A Continental Christmas: The Hole In My Heart Only Cookies Can Fill

We’re jetting off to Slovakia for this traditional Christmas bake: ‘krehké pečivo’. Roughly translated, these ‘fragile baked goods’ are made in a very similar way to shortbread but with the use of vegetable fat (margarine) in place of the butter, and the addition of baking powder to the mix. Though I was sceptical as to how the use of margarine would affect the flavour of the dough, the results are amazing. They still taste as buttery as ever and though dense, these cookies are deliciously crumbly. But Enough talking, let’s get to the baking!

Starting out with a straightforward shortbread-like mix, the flour, baking powder, sugar and butter are ‘rubbed in’, to resemble fine breadcrumbs. This time used my small food processor to whizz all of it up quickly, before adding the eggs, but it is just as easy to rub it in by hand. Using your fingertips to rub the margarine into the flour mix has never been more important due to fact margarine melts much easier than regular butter. This is also the reason for leaving the dough to rest for longer than the usual 15-20 minutes. The margarine needs to solidify so the dough doesn’t stick to absolutely everything when you attempt to roll it out. So from one impatient baker to another, try and resist the temptation to skip this step and go straight to the rolling of the dough.

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For each cookie you will need a top and a bottom; one of them needs to have a hole cut out so the jam can poke through. There are so many different designs, some more traditional than others. I decided to stick to hearts with circles cut out, and the reverse (circles with hearts cut out), but also trialled a gingerbread man cutter with heart shaped cut outs. This did work… kind of. All I would say is that if you are using a cutter which is not symmetrical, you’ll need to cut out one shape the ‘right’ way round, and another the mirror image of it. A fact I only realised when I tried to match my men together. Moral of the story? Plan ahead.

Now they’re baked and out of the oven, we can start talking jam. Due to the amount of sweetness in and on top of these biscuits, you’ll need something to balance it out. Using a slightly tart tasting jam pairs perfectly with such sweet treats, and balances out the blanket of icing sugar covering each one so I ‘d recommend raspberry, red currant, or even black cherry. The dark purple or deep scarlets also add to the contrast between the bright white icing sugar sprinkled over the top, and make them all the more appetising. If Christmas isn’t time to make food look as enticing as it can be, then when is?

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THE RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 500g Plain Flour
  • 250g Icing sugar
  • 6g/1½ tsp Baking powder
  • 200g Margarine
  • 2 Free-range eggs
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • Approx. 200g Jam (preferred flavour)
  • Icing sugar, enough to coat generously

Method

  1. Sift the flour, icing sugar and baking powder into a large bowl (or food processor).
  2. Add in the margarine and rub in/blitz until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Lightly beat the eggs with the vanilla in a separate bowl, and then add to the dry ingredients.
  4. Process/combine until the mix comes together in one round.
  5. Wrap in plastic wrap and set in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 180°c/350 Fahrenheit/Gas Mark 4.
  7. Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out to around 1/4-inch thick.
  8. Cut out shapes and transfer to a lined baking sheet.
  9. Bake in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges of the biscuits are turning lightly golden.
  10. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  11. Prepare the jam: beat some of the jam in a small bowl to loosen it up a little, and then press through a sieve to remove the large chunks of fruit and be left a smooth jelly-like consistency.
  12. Apply this jelly to the half of the cookie without the cut-out, and spread out over the area which will be covered by the hole.
  13. Sandwich the other half of the cookie on top, and then dust generously with icing sugar.

Notes: Adapted from Christmas Cookies (Slovakcooking.com)

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