the fridge.
Dust your work surface and the other disc with flour. Roll out to about 5mm and cut out your shapes. Smoosh remaining dough into a ball and wrap in clingfilm, while you get the other disc out of the fridge. Roll and cut out. Add the remaining dough to what you had left over from the first disc, and roll out ... continue until you've used up all the dough.
Put shapes on trays and bake for around 20 minutes. It can be hard to see when they're done -- if they're not doughy on the bottom, they're cooked. Put on wire racks to cool.
Nigella recommends that you ice these with a plain white glacé icing, which puts me in somewhat of a quandary. Me and icing have a fraught relationship. In the first place, I tend to think it makes things too sweet. But these biscuits are spicy enough to handle that, and are even perhaps not quite sweet enough to be left plain. In the second place, I just hate icing. I hate making it, and I hate the actual part where I ice something. Why is that? Mysteries of the Xtin Bake Psyche.
I'm hoping I'll get away with a simple dust of icing sugar.