Yuletide wouldn’t be merry without a wassail. And a wassail needs a biscuit, says Elisabeth Luard
The feast of midwinter, otherwise known as Christmas, is likely to be a touch short-changed this year.
No matter. There’s a reason northerners encourage the return of the sun with roundness, spiciness and sugariness. Yuletide wouldn’t be merry without a wassail. And a wassail needs a biscuit.
First, however, take back control of the bread bin with Sourdough Mania, Anita Sumer’s gorgeously illustrated guide to what everyone else was up to during the lockdown(s). The author is Slovenian and it all started on Facebook. Step-by-step photos and hands-on instructions ensure nothing can go wrong from starter-mother to triumphantly Instagrammed finish. Really.
Couch cronuts (wake up there at the back) will appreciate Miranda York’s The Food Almanack, a literary pick-and-mix by your favourite food writers (including me). Live vicariously with Raymond Blanc on caramelising crab apples, Diana Henry on Portuguese pastéis de nata and Fuchsia Dunlop on Chinese kitchen gods, all illuminated by Louise Sheeran’s deliciously fluid, single-line drawings.
Here’s a couple of rounded, spicy, sugary wassail dippers from the book – suitable to enjoy snuggling under the duvet, with Love Actually on a loop.
Anja Dunk’s tree biscuits
A cross between the British ginger nut and the German Lebkuchen, says Anja, these enthusiastically spiced biscuits are very crunchy – perfect for dipping. Makes 50
250g rye flour
250g plain flour
2 tsps each ground cinnamon and ginger
1 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp each ground cardamom and anise
½ tsp fine sea salt
150g unsalted butter
225g light brown sugar
9 tbsps runny honey
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6.
Mix both flours in a bowl with the spices and salt. Melt the butter with the sugar and honey. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry, and add the bicarb diluted in two tbsps of hot water. Beat with a wooden spoon till a stiff dough forms. Roll out to 3mm. Cut out festive shapes and punch a hole in one corner for a ribbon to hang on the tree.
Arrange on a couple of baking trays lined with baking parchment and bake for about eight minutes) till golden-brown. Leave for a few minutes to firm before transferring to a baking rack to cool.
Meera Sodha’s fennel-seed shortbread
Fennel seeds are the active ingredient in gripe water, the miracle cure for windy babies. Just the thing for that post-festive hangover. Makes 8 petticoat tails
1½ tsps fennel seeds, lightly toasted
350g plain flour
250g cold unsalted butter, diced
125g caster sugar plus extra for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas 3.
Crush the fennel seeds with a pestle and mortar. Sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips till the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Mix in the fennel seeds and sugar and bring all together into a ball (you may need a splash of cold water). Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Flatten the ball a little and lay it between two sheets of baking paper. Slowly and evenly roll out the dough to a thickness of 2cm. Transfer to a baking tray and remove the top layer of paper.
Bake for 40 minutes, or until it’s a pale gold. Sprinkle with sugar and cut into farles, as they call them north of the border.