Christmas is upon us and I’m late with my Advent Calendar. We should have opened the first paper bag yesterday morning, as first thing of the day, still in our pajamas. Yet, I so enjoyed making it this year, spending a few hours in the kitchen to play among flour, butter and chocolate, that I’m going to tell you something about the cookies inside these white and red paper bags.
Today is the second of December, the second day of a long run that will take us to Christmas in the blink of an eye. Yesterday night I saw the first Christmas lights in Florence, I started making a list of gift ideas for friends and family. I’m ready to be happily overwhelmed by the Christmas magic.
My idea of Christmas is classic, ordinary: a red wool sweater with reindeer, Christmas music, a kiss under the mistletoe, wrapping gifts at night to make a surprise in the morning, long tables where you eat elbow to elbow with your family and your friends. I’m a romantic and a dreamer, Christmas is my time of the year.
At Christmas everyone feels that kind of magic. It might be for sugar wafting in the air, for the balsamic smell of resin and wood of the Christmas tree, or even for the hypnotic sparkling lights of a fake tree… every year I find a good reason to surrender to its charm.
Last weekend I gave I celebrated the beginning of the Christmas season with a ritual which belongs to my childhood years: I made an Advent Calendar, hiding tiny shortbread cookies into red and white paper bags. I plunged myself in a festive atmosphere filled with spices and butter smell.
I used my mum’s recipe for pasta frolla, the Italian version of a short crust pastry, learnt year after year while making crostate and biscotti on our marble table in the kitchen. I substituted 100 grams of wheat flour with rice flour and chose a local organic not too refined wheat flour. I baked cookies which were at end crumbly and real, with a good authentic taste.
I melted some dark chocolate in a bain-marie on low flame and dipped half of the cookies in the chocolate. My idea was to reproduce the traditional Italian frollini, short-bread cookies half covered in chocolate which you can buy in pastry shops and bakeries. I used a mix of spices made of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla. You can choose your favourite Christmas aromas, from cardamom to orange and lemon zest.
And here’s my first Christmas gift for you, a new video recipe, to bring some magic to your kitchen.
For those who love neat and well written recipes, for the Sunday bakers and for those who will make these cookies to fill up paper bags for the Advent Calendar, for Santa Claus, Sint Niklaas or the Christmas stocking, here’s the recipe.
- 200 g of tender wheat flour
- 100 g of rice flour
- 150 g of cane sugar
- 150 g of butter, room temperature
- 2 pinches of spices
- 1 egg
- 100 of dark chocolate
- Mix together wheat flour, rice flour, cane sugar and spices. Add the diced butter and mix all the ingredients with your hands until crumbly.
- Add a beaten egg and mix again quickly, just enough to form a smooth ball of dough. Wrap it in cling film and keep it in the fridge for a few hours.
- After this time, remove the pastry dough from the fridge, knead it again to make it easy to be worked and roll it out until 5 mm thick. Use a rolling pin and a dusting of rice flour.
- Heat the oven to 180°C and bake the cookies for 11-12 minutes, until lightly golden. Let them cool down completely on a wire rack
- Melt the chopped chocolate in a double boiler and dip the cookies halfway into the melted chocolate. Let them cool on a rack until the chocolate is completely solid again.
- They keep well in a tin box or an airtight container for many days.
Some more ideas for your Christmas cookies
- if you want to impress with a selection of Tuscan biscotti, choose the traditional almond cantucci, or the white chocolate and dried apricots biscotti, the honey and walnuts ones or the chestnut flour cantucci.
- if you want to bake gluten-free, choose the almond and rice flour cookies.
- if lactose is the problem, try the olive oil cookies or the dried fruit biscuits.
- if you love chocolate and tiny sweet treats, these are for you: calzoncelli, Christmas cookies from the South of Italy.
- last but not least, these are sweet ideas from Siena, traditional cookies with spices which date back to the Medieval times: ricciarelli, cavallucci e panforte bites.