There are few baking smells more tempting than warm, sweet ginger. Used in the British Isles as far back as Anglo-Saxon times, it has been a common spice since the medieval period, and across Europe, it is essential in many festive baking treats.

All forms of ginger come from the fleshy underground stem, or rhizome, of the plant, which thrives in lush tropical regions. The stems are often referred to as "hands" and they do resemble gnarled fingers. Choose hands that feel firm, with smooth skin. The "fingers" should snap off crisply, revealing the juicy, pale yellow flesh inside. Remove the skin by scraping with the rounded edge of a teaspoon — it will get into all the nooks and crannies, wasting far less of the flesh than if you use a knife or peeler. Peel only what you need for immediate use. Wrap the rest in greaseproof paper or foil and store in the fridge.