Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas cookies, the Usborne First Cookbook way

For one of my childhood birthdays, perhaps my sixth, I received two books from my UK grandparents.

Newer editions of these books are still being printed, and if you have children - look these books up. I loved my copies, as did my siblings after me (although I reclaimed the books when I moved out of home!).

In my versions, the First Cookbook has sections on 'Hot Things', 'Sweet Things' and 'Party Things' ...

...as well as general tips and advice, some of which I suspect I could benefit from attending to even today.

The Simple Things to Make and Do collection covers Growing Things, Party Fun, and Making Presents.

As with the cooking book, some of the contents remain useful even now;

We haven't made all of the recipes or tried all of the activities, but these books served my family very, very well. Certain recipes and ideas became favourites that we did again and again.

Looking through the books as an adult thus brings back many memories. The worn nature of the cookbook, including the page where my sister's fudge efforts went a little messy (right on top of the safety warning about the hazards of fudge preparation!) also make me smile every time I look at the pages.

This post isn't just about the books, though, despite my extended attention to them. It's really about the Iced Spice Biscuits in the First Cookbook.  My Mum has made these biscuits at Christmas for as long as I can remember, quite possibly since the first year I got the book.

To me, it wouldn't quite be Christmas without these biscuits. I have loved carrying on the tradition since leaving home, and this year I had the privilege of baking a double batch on the weekend and then having my Mum and sister over to decorate them this afternoon.

We made a mess

Although I don't make these cookies at any time other than Christmas, the biscuit base is one of my favourites. This year I ventured to try an egg-free variation (I just subbed in commercial egg replacer), with a certain amount of trepidation lest I ruined the familiar flavour. To my relief, I couldn't detect any differences in the flavour or texture and they were still very, very good.

Although I like these cookies plain, they decorate beautifully. My Mum's icing and decorating efforts have always exceeded mine, but even if you have a shaky hand and clumsy tendencies, you can turn these biscuits into mini Christmas tokens very easily.

They're great for presents, for sharing with family, and for taking in to share at work. And, of course, for eating.

Iced Spice Biscuits, for Christmas

From The Usborne First Cookbook
1 batch (as below) makes about 20 cookies

125g brown sugar
125g dairy-free spread, or butter
250g plain flour
Egg replacer to the equivalent of 1 egg, or 1 egg
Pinch salt
2 tsp mixed spice

Preheat the oven to 190'C and line 2 - 3 baking trays with baking paper

Beat the brown sugar and butter together until fluffy

Gradually beat in the egg or egg replacer

Add the flour, salt and mixed spice and mix well to combine

Knead briefly to form a ball of firm dough

Roll out the dough on a flour-covered surface, to ~1/2 cm thick

Cut out shapes using cookie cutters

Bake on prepared trays for 15 minutes, until light brown (the cookies will continue to firm up after coming out of the oven - they are better coming out a little soft than too hard)

Allow to cool on the tray for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely

To make the icing
Combine 125g icing sugar with 1 - 2 tbsp hot water; mix thoroughly

 Separate the icing into 3 small bowls

Colour icing with food colouring as desired

Decorate and top with cachous, mini M&Ms or other decorations to taste

No matter how hard we try, there are always some demented biscuits left over from the decorating efforts. The above pictures show the 'acceptable' ones - those that may be presented to others or put out when non-family people are around.

Here are some of the ones that will be kept just for home;

A hippy reindeer with a broken leg (among other things)...

...including what is almost my favourite creation, because it is just so odd! I don't know what I was thinking when I decorated this...at least the M&M surplus should make it appealing for eating.

Quality of the cookie decorating aside, I love having this tradition and being able to sit down with my Mum and sister to fulfill it. It's certainly one I will miss if I ever move away (or one of them does).

Do you have any childhood recipes that you still enjoy today?


  1. Wow that is such a lovely christmas tradition - they look great and sound like a great communal activity - do you own those cutters or do you share them with your mum - I have thought about buying more christmas cutters but I mostly stick to stars which I found a pain to ice this year - maybe my cut out bikkies patience is a bit thin. I am sure your grandparents would have been happy to know these books were such a hit!

  2. I love the hippie reindeer! I think that's the cutest one.
    I've only decorated cookies like that once.. last year with my boyfriends family. It was fun but my cookies all looked ridiculous (no artistic talent.) They are doing it again this year, but I have to work.

  3. Oh how sweet - both the books, and your cookies! I think the best part about making decorated things is getting to eat the screw ups. Though, I love your screwups! Especially that white christmas ghost - thingie. The ghost of christmas past, maybe?

  4. Aw, SQUISH! So cute! Hmm... talking of childhood food memories makes me crave a frog in a log... except for how I don't really like eggs these days all that much :P

  5. I'll eat your hippy reindeer with his little broken leg :-)
    I think that's a lovely tradition to do with your family around christmas time.
    I don't think I have any traditions yet, but am looking forward to starting some with my boys.

  6. I know! We certainly got our value for money from that gift :)

    I actually have my own set of cutters, although in truth I could probably just share with my Mum. Outside of Christmas I only ever use the stars. Her set is slightly different and she has a better snowman and also some little people...but we have learnt over the years that the trees are easiest to cut out (no small bits to fall off) and to decorate. Although by the end of rolling out dough and cutting out shapes, I usually just give up on the last few and just make balls. My biscuit patience can be a bit thin too :p

  7. I relate to the no artistic talent. Some 22 years of making these biscuits and I still lag behind my Mum and (younger) sister in decorating! I'm glad you liked the reindeer though :)

  8. I know! I think I need to look at them more often.

  9. Yes, let's go with that name! Brilliant - thank you :) I'm glad you like the screwups, it seems I shouldn't have been so critical of them.

  10. You know, I have no idea what a frog in a log is?! I am guessing it involves eggs though :) I feel like my childhood may be lacking as I think I'd have enjoyed eating anything with such a fun name.

  11. Shh...I ate his broken leg while making dinner last night. Now he is leg-less, but I suspect the rest of him won't last long (which may be just as well, the poor little thing) :- )

    It must be really fun creating traditions and re-doing childhood things when you have children. I hope you enjoy settling into your own niche.

  12. I think it goes by a squillion other names, such as toad in a hole? It's when you cut a circle out of a piece of toast and then fry an egg in the middle :)

  13. Ah, now I think I've heard of it. But, I still have never had it! I only ever had soft boiled (never hard boiled, ugh) eggs growing up, with toast soldiers. I progressed to the odd poached egg as a teenager, and then left them behind completely. I wish I'd had a toad!

  14. Love love love those books - remember them all too well. I might just do this with the girls on Saturday, they will love it.

  15. Ah! Someone else who has the books :) I'm thrilled to hear others remember them fondly. I hope you enjoy these with your girls if you get to it!

  16. Yippie! Thanks so much for posting this. Our copy has sadly been lost in house moves (or may have been lent to someone!). My mum and sister and I used to make them before Christmas and we loved them so much. I'm baking with a friend's little girl today and thought I'd make them (I know, not at Christmas could mean they don't taste right but its still Epiphany I guess!)

    Thanks so much for including the picture too, I love those little baking dudes!

    1. Thanks so much for letting me know - I love hearing from other families who have enjoyed this book as much as mine :)

  17. Hello,

    My mum also bought this book for us and we always use this recipe (throughout the year) but especially at Christmas too! It is nice to know others love it as much as we do :)


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