Since I’ve moved to England, I’ve been lucky enough to have two Christmas day celebrations each year: one here and one in Italy. So far I’ve always been able to fly back to Italy in time for the 24th and 25th of December, and this year I will too. My flight is in four days only and this can only mean one thing: only three days to go to my English Christmas! This is the arrangement: B. and I spend the day together, relaxing, eating, opening presents up and, obviously, cooking. While we both have traditions we’d like to keep (B. wants to open the presents straight after getting up in the morning, whereas I’d prefer to keep them under the tree until after lunch) we have been pretty diplomatic and reached a middle ground. When no compromise can be found, we create a new tradition. As it tends to be the case when important meals are involved, B. is in charge of the main and I’m in charge of the pudding. Two years ago I made a delicious and unpretentious cake and last year I went for a sour cream and rhubarb cake. This year, I’m going to turn to something different and make two types of biscuits served with coffee or tea. My secret (or not so secret, after I hit the Publish button!) aim is to have them a while after lunch, perhaps in the lounge, near our miniature Christmas tree… and oh, look… what’s under there? Presents?
Believe it or not, I decided a good while ago to go for biscuits instead of a classic, proper pudding. I started sieving my huge Biscuits folder in my browser bookmarks for what it feels like months ago now and I finally narrowed my choice down to two recipes. This is the one I made a few days in advance and am storing in a jar in an undisclosed location in my house until Saturday. I love classic shortbread, and if you’re ever looking for a simple and trustworthy recipe, please promise to use this one. It’s delicious. To give it a spin, I wanted to add some spices but instead of the usual cinnamon-ginger-nutmeg combination so often around at this time of the year, I went for a more unusual, gentle hint of lavender, lemon, cardamom and cumin. If you like big flavours, feel free to increase the quantities of the spices. What will you be doing this Christmas?
Put the lavender buds, seeds from the cardamom pods, zest, cumin seeds and salt in a pestle and mortar and mash them until the seeds have more or less ground to a paste and everything is well combined. Add the spice mix to the butter, add the sugar and cream them together with a wooden spoon. Add the flour and ground rice and gently incoporate them into the butter and sugar mixture. Lorraine Pascale suggests pushing the mixture to the sides of the bowl to help you doing this. It might take a while. I stopped once the mixture was sandy but even. Press the mixture into a springform cake tin using your hands and the back of a spoon. The size of the tin can be between 20cm and 25 cm, depending on how deep you want your shortbread slices to be. I used a 23 cm tin and the slices ended up being about 1- 1.5 cm deep. Leave the tin in the fridge for about 30 minute to firm up. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 170°C. Bake until golden brown, between 30 minutes and 45. To make slicing easier, I took the shrtbread out of the oven after about 30 minutes, sliced it into 8 or 12 slices and pricked them with a fork. I then returned it to the oven for another 10-15 minutes. As soon as it is out fo the oven, sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of caster sugar, and let it cool. To unmould the shortbread, take the sides of the tin away, re-slice the shortbread following the pattern you have made before and carefully lift each slice. Once the shortbread is completely cool, it can be store in an airtight container for up to a week.