Even if you tend to leave Christmas until the last minute, there's one thing you simply must think about before December 1st - advent. Whether you have religious beliefs or not, or children in the house or just adults, I think it's great to count down to Christmas.
When I was a child we sometimes had chocolate advent calendars, where there was a little chocolate behind each window (and we were allowed to eat the chocolate before breakfast) but I also loved my mum's traditional calendar that had festive pictures behind each window. When I lived in Germany for a year as an au pair, the mother of the family had a little treat for each day of advent for her children - and for me! We might get a chocolate santa, or a Christmas tree decoration or a small ornament. I have a hollow advent calendar with little drawers that I am planning to fill with something every day for my boyfriend this year. As for me, I've got my eye on this....
But with Christmas costing enough as it is, you don't need to buy an expensive advent calendar. I love baking so I had the idea of making Christmas cookies to count the days in advent, and I found this set of cookie cutters on the Dot Com Gift Shop which are just perfect for this project. You get six cutters - a Christmas tree, an angel, a bell, a star, a santa hat and a Christmas candy cane, for £5.95 - so at just under a pound each that really is good value. What's more, the set comes with a ginger biscuit recipe on the back of the box, which I decided to use for my cookies.
350g plain flour
1 tsp bicarb of soda
2 1/2 tsp ground ginger
175g light brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp. golden syrup
Sift the flour, bicarb of soda and ginger together in a bowl then work in the butter until you have a breadcrumb consistency.
Add the sugar and mix in.
Mix the beaten egg and golden syrup together and stir into the mixture to form a dough. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 180C and lightly dust your work surface with icing sugar. Roll out the dough and use the cookie cutters to cut out shapes.
The cookies only take around 10 minutes in the oven but it depends how thick you have rolled your dough. I recommend setting the timer for 8 minutes and checking them. Don't forget they will still be a little soft when they come out of the oven and will harden as they cool. If you want to be able to hang the cookies on the Christmas tree, make a small hole after the cookies come out of the oven while they are still a little soft.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool. They tasted absolutely delicious!
You can decorate the cookies however you like, and if you have children it's fun to get them involved. A great idea is to make advent cookies - use royal icing mixed with a few drops of water and food colouring and a piping bag (which you can make by snipping the end off a plastic freezer bag, or buy piping bags from somewhere like Lakeland). Pipe the numbers 1 to 25 on the cookies and decorate with sprinkles and silver balls. You can also use the cookie cutters to cut the same shapes out of fondant - you can buy coloured fondant, but it is usually cheaper to buy white roll-out icing from a supermarket and colour it by kneading in a small amount of food colouring. Cut out the fondant shapes and stick onto the cookies with a little royal icing. Place each cookie in an individual cellophane bag, tie with ribbon and hang from the bannisters or on the Christmas tree and enjoy a cookie every day as you count down to Christmas!
I made an extra large cookie for December 25, and used coloured edible pearls to write the number. You've got to have a special one for Christmas day after all! The other cookies are all made using the cutters from the Dot Com Gift Shop. I think I will be making good use of these in the run-up to Christmas, and they would also make a great Christmas gift!