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Bredele biscuits – traditional Christmas cookies

cookies, French | December 4, 2017 | By

Last year, just before Christmas, the lovely Cécile from the wonderful website Because Gus, asked me if I’d like to collaborate with a producer of GF flour here in France, to produce a recipe for gluten free bredele. These are the classic small cut-out biscuits that you traditionally see in the east of France, in the Alsace region, during Advent. There are hundreds of varieties and the Christmas markets are full of beautiful tiny cutters for them.

I am fortunate to have a wonderfully kind French friend, Catherine, who is an expert in bredele, making hundreds of them every year in every shape imaginable – from snowflakes to reindeer! She immediately helped me find a basic recipe which I then converted to gluten free. Then the nerve-wracking experience of transporting 400 fragile cookies to Paris on the metro! But it was all worth it – the recipe went down a storm with all the participants of the Because Gus Christmas party. One gentleman went so far as to say it was the best GF biscuit he had ever eaten!

The main thing with this recipe is to keep the dough cold. Roll it out between cling film to avoid adding flour to stop the rolling pin stick. Extra flour will dry your biscuits out – just what you need to avoid with GF baking!

Keep the mixture cold all the time – if necessary pop the rolled out dough, still between its clingfilm back into the fridge on a tray and let it firm up before cutting the shapes out. And to help them keep their beautiful shapes, remember to put the tray back into the fridge so the biscuits are cold right before you bake them.

And one last thing – if you are using your own blend of flour, or a ready made mix, then check whether it contains xanthan gum – if so, you can omit the half teaspoon I include in the ingredients.

Gluten free bredele – cut out Christmas cookies

250g my flour blend
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
125g icing sugar
1/2 tsp GF baking powder
150g unsalted butter, softened at room temp
1 small egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp sea salt

optional: beaten egg to glaze before baking

  1. Sieve the flour, icing sugar and baking powder together into a bowl
  2. Add the softened butter and rub it into the flour with your finger tips until it looks sandy.
  3. In a small bowl mix together the egg, vanilla and salt.
  4. Add the liquid mixture to bowl with the flour and mix well together – the mixture will be quite soft.
  5. Form into a ball, flatten it then wrap in cling film and refrigerate for an hour.
  6. Roll the dough out between 2 sheets of cling film to about 4mm thickness. If the dough becomes too so then place it (rolled out) back into the fridge on a tray to firm up.
  7. Cut out the biscuits using shaped cookie cutters, and place on a baking sheet covered with baking parchment.
  8. Put back in the fridge for 30 mins while preheating the oven to 180C (160C Fan). Brush with beaten egg if desired and then bake for 10-15 mins until golden (timing will depend on your oven and the thickness of the cookies, so keep an eye on them!).
  9. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for a minute or two before placing them on a cooling rack. They can be quite fragile so handle them carefully.

Zimtsterne – Christmas star cookies

cookies | December 17, 2016 | By

I have taught quite a few baking classes these past few weeks – with students from Greece, Sweden and the USA as well as more locally from France and UK. It’s part of my work that I love, this connecting with people (mostly women it has to be said) from all parts of the world. During class my kitchen comes alive with English and French, spoken with different accents, but always with the desire to learn and to share.

These German cinnamon cookies are an easy way to fill a pretty tin at this time of year when none of us have quite enough time. I had requests for the recipe after serving them as a welcoming treat at a class this week. It strikes me that if you have children then the painting of the stars with the meringue mixture might make quite a therapeutic (if potentially sticky) activity for a wintery afternoon. Damp cloths for sticky fingers at the ready maybe?!

The flavourings used in these cookies seems to vary from family to family. I particularly enjoy the flavour of orange with anything involving almonds, so have used orange zest. Some families use lemon and others accent the almond taste with almond extract. Go with your own preference. Read the instructions carefully – you’ll need to remove some of the meringue mixture for the painting. If you leave it in you’ll end up with an unholy sticky mess. And no cookies. You have been warned!

I have it on good authority from a German friend that the way to keep these cookies slightly soft is to keep a slice of fresh apple in the tin with them. If you try it then let me know if it works! 

  1. 2 medium egg whites
  2. 1 tsp lemon juice
  3. 250g ground almonds
  4. 200g icing sugar
  5. grated zest 1 orange
  6. 2 tsp ground Sri Lankan cinnamon
  1. Heat oven to 150C/130C Fan and line 2 baking trays with baking parchment.
  2. Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk until foamy. Add the lemon juice and whisk again until they hold soft peaks.
  3. Slowly mix in the icing sugar and continue whisking until the mixture is stiff. Remove about a quarter of the meringue mixture and set aside to use for the topping. Better to remove too much than too little - you can always add some back in if the dough mixture later becomes too stiff.
  4. Put the almonds, orange zest, cinnamon, ginger in the bowl with the bulk of the meringue and mix to form a stiff dough. Add a little of the meringue back in if the mixture is really too stiff to combine.
  5. Place the dough on a piece of clingfilm and cover with a second sheet. Roll out to about 4mm thick. Remove the top layer of clingfilm and use a small star-shaped cutter to cut out the cookies. Push the cookies up from beneath the bottom layer of clingfilm to make them easier to pick up and place them on the prepared baking tray.
  6. Re-roll the dough as many times as needed to cut out as many cookies as possible.
  7. Using the reserved to paint the tips of the cookies using a small pastry brush or new paintbrush. If it’s too thick to spread then add a tsp of warm water to the meringue.
  8. Bake in the oven for 9-12 mins until meringue is set but not browned. You’ll need to watch them carefully!
  9. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. They will still be slightly soft underneath. Once cool, store in an airtight tin.
  1. I used half ground almonds (aka almond flour from blanched almonds) and half I ground myself from whole almonds with their brown skins. I'm sure you could use all of either type in this recipe.
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Garibaldi biscuits

cookies | March 31, 2016 | By

Garibaldi biscuits seem to have gone out of fashion, which is a shame. They were a regular feature in the biscuit tin of my youth, much favoured by visiting aunts and friends of my mum, rather than being the first to be chosen by my older sister and I (that would have been a bourbon or later, a ginger cream).

Most families seem to call these ‘squashed fly biscuits or ‘fly cemeteries’ which of course might have something to do with why the children weren’t quite so keen on them. I don’t remember this putting me off, even if the mere name of a blood orange meant I wouldn’t remotely go near one.

Garibaldis have quite a bit in common with Eccles cakes and Chorley cakes, those other traditional cakes/pies/biscuits (let’s get the lid back on THAT can of worms quickly…) all something I have long since given up dreaming of eating gluten free. The older I get, the more I find a garibaldi appealing – hence the desire to figure out a GF version. They are reassuringly unsweet and plain. And they hold up to dunking in a mug of tea (yes, even the homemade ones!).

In researching for this post (I’ll spare you the origin of the name and the visit to Britain of an Italian military dignatory) I discovered that at one time it was possible to buy a chocolate-covered garibaldi. I know those never made their way into our house, otherwise I guarantee they would have been held in considerably higher esteem!

Garibaldi biscuits
  1. 120g my four flour blend (see flour blend page)
  2. 2 tablespoons ground flax
  3. 1/8 tsp sea salt
  4. 25g sugar
  5. 25g unsalted butter
  6. 3-4 tbsp milk
  7. 50g currants
  8. 1 egg white
  9. extra teaspoon sugar to sprinkle
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C (160C Fan).
  2. Combine the flour, flax, salt and sugar in a bowl.
  3. Rub in the butter until it is well combined, like sand.
  4. Add enough milk to bind to a soft dough.
  5. Place on a sheet of baking parchment and cover with a piece of clingfilm.
  6. Roll out to approx 25 x 15cm.
  7. Remove the cling film, scatter half the piece with the currants, then fold the other side over, using your hand under the baking parchment to help you (like turning the page of a book) and press down.
  8. Replace the cling film and roll out again until approx 25 x 15 cm or 2mm thick. Try not to let the currants break through the surface too much as they tend to burn otherwise.
  9. Cut into biscuits 3 rows of 6 biscuits, but leave them all joined together.
  10. Brush with lightly beaten egg white and sprinkle with sugar.
  11. Carefully transfer the biscuits, one at a time, to a baking parchment covered baking sheet.
  12. Bake for 15-20 mins until golden brown. Allow to cool before storing in an airtight container.
Adapted from Delia Smith's garibaldi biscuits
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