THIS is the best time of year for cosy, candlelit gatherings and thoughtful Sunday walks. When time allows, I like to seek out bars of good-quality chocolate and make hot chocolate on the stove with cinnamon sticks and a splash of brandy. I like to find the fattest novel I can lay my hands on and work through it with dedicated intent, or dig out last year’s knitting projects in the hope of finishing that lumpy scarf. It is important, while the nights are at their shortest and our consumer mentality is at its highest, to engage with the simple things, be that reading, hugging, making or, my most beloved, baking.

Festive biscuit-baking is famous the world over. In Germany they bake gingerbread stars (Zimtsterne), vanilla crescents (Vanillekipferln), macaroons (Nussmakronen) and square chequered cookies (Schwarz-Weiß-Gebäck) to name but a few. In Belgium and the Netherlands, they bake Spekulatius, a type of spiced, festive shortbread. In Sweden it’s unusual to find a household without a well-thumbed copy of the 1945 housewives guide “Sju sorters kakor” which translates to ‘seven different kinds of cookie’. Sweets, treats and traditional baked goods are a key part of celebrations across almost every culture, holiday and religious festival. The simple act of crafting, baking and sharing these recipes brings us together and, in turn, keeps tradition alive. The memory of baking mince pies with my grandmother instils such calm, cosiness within me; the inky sky outside, the puttering heat of the farmhouse AGA, a sense that all is well with the world.

In recent years I’ve found myself ditching the festive gingerbread in favour of baking biscotti. Biscotti are one of my favourite ‘cookies’ to bake due to a simple dough and endless flexibility. They can be baked hard, in the traditional Italian way, or with a little chew. I like to mix up a lightly spiced dough with a little orange zest and divide it into three, sometimes four, pieces before I work different nut, chocolate and fruit combinations. These biscuits call for nothing more demanding than a second bake; no complicated shaping, icing or sandwiching is required but they look beautiful all the same. Stash them, criss-cross, in a pretty tin or in cellophane bags tied with ribbon. I can assure you they will be appreciated by your friends, family, colleagues, neighbours and post-man alike. Just make sure you set aside enough time to make them at a leisurely pace, preferably with mugs of hot chocolate, good company and a few festive jingles in the background.