In my book, A Dancer’s Dream, one of Stana’s favourite Christmas traditions is eating gingerbread angels, and drinking tea with jam. If you’d like to have a go at recreating this treat – for yourself, or to share with family and friends – here’s how:
This recipe is based on Felicity Cloake’s gingerbread biscuit recipe, which is a big favourite in our house. If you don’t have an angel shaped biscuit-cutter, you could make snowflakes, stars, Christmas trees or any other festive shapes.
- Put 225g softened unsalted butter in a bowl, and beat with a wooden spoon
- Add 340g of soft brown sugar and beat again
- Add one beaten egg to the mixture. Continue to beat gently (don’t worry if it begins to curdle – just add in a little plain flour)
- Mix 340g plain flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp ground cinnamon, 3 tsp ground ginger and 2 tsp mixed spice in a separate bowl, and then add to the butter, sugar and egg mixture
- Stir until the mixture comes together in a smooth dough
- Spread out some clingfilm on your work surface, and put the gingerbread dough on top. Cover it with another piece of clingfilm, then roll flat with a rolling pin until the dough is about 3mm thick
- Transfer your dough onto a chopping board and pop it into the fridge for 30 minutes
- Heat your oven to 190 C and lightly grease your baking sheet(s)
- Take out the dough, remove the top layer of clingfilm and use an angel-shaped biscuit cutter to cut out your biscuits
- Arrange your biscuits carefully on the baking sheet, remembering to leave space between them, as they will spread when they are in the oven
- Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool
I like to eat my gingerbread angels just as they are, but you can also decorate them with white icing if you prefer.
Russian tea with jam
To accompany your gingerbread angels, try this traditional Russian way of drinking tea. You can use any loose-leaf black tea you like, but I like this Russian Caravan blend from my local tea/coffee producers Atkinsons.
- Boil some water in your kettle. Put a small amount of hot water into the bottom of your teapot to warm it, then discard.
- Put some loose tea-leaves into the teapot – use 1 heaped teaspoon per cup, plus an extra spoonful ‘for the pot’.
- Add 2-3 tablespoons of berry jam to the pot – try strawberry, cherry, raspberry or blackcurrant.
- Leave the tea to brew for around 5 minutes, allowing the flavours to develop
- Using a tea-strainer, pour the tea into your cups. You can serve some jam in a little dish alongside your tea in case anyone would like to add another spoonful to their cup.
Drink and enjoy with a gingerbread angel on the side – perhaps while listening to the music of Tchiakovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’, or leafing through your copy of A Dancer’s Dream?
(The picture below is from my own trip to St Petersburg a couple of years ago, when I was researching Spies in St Petersburg. Many Russian treats were sampled as part of the research process!)
My latest book is out today! A Dancer’s Dream began life as a short story I wrote for the anthology Winter Magic which tells the story of the first performance of the classic Christmas ballet, ‘The Nutcracker’.
I loved writing the story and was delighted when the wonderful team at Simon & Schuster Children’s Books said they’d like to turn it into an illustrated book, with artwork by one of my favourite illustrators, the brilliant Lizzy Stewart.
The resulting book is a real treasure — exactly the right kind of thing to find under the tree on Christmas morning, or read together by the fire on Christmas Eve. As well as Lizzy’s stunning artwork, there’s glittering gold foil, and all kinds of beautiful detail. Here’s a little more about the story:
In snow -covered St. Petersberg, young dancer Stana’s dreams have finally come true – she has been chosen to play the lead role in Tchaikovsky’s new ballet, ‘The Nutcracker’.
But with all eyes on her, can Stana overcome her nerves and dance like she’s never danced before…?
A Dancer’s Dream is out now, and you can buy it now from Waterstones. There’s also a very special exclusive edition available only from independent bookshops, which contains a beautiful print signed by both me and Lizzy. Please do support a bricks-and-mortar bookshop if you can — it’s more important than ever to support our bookshops to keep them going on our high streets!
Alternativelty, order via Bookshop.org.uk – a fantastic new website which allows you to order books online, and have them sent to you at home, but which also helps to support independent bookshops. You can find my page here with links to buy all my books, as well as lots more books I recommend.
I’m thrilled that my very exciting new project has just been announced! A Dancer’s Dream is going to be a gorgeous full-colour gift book, illustrated by the incredible Lizzy Stewart.
The story is inspired by the real story of the first performance of the classic ballet The Nutcracker – and if you’ve read the anthology Winter Magic, you’ll recognise it! The short story I originally wrote for this collection has now been transformed into a beautiful book in it’s own right. Here’s a little more about it:
In a snowy St Petersburg, a little girl called Stana longs to play the role of Clara in Tchaikovsky’s new ballet, The Nutcracker. But when Stana’s dream comes true, and with all eyes on her, she must overcome her nerves and dance like she’s never danced before…
I loved ballet growing up and have such fond memories of going to see The Nutcracker at Christmas. It hs been wonderful to tell the story of the first dancer ever to play the part of Clara – and even more special to see it transformed into an illustrated book with glorious new artwork from Lizzy Stewart. I’ve long been an admirer of Lizzy’s work and her gorgeous illustrations for this story are absolutely enchanting – the above is just a tiny sneak peek at what you can expect from this beautiful-looking book.
A Dancer’s Dream is part of a new boutique line of colour gift books which Simon & Schuster have launched, beginning with Abi Elphinstone and Fiona Woodcock’s The Snow Dragon.
It won’t be out until October 2020 (just in time for Christmas!) but you can preorder it now from Waterstones.
Winter Magic – the anthology of frosty magical tales curated by Abi Elphinstone – is out in paperback today, with a gorgeous new cover by illustrator Melissa Castrillon
It’s lovely to see the book out in paperback just in time for enjoying on wintery afternoons – and of course, to go in lots of Christmas stockings!
The new cover is beautiful and it’s fun spotting all the details from the various stories in Melissa’s gorgeous illustration – including the little Nutcracker from my story Casse-Noisette set in 1890s St Petersburg told from the point of view of a young dancer in the very first production of ‘The Nutcracker’.
Find out more about Winter Magic
Buy your copy of the new paperback edition from Waterstones | The Hive | Amazon
2016 has been such busy year! Whilst it’s been a strange (and depressing) one in many ways, for me personally, it’s been a very positive time. I’ll always remember it as the year that my second book The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth was published – and that the pile of my books (see above) grew from one to four!
It’s been a great year for collaboration. I’ve been lucky enough to be included in two amazing short story anthologies, alongside lots of other authors whose writing I hugely admire. I love feeling part of a community of children’s writers, so it was such a treat to be part of Mystery & Mayhem and Winter Magic.
I’m relatively new to short stories and I do find them challenging – but I really enjoyed writing Lil’s solo story ‘The Mystery of the Purloined Pearls’ for Mystery & Mayhem. I also loved writing ‘Casse-Noisette’ for Winter Magic, which is set in 1890s St Petersburg and focuses on the first ever production of The Nutcracker ballet. This is the first story I’ve had published that’s set outside the world of the Sinclair’s Mysteries, and it’s been great to hear so many enthusiastic responses from readers.
Celebrating Winter Magic with Abi Elphinstone and Piers Torday
Launching Mystery & Mayhem with Harriet Whitehorn, Helen Moss and Robin Stevens
2016 was also the year that both Clockwork Sparrow and Jewelled Moth were published in the USA by publishers Kane Miller, which is so exciting! What’s more, this year Clockwork Sparrow was published as an audiobook, read by the wonderful Jessica Preddy! I love audiobooks and I’m thrilled that Clockwork Sparrow exists in audio form – look out for the Jewelled Moth audiobook coming out in January 2017.
I’ve been very busy with lots more writing this year, including working on Books 3 and 4 of the Sinclair’s Mysteries series – book 3, The Painted Dragon is coming out on 9th February.
The cover has had a little tweak since the first reveal, but it looks as shiny and beautiful as ever in all its green glory. I love Karl James Mountford’s stunning artwork, and I think it might be my favourite cover yet. You can preorder the new book here.
I’ve also been working on a couple of exciting new writing projects – more news on those coming very soon!
2016 has also been a very busy year for events. I’ve done over 40 author events this year, including the Hay Festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Bath Children’s Literature Festival, the Cheltenham Literature Festival to the Children’s Books Ireland conference. Amongst other things, I’ve visited schools and festivals all around the country, led some fun creative writing workshops as part of The Mousetrap’s ‘Mystery Solved’ project, and taken part in two great panel events at Waterstones Piccadilly.
One particularly special moment of 2016 was attending the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize ceremony at Piccadilly when Clockwork Sparrow was on the Younger Fiction shortlist. I’ve been lucky enough to attend the prize for a number of years as a guest, so being there as a shortlisted author alongside so many amazing children’s writers and illustrators was really special. Clockwork Sparrow didn’t win (that honour went to the lovely David Solomons for his My Brother is a Superhero, who also scooped the overall prize) but celebrating with so many friends and colleagues is something I’ll always remember.
Shortlisted authors and illustrators assemble at the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, with Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell
As well as my own author events, 2016 was the third year of YALC, which was a tremendous success. There’s always more to learn and improve – but overall I’m so proud of everything we’ve achieved with YALC. Here’s the wonderful YALC Working Group who do such an amazing job in helping me make the event happen – my very own Scooby Gang! (This year they even bought me my very own gold umbrella as a present – fans of Buffy will appreciate the significance)
Lovely YALC working group pals
As well as a fantastic YALC, 2016 was also the year that we launched the YA Salon! I’ve teamed up with the brilliant Anna James and Rosi Crawley to launch this fun evening event for adults who love YA books. We kicked things off with our first salon with legendary Baby-Sitter’s Club author Ann M Martin, who was joined by Laura Dockrill and Holly Bourne, for a special event for London Book & Screen Week. We’ve since organised a Christmas themed YA Salon to celebrate Stripes’ new anthology I’ll Be Home for Christmas with a host of fabulous YA authors taking part.
Highlights of the first ever YA Salon
Our lovely authors at the Christmas YA Salon
Children’s books radio show Down the Rabbit Hole has gone from strength to strength this year. Louise, Melissa and I have launched our new website with gorgeous artwork from Rebecca Cobb, introduced a brand new e-newsletter and made the show available as a podcast via iTunes. Of course we’ve also broadcast twelve shows featuring amazing guests including the likes of Clare Balding. Check out our Christmas special here.
We’re already busy planning more exciting things for DTRH in 2017 so make sure you’re subscribed to our podcast and following us on Twitter so you don’t miss anything! (If you want to give us a great Christmas present you can rate or review the show on iTunes here!)
New DTRH website with gorgeous Rebecca Cobb illustrations
I also launched my Youtube channel this year. I still have lots to learn about how to make videos, but it’s been really fun trying it out and having a go! If you want to see how I get on, do subscribe to my channel, and check out some videos – some of my favourites include a top 5 new middle grade books, an interview with fellow Mystery Girl Robin Stevens about her new book Mistletoe and Murder, and a fun festive Q&A with the lovely Abi Elphinstone.
Robin and I filming our Mistletoe and Murder video
I’ve been lucky to be involved in lots more fantastic book-related projects this year, including being a judge for both the Bookseller YA Prize, and Stripes’ competition to find a new writer for the I’ll be Home for Christmas anthology, which was a real privilege.
It’s also been lovely to help celebrate the launch of many great new children’s books this year – and even to blurb a few of them! In particular, I’ve loved seeing the spectacular success of MG Leonard’s brilliant debut Beetle Boy, and more recently Peter Bunzl’s amazing debut Cogheart – it’s been pretty cool seeing my name on posters in railway stations around the country!
Amazing Cogheart posters!
On a personal note, 2016 has also been a lovely year for me, with highlights including a visit to Sweden, a relaxing post-YALC summer break in Rye, and a September trip to Paris. Follow me on Instagram if you’d like to see lots more pictures of what I get up to.
Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has supported me this year! I’m so appreciative of all those who have read, reviewed, bought or shared my books, come along to an event, or followed along here. I’m so grateful and feel incredibly lucky that I get to do this. Now bring on 2017!