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25 Days of Shanghai Christmas: Dec 1 Five Spice Gingerbread

First of December already! As a special Life on Nanchang Lu Christmas treat I’m sending you on a Chinese Christmas journey for the next 25 days. Every day will be different – sometimes funny, sometimes serious, very often about food; all in all a bit like a typical month for me here in China.  Christmas time is when I miss home the most – for me, it’s the memory of the sun, the heat, the beach and seafood, Christmas the Aussie way. And despite the heat, I make gingerbread every single Christmas without fail, ironically with a snowflake-shaped cookie cutter. In the intense heat I have to freeze the gingerbread dough for an hour between batches so it doesn’t turn into a molten buttery disaster, and carry out the whole process on a slab of super-chilled marble. The heat of the oven can be unbearable when it’s 35 degrees inside the house and I swear that next year, I am bloody well not making gingerbread for Christmas! But I always do……
This year I’m baking it the proper way, in the proper season. It’s cold and rainy outside, so the gingerbread barely needs to be chilled at all in order to keep its shape, and the oven gives the kitchen a wonderful warm cosy feel. This is my favourite, and very easy gingerbread recipe, with the addition of Chinese Five Spice rather than mixed spice. Five spice is an intoxicating mixture of ground star-anise, cloves, cassia, sichuan pepper and fennel seeds with the exact proportions of each spice designed to keep yin and yang in balance. It’s used predominately in Chinese savoury dishes, but I find it works very successfuly in sweet dishes too – poached pears, spiced cumquats, and spicy fruit cake. It gives the gingerbread more depth of flavour, and don’t worry, the sichuan pepper is aromatic rather than hot when used in these small quantities.

Five Spice Gingerbread

  • 125g butter
  • 1/4 cup soft brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup golden syrup
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 1/2cups plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon bicarb of soda

  • 200g icing sugar
  • juice of half a lemon
  • water

  • preheat oven to 180C
  • cream together butter, sugar and golden syrup
  • add egg and beat well
  • add dry ingredients and mix well
  • turn onto a floured surface and knead until smooth
  • wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30minutes
  • roll out dough to to 4mm thickness and cut into desired shape with a cookie cutter
  • bake on trays lined with baking paper for 12 minutes or until golden
  • cool for five minutes before icing

For Glaze
  • mix together icing sugar and lemon juice until glaze has a runny consistency
  • add water if necessary to achieve desired consistency
  • drizzle over cookies
  • relax! have a cuppa! eat!