I’ve already written here about my Christmas obsession. True, it’s not a holiday I’m supposed to celebrate, but the grass is always greener on the other side, and the tree is so much more colorful. When I was a kid, I saved up my pocket money and bought a tiny Christmas tree. I was so in love with it that I left it standing on my bedside table all year round.

One morning I woke up to this rustling noise. I opened my eyes and noticed the tree was shaking. I shouted at my brother to stop messing around. But he was still sleeping in his bed. Suddenly I realized the whole room was shaking. The rest of the family started to wake up in panic and we all met in the living room, where the chandelier was swaying from side to side. It all calmed down after a few moments, but I’ll never forget how my little Christmas tree woke me up during the first and only earthquake I’ve ever experienced.

Last year, instead of getting a tree, I just baked Christmas tree tartlets. This year I wasn’t going to give up on it. I started my search for the biggest plastic tree out there. I wanted a tall Christmas tree, just like the one we had at my school in Jaffa, which was so tall that its top bent at the ceiling (and the ceiling was quite high!). I looked for a tree in Jaffa, but could not find one I liked. I looked for a tree in the Old City of Jerusalem, but was disappointed with what I found. In the end, my search took me to Bethlehem where I found the perfect tree. After asking about the price, I had to give up on it, sadly, and chose a slightly much cheaper one.

I bought lights for the tree ahead of time at the YMCA Christmas market in Jerusalem. After assembling the tree I realized that the lights I got aren’t enough. I went downtown and searched for more, but found it very difficult to find any in Jerusalem (quite ironic considering that twinkling string bridge at the city’s entrance). Eventually I stumbled upon a small toy store on Ben Yehuda Street. I asked if they had any Christmas lights. The shop owner said no, they only have Sukkot lights. While I tried to figure out the difference between the two, he brought out the lights to show me. I couldn’t see the difference, so I took them. Good thing they celebrate Sukkot here.

Christmas tree? Check. Christmas lights? Check. On to the ornaments! I didn’t buy plastic ornaments. Nor did I buy glass ornaments. I bought ingredients and baked gingerbread cookies with pistachio brittle filling to hang as ornaments on the tree. True, as long as the gingerbread cookies are exposed to air they won’t survive long, maybe for a few hours only, but at least they stayed fresh for the party I threw. The guests got really excited about the tree and once in a while someone approached it and picked a cookie. My wish for this Christmas had come true.

Chopping pistachios
Making pistachio brittle
Rolling out gingerbread dough
Gingerbread Cookies & Pistachio Brittle
Pistachio brittle
Gingerbread Cookies with Pistachio Brittle
Gingerbread Cookies with Pistachio Brittle
Christmas tree with gingerbread ornaments

Gingerbread cookies
400 g flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cloves
3 tsp ground ginger
3 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp coarse sea salt
140 g dark brown sugar
120 g cold butter (cut into cubes)
1 tsp vanilla paste
50 g eggs
160 g honey

Pistachio brittle
75 g sugar
25 g honey
80 g heavy cream
Zest from one lemon
75 g chopped pistachios

Equipment
Round cookie cutters for the gingerbread, 3.5 cm & 7 cm in diameter
Round cookie cutter for the brittle, 2.8 cm in diameter (optional)
Fishing thread (for hanging the gingerbread cookies)
Thermometer


The recipe makes about 30 festive gingerbread cookies


Gingerbread cookies

Put flour, baking powder, baking soda, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, salt, sugar and butter cubes in the mixer bowl and keep in the fridge for about 10 minutes. Remove from fridge. Using the paddle attachment, start mixing at low-medium speed until the batter reaches sand-like consistency. Make sure the butter chunks are as small as possible at the end of the process without melting the butter.

Add vanilla and eggs all at once and then add the honey. Keep mixing at medium speed until the dough starts to form but is not yet completely uniform. Remove dough parts from the bowl and combine. Divide the dough into two equal parts and cover each part in plastic wrap. Roll out the dough just a little bit. Keep in the fridge for a t least an hour. (Prepare the pistachio brittle in the meantime).

In a cool room, sprinkle a little flour on parchment paper and place the dough on top and dust it with flour as well. Place a second parchment paper on top of the dough. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough between the two parchment papers to a 5 mm thickness. (Flip the dough occasionally and roll out the other side as well so that the parchment paper won’t get wrinkled and leave creases on the dough).

Please note (!) If at any point the dough starts to soften, put it back in the fridge until it is stiff again. It’s not critical, but it’s easier to work with cold hard dough.

Gently remove the parchment papers. Set the dough back on one of the papers (this is done to prevent the dough from sticking on the parchment paper). Using a 7 cm cookie cutter, cut out circles from the dough. Using a 3.5 cm cookie cutter, cut out smaller circles at the center of the big circles. Release the newly formed rings and place them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Keep in the fridge until baking time. Repeat the same process for the second part of the dough.

Pistachio brittle

Put honey, heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan. Place on medium heat. Stir the sugar with a spatula to dissolve it. Once it starts to boil, stop stirring and lower the flame. Let the mixture boil to a temperature of 116°C / 240°F. (Towards the end, the mixture will start to bubble. To get a more accurate temperature reading, tilt the saucepan a little and check the temperature in the tilted part).

When the temperature is reached, remove the saucepan from heat. Add chopped pistachios and lemon zest. Mix with a spatula. Pour the mixture on parchment paper. Place a second parchment paper on top (or just fold the same parchment paper on top of the mixture). Roll out the mixture to a 0.5 cm thickness. Keep in the freeze until the mixture is set and it’s easy enough to remove the parchment paper.

Putting it all together!

Preheat the oven to 175 °C (350 °F). Remove the parchment paper from the pistachio brittle. Using a 2.8 cm cookie cutter, cut out circles from the brittle. (If the brittle starts to softens, put it back in the freezer until it is stiff again). If you don’t have such a small cookie cutter, you may cut the brittle into small cubes using a knife.

Remove the gingerbread rings from the fridge. Place them on a second baking tray (the cold tray could warp in the oven). Place a piece of brittle at the center of each gingerbread cookie. *

Place the baking tray in the oven. Bake for about 8-10 minutes until the edge is golden. Remove from the oven and set it aside to cool. The gingerbread cookies stay crunchy for two to three days as long as they’re kept in an airtight container. When exposed to air, the cookies will start to soften, but I still find them tasty.

* How to hang on a tree: To use the gingerbread cookies as ornaments, prick a toothpick in the dough before baking to create a small hole. Right after baking, go over the holes with a toothpick once more to make sure the holes stay open. After cooling, insert a fishing thread through the hole and create two loops to make the cookie face forward while hanging. Since the cookies are exposed to air, they will stay fresh for a few hours only. (Gingerbread cookies are very sensitive to humidity, just like me.)

Gingerbread Cookies with Pistachio Brittle
Yum

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