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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.

Brandade de morue

dinner, fish, French, lunch | November 24, 2015 | By

Brandade de morue is a dish with a bit of a reputation of being a bit of a slog to make. I don’t know anyone who makes their own. Even back in 1960, when ‘French Provincial Cooking’ was first published, Elizabeth David commented that the majority of French housewives in Provence bought it ready-prepared. Of course, in Nimes they would have been purchasing it in a small shop that had made it their specialty over the preceding century (at least). Nowadays the supermarket Monoprix and the frozen food store Picard seem the major suppliers to the nation.

And yet that reputation seems, as reputations often are, rather undeserved. Yes, it is made with salt cod that has to be soaked overnight in cold water, but that task seems hardy onerous. I made this tried and tested recipe for supper last week and it was quite speedy. I used a 400g package of skinned and deboned pieces of salt cod that speeded the cooking and flaking process up considerably.

To the uninitiated it is a mixture of cooked fish, with potatoes, some garlic and olive oil. I’m trying to avoid using the words ‘fish pie’ but that is how I initially persuaded my children to eat it. I really enjoy the addition of some crème fraîche and a little lemon zest to lighten the taste and texture of a dish that can otherwise be a bit heavy with the taste of the olive oil. It is a perfect dish to make ahead and reheat. It needs just 20 mins in the oven and a dressed green salad to accompany it. Why not give it a go – it will taste better than anything those French housewives were spending their francs on back in the 60s!

Brandade de morue
  1. 400g skinless, boneless salt cod pieces
  2. 250ml milk
  3. several sprigs thyme
  4. 1 bay leaf
  5. 5 peppercorns
  6. 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  7. 1 clove
  8. 400g floury potatoes, cut into large cubes
  9. 5 garlic cloves
  10. salt and pepper
  11. 60ml olive oil
  12. pinch cayenne
  13. freshly grated nutmeg
  14. zest of 1/2 lemon
  15. 4 tbsp crème fraiche
  16. large knob of cold butter
  17. 4 tbsp gluten free breadcrumbs
  1. Place the pieces of salt cod in a dish, cover with water and a lid, or cling film, and place in the fridge overnight. In the morning drain off the water, replace with fresh water and leave until ready to prepare the dish (so a total of 12-24 hours soaking time).
  2. Place the cod in a medium pan with the milk, thyme, bay, peppercorns, allspice and clove. Bring to a gentle simmer for 15 mins - the surface should be barely moving (any faster a simmer and your fish might toughen). Drain the fish and discard the milk. Flake the cod into smallish pieces.
  3. Meanwhile cook the potatoes with the whole garlic cloves in boiling salted water until the potatoes are soft. Drain the potatoes and garlic and reserve a small cup of the cooking liquid.
  4. Heat the cooked garlic cloves and the olive oil in a small pan, crushing the garlic with a fork, then heat the oil gently for a few minutes. You are not aiming to cook the garlic, just to infuse the oil with the garlic. Set aside.
  5. Mash the potatoes with a masher or ricer into a large bowl, then add the flaked, cooked salt cod, the garlic and its oil and beat all together with a wooden spoon or spatula.
  6. Add the cayenne, grated nutmeg to taste, lemon zest and the crème fraîche. Beat well together. Add a few tablespoons of the potato cooking liquid to lighten the mixture and beat well to combine. The mixture should have the texture of soft mashed potatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper if needed.
  7. Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan). Grease a gratin dish or similar ( I used two Le Creuset mini frying pans) and add the mixture, smoothing the surface. Scatter the breadcrumbs over the top and dot with small pieces of butter.
  8. Bake for 20 mins until golden and serve hot with a dressed green salad.
Adapted from David Tanis, New York Times
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