Moving to Doha automatically means that December comes with a rather staid, its-another-ordinary-month sort of feeling. True, I escape the ‘seasonal’ songs that radio stations and shops in the U.K are compelled to torment us with year upon year. However, the lights, the huge decorated tree in the village square, the cold wind and the warm fires, the family and friends get-togethers and perhaps a flurry of snow (or downright snowstorms like the last couple of winters) are things I miss. I have gotten used to it over the last six years in Aberdeen and did embrace it completely. Somehow, a bright sky and T-shirt weather doesn’t sit quite right when wrapping up gifts with snowflake motive papers.
Now this, the aroma of ginger, cloves and cinnamon wafting through the house, is when I feel like Christmas is round the corner. It is the first thing I bake, even before the Christmas cake, and one bite of the squidgy, aromatic, treacle flavoured, soft slice is enough to banish any lazy, procrastinating thoughts from my mind. I get immersed into seasonal baking, start looking out for cranberries, dust off my christmas cookie cutters and plan my hampers. Tis the season to be grateful… and fat. Gingerbread is only a recent discovery, since no one I know bakes it. My first taste was in a self-service cafe attached to a local garden centre. It wasn’t bad but it didn’t rock my christmas tree either.
I got Nigella’s Christmas book the year we were to host the dinner. I saw her programme and bought the book the same night and I can tell you, it’s fantastic. She even had a timetable in there for the big day, which is what I amended for my own menu and it was a lifesaver. I believe everything was thought of in this book; at least, for me, I didn’t have to look anywhere else. And in it, was a recipe for Sticky Gingerbread.
I baked it, served it for coffee one morning, to two of my loveliest girlfriends, Jenny and Lisa, who have been my baking tasters / guinea pigs, on many an occassion. Their reaction was enough to tell me, that this was a good ‘un. “Soooooooo stickyyyyy!!!!”, they mumbled through puffed and stuffed cheeks. I have been making it ever since, and it is a regular in my Christmas hamper. I do feel a pang, that this year I can’t get a basket out to them. Then again, they can bake these themselves!
Did I mention that its really easy too? You melt butter, sugar along with spices to a thick, tar coloured liquid and add the milk and extras to it. You then pour this now coffee coloured liquid to your flour and beat till combined. Now, I kind of work it differently. By adding the entire wet ingredients into the flour, I get wee, stubborn flour lumps. So I tried doing it the way I make a basic roux, and that is, to beat about a third of the treacle liquid into the flour at a time which ensures that I get a smooth batter. It worked a treat. I was worried I might toughen up the glutens, but it is so liquid and the mixing quite gentle that it wasn’t an issue at all and I completely avoided the dreaded floaty, flour lumps. If you can’t be bothered, really, its no big deal, and a heap if icing sugar on the top covers it anyway.
I also bake these in small, loaf tins and one batch of this batter makes for around five wee loaf tins, around 14 x 5 x 5 cms and they take around 35-40 minutes to cook. It’s the perfect size for giving away. If you like, you can add a sharply contrasting, thick white glaze of lemon juice and icing sugar. I quite like it unadorned. Either way, in any shape, this is a win-win recipe. And the perfect start to the season.
Of course, gingerbread is not what Christmas is about. It’s a day of celebration, of hope, life and of love. I am deeply grateful for it. And in edible form, gingerbread is a great way to start celebrating!