Edible Gifts: Create your own Christmas presents!

Christmas is just three days away and the bank balance is not looking favourable. If the prospect of braving Oxford Street at this point in time is not particularly inviting, we have just the solution! Engage your creative side and make your own home-made Christmas gifts without breaking the bank.******************************************************************************************************

Vanilla & cinnamon shortbread biscuits

Lemon curd (with a hint of thyme)

Spiced caramelised pecans

Salted caramel sauce

Mulling syrup

Vanilla & Cinnamon Shortbread Biscuits

… serve fresh from the oven

… or make in advance to give as a gift

I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like shortbread. Shortbread is the classic British biscuit, and so would make a particularly special gift for any friends you have visiting at Christmas from abroad. It’s the one thing that my Italian friends requested I bring back to Italy with me from England when I went home for Christmas on my year abroad, you just can’t find it quite the same outside the UK. This recipe is based on Nigella’s, although I added the cinnamon to make it that little bit more festive. The shortbread can be kept for up to a week in an air-tight container, so can be a great gift to make in advance. This recipe makes about 30 biscuits, so is perfect for family friends. They’re particularly delicious fresh from the oven, so it could be a delightful way to wake your family up on Christmas morning.

Ingredients

200 grams spelt flour

100 grams icing sugar

100 grams corn flour

200 grams slightly salted butter

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Seeds of 1 vanilla pod

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Method

*N.B You will need a food processor for this method. It could be done with a blender, but it might not get the texture quite right.

Start by sieving your flour, icing sugar and corn flour into a large mixing bowel. Mix together with a large spoon.

Take your butter, chop it into small chunks and put it in the microwave (on a microwaveable plate!) for ten seconds or so, until it has softened. Add the chunks of butter to the flour/sugar mixture, then add the vanilla extract and seeds.

Knead the mixture together until it starts to form a breadcrumb-like texture. This is when the food processor comes in. If, like me, you only have a small processor (the type you’d use to make pesto or something similar) then you won’t be able to blend it all at the same time. It took me about 3 or 4 gos. So, spoon about 5 tablespoons of the mixture in, and grind it until it forms a soft, flaky breadcrumb texture that can easily be moulded into a ball of dough.

Smush the blended mixture into a ball, and each time you blend a new part of the mixture in the food processor, add it to the dough ball.

Do this until all the mixture has been moulded into a large, dough-ey ball.

Take a large, flat baking tray. Brush with oil. Put your dough ball in the middle and slowly roll it into a vaguely rectangular shape. Cut into shortbread finger shapes – they don’t have to be even (depending on how much of a perfectionist you are…)

I cut the uneven edges off, rolled it back into a ball and saved this for the next batch (you should never waste dough!!).

On each finger, take a fork and make about three diagonal incisions.

Place the tray in the oven for 20–25 minutes, until the dough no longer looks like it is melting, and is starting to go slightly golden. You should not have it in the oven any longer than 25 minutes, or the texture will be too brittle.

Take the bicuits out, and leave to cool for ten minutes.

You will have to go over the divisions between each finger, and separate into individual biscuits. Sprinkle with icing sugar.

When they’re completely cooled, carefully transfer to a tin and package as you wish.

Lemon Curd (with a hint of thyme)

Home-made lemon curd: ready to go!

Until this Christmas I had never tried making my own lemon curd before, but it’s actually surprisingly simple and quick to make. There are only four main ingredients (I added a little thyme as the fifth ingredient but that is optional) and none of them are expensive or difficult to find. To package it at the end you can either buy some jars or you can use old jars that you have lying around the house and give them a new lease of life! It is, however, important to sterilise any jars you are using, so I will also give directions on how to do that. Great on toast, in cakes or made into ice cream!

Ingredients (makes 2 medium sized jars)

4 medium unwaxed lemons (if you can’t find unwaxed then scrub them with hot water and soap before you use them)- juice & zest

3 full eggs + one yolk (so you’ll need 4 eggs)

100g unsalted butter (room temp)

200g white caster sugar

3 sprigs of fresh thyme (optional but tastes lovely)

Method

Time: 30 mins

Grate the zest of all four lemons then squeeze the juice of all of them into a heatproof bowl. Add the thyme, sugar and butter (cut up into squares) and mix together.

Place the heatproof bowl over a saucepan of lightly simmering water making sure that the bottom of the bowl is not in direct contact with the hot water.

Lemon zest & juice, sugar, butter & thyme mixture…

Stir the mixture intermittently until the butter has melted completely. Make sure the water isn’t bubbling too violently, you want it at a very low simmer or else, when you add the eggs, they will cook like scrambled eggs (not appetising!).

Once the butter has melted, whisk together your 3 eggs + 1 extra egg yolk in a bowl and then pour into the bowl with all the other ingredients.

Stirring occasionally, leave the mixture to cook for between 13–15 minutes. Once the consistency is thick and creamy enough to coat the back of the spoon, remove the bowl from the heat and allow to cool.

Whilst the mixture is cooling you should sterilise your jars. Wash your jars in hot, soapy water then rinse. Place them in the oven to dry at 160 degrees for 10 minutes then take out and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Do not touch the inside of the jar after sterilisation or you will have to repeat the process. Once the jar has cooled you can pour in your cooled lemon curd and seal.

Once you have your lemon curd in the jars you can decorate them however you wish to make them into a very pretty and delicious present!

Spiced Caramelized Pecans
… dust with icing sugar to serve

It is the smell of caramelized nuts that draws me in at every Christmas market and, after buying some banana caramel cashew nuts during a recent trip to the Edinburgh Christmas market, I knew I had to make some myself. I had a good look online at the various recipes, and this BBC one really popped out at me as the ideal festive gift. The spiced ginger caramel really is the perfect pairing for pecans.

Ingredients

1 pack of pecans

6 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp cardamom pods

2 tsp ground ginger

A sprinking of nutmeg

Method

Toss your pecans in the ground ginger in a mixing bowl then transfer to a frying pan.

Gently heat over a medium flame for a couple of minutes. While doing so, crack a few cardamom pods open to get the seeds. Add to your nuts and heat for another minute.

Cover your nuts in 5 tbsp of caster sugar. Allow the sugar to bubble and melt for a couple of minutes, but don’t stir it together yet.

When the sugar is practically all melted, gently mix the nuts around so they’re all covered with a wooden spoon for a minute or so.

Turn the heat off, and continue mixing the nuts in the caramel.

Transfer to a plate and allow to cool, or to a jar if you’re storing the nuts as a gift.

Make sure to try a couple while they’re still warm! Give them a good sniff as well, they’ll smell heavenly.

Salted Caramel Sauce
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There are few things more delicious than salted caramel sauce. I first tried it when I bought some from the Christmas market in Durham and from then on I was hooked and have made my own on various occasions. It doesn’t take long to make at all, although it does require a very watchful eye at all times. Salted caramel sauce can be poured over ice cream, added into milkshakes, used for sticky toffee pudding, added into sponge cakes & icing…anything you fancy! One of my personal favourites is to pour it over ice-cream and then add in a fresh shot of espresso for a salted caramel affogato. Enjoy!

Ingredients (Makes two medium-sized jars)

400g caster sugar

170g butter

240ml heavy cream

1 tbsp sea salt (e.g. Maldon)

Method

Time: 15 mins

Measure out all of your quantities ready to go: the process is quite speedy so it will help!

Pour all the sugar into a medium sized sauce pan that allows the sugar to sit about 1cm deep in the pan. This allows it to cook more evenly.

Turn the heat onto medium and watch over the pan until you start to see little bubbles of melted sugar coming through. If it starts getting at all smoky or smelling like burning turn the heat down a bit and stir. Different recipes give different advice on whether or not to stir but I suggest you stir constantly as soon as the sugar has started melting.

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Now for the slightly manic part… As soon as the caramel has reached the colour seen in the picture above (or ever so slightly lighter), turn down the heat to low and add in the butter. It will bubble up vigorously but keep stirring and don’t lose your nerve! Once it has all melted in and is thoroughly combined, take it off the heat completely and add in your cream. Once the cream is mixed in, immediately add in your salt and stir thoroughly.

Once the mixture is smooth and silky, leave it to cool. In this time you can sterilise your jars ready for the caramel. Here’s how to do it:

Wash your jars in hot, soapy water then rinse. Place them in the oven to dry at 160 degrees for 10 minutes then take out and leave to cool for 5 minutes. Do not touch the inside of the jar after sterilisation or you will have to repeat the process. Once the jar has cooled you can pour in your salted caramel sauce and seal.

Decorate the jars as you wish and rapidly consume any left over caramel in the pan before any one else can get to it!

Mulling Syrup

Mulling syrup is a festive and versatile gift, it can be used with wine or cider to spice up a Christmas drinks party. It is a little more heartfelt than bringing the standard bottle of wine! This syrup is also delicious in apple juice for anyone that doesn’t drink. It is simple to make, and can be made ahead of time as it can be kept for up to 3 months.

Ingredients

250g caster sugar

2 oranges, halved

8 whole cloves

6 whole allspice (or 2 tsp ground all spice)

2 cardamom pods (the seeds from inside)

2 cinnamon sticks

¼ nutmeg, freshly grated (or 1 tsp ground nutmeg)

small piece ginger, sliced

Method

Put the ingredients into a large pot and cover with 1 litre of water.

Slowly simmer the water until it starts to gently bubble, making sure all the sugar dissolves. Turn down the heat and simmer on a very low heat for about 25 mins.

Leave the mixture to cool, then strain through a fine sieve into another pot.

Rewarm the syrup on the hob until just hot, then pour immediately into the bottles and seal. Make sure the bottles you’re using are sterilized (wash them first in hot soapy water, rinse well, then dry them in a warm oven).

To add a really nice touch to your Christmas gift, add labels to the bottles with the serving instructions: Heat 400ml syrup with 750ml red wine or cider (or apple juice!) and some slices of orange or apple.

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