At the Tropical Spice Garden Cookery School Chef Judi, who teaches there regularly, gave a pre-Christmas cookery class for mums and kids. Cooking with children is always more challenging because you have to go at a slower pace and explain the processes as you go. But it’s really worthwhile because not only do your children develop manual dexterity, they learn how to cook – a skill that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives. You can also tell them about the spices that you use and that will teach them some history and geography!
Judi’s recipe for gingerbread stars uses two spices – ground ginger and allspice. Ginger came from Southern China originally but we have known it in the West since Roman times. It’s used as a medicine as well as a cooking ingredient. Allspice isn’t a mixture of all spices as the name might imply –it’s actually Jamaica pepper from the Caribbean and it got its name because English people thought it nicely combined the flavours of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, which it does.
Prepare well ahead of time so that you have everything you will need to hand. If you find it difficult to get buttermilk or golden syrup, then recipes for both are also given which you could make in advance. Show your child how to measure the ingredients and weigh exactly the amount they will need. Although the recipe calls for a food processor, you could allow them to get the feel of mixing by hand first and then finish it in your processor. Make sure that there’s plenty of flour on the board and the rolling pin when it comes to rolling out the dough. Show them how to cut the star shapes out of dough and then gather up the left-overs, make another dough ball and roll that out so that’s there’s no waste.
Chef Judi wisely had a pot of mulled wine simmering gently in the background for the mums to sip while the kids wolfed down their newly made gingerbread stars. If you want to make the stars into presents, then make a hole near one of the star points wide enough for a ribbon before baking. Once they are cool, you can gently thread a red ribbon through the star and it becomes a Christmas decoration.
Gingerbread Stars with Buttermilk Icing
110g unsalted butter (diced)
350g plain flour
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp allspice
2 tsp baking powder
90g golden syrup
For the Buttermilk Icing
480g icing sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 356C/180F. Combine the flour, butter, spices, baking powder, and a pinch of salt in a food processor to form fine breadcrumbs. Add the golden syrup and an egg to make a smooth, glossy dough. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for an hour. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Roll out the gingerbread dough to about 4mm on a lightly floured baking paper. Transfer to baking tray and let rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes and then cut into star shapes. Bake in the oven for 6-8 minutes until the edges start to darken.
Making the Icing
Combine all the buttermilk icing ingredients and mix until smooth. Spread the icing over the stars and transfer to a wire rack.
You can eat your gingerbread stars straight away or store them in an airtight container for up to a week.
Substitutes for hard-to-find items
Depending on where you live in the World, some ingredients are hard to find.
Take one litre of full fat milk and add a tablespoon of lemon juice. Mix thoroughly and allow to rest for 20 minutes.
For Golden Syrup
Combine two parts light corn syrup plus one part of molasses or just use honey (it will have a slightly different flavour). Or you could make your own:
Home-made Golden Syrup
200g sugar 50g water
1 kg sugar 600g boiling water 2 slices lemon
Pour 200g sugar and 50g water into a large saucepan. On medium heat, twirl the pot around and caramelise the sugar until a dark golden colour. Add the boiling water, the kilo of sugar and lemon slices. On low heat boil for 45 minutes until thick stirring very occasionally. Remove the lemon. Cool and pour into a sterilised jar.