One of the things I look forward to most about Christmas – well, the whole month of December – is the endless stream of delicious food and drink. Mince pies, mulled wine, pigs in blankets, countless turkey dinners, brandy butter-soaked desserts…we could go on. It’s the only time of year where it’s totally acceptable, nay, practically expected, to slowly morph into a plumper, sleepier version of your former self.
On the other end of the spectrum there is the present buying conundrum. No matter how hard you try, there will always be one forgotten distant relative who inevitably ends up with an unwanted toiletry set or supermarket selection box.
So, this year I’ve decided to call upon my love for festive food to solve all my present buying woes, after all, everyone loves a homemade gift. Even more so if you can eat it!
Here I share three of my favourite food gift ideas to try yourself:
Cranberry and pistachio biscotti
This year I plan to make a double batch of delicious biscotti, which can then be divided to into festive treat bags. Tying each with red and white yarn, adorned with personalised gift tags and handed out to various family members. They’re the perfect accompaniment to a mid-morning coffee or luxurious hot chocolate!
- 1 egg
- 75g caster sugar
- 2 tsp finely grated orange zest
- 125g plain flour, plus more for rolling
- ½ tsp baking powder
- Pinch of fresh nutmeg
- 75g pistachio nuts
- 50g dried cranberries
- Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.
- Whisk the egg and sugar until pale and moussy: the mixture should leave a ribbon-like trail when you lift the beater. Beat in the orange zest, and then slowly fold in the flour, baking powder and a good grating of nutmeg.
- Fold in the whole pistachios and dried cranberries, then flour your work surface well, and you may find it helpful to dust your hands lightly with flour, too, as the dough is quite sticky. Now form the dough into a flattish, oval ciabatta-like loaf, approx. 25cm x 5cm, tapering the ends slightly.
- Lay the biscotti dough loaf onto a piece of baking parchment on a baking sheet and cook for 25-30 minutes, or until it is a pale brown colour. It may help to rotate the baking sheet halfway through the cooking time, as the base can brown quickly; this reduces the risk of the base scorching at one end.
- Transfer to a wire rack and leave for 5 minutes to harden slightly, and then using a bread knife or similar stout serrated-edged knife cut the baked loaf diagonally into fingers about 1cm thick.
- Put these back onto the baking-parchment-covered sheet and cook again for another 10 minutes, then turn the biscotti over and cook for yet another five minutes. Let the golden brown biscotti cool on a rack and then store them in an airtight container.
I made these a few years back for an office Christmas bake off and they went down a treat. Presented in one of those cupcake boxes they would make the perfect gift for teachers. They’re also great if you’ve got kids who want to lend a helping hand in the kitchen, and would make a child-friendly alternative for any picky dinner guests who don’t like the fruit-laden pud you’ve spent hours slaving over!
- 125g butter, softened
- 175g caster sugar
- 2 free-range eggs
- 200g self-raising flour
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- 100ml milk
- 100g dark 70% cocoa solids chocolate, melted
- 2 tbsp Irish cream liqueur (optional)
For the chocolate icing
- 50g dark chocolate, chopped
- 3 tbsp double cream
- Giant chocolate buttons
- Crisp-coated chocolates (such as Smarties or M&Ms)
- Mini pretzels
- Black writing icing
- Mini marshmallows, sliced
- Preheat the oven to 170°C / gas mark 3. Line a 12-hole muffin tray with paper cases.
- Beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Gradually beat in the eggs until well combined. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and mix until combined. Fold in the milk, melted chocolate and Irish cream liqueur, if using.
- Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until well risen and lightly firm to the touch. Remove the cakes from the tin and set aside to cool on a cooling rack.
- For the icing, heat the chocolate and cream in a saucepan over a low heat until the chocolate has melted. Whisk the mixture until smooth and set aside to cool slightly.
- To decorate the cupcakes, spread the icing over the top of the cupcakes. Spoon the remaining icing into an icing bag fitted with a small nozzle.
- Press a chocolate button onto the cake as a nose, then stick a crisp-coated chocolate on top using a little icing. Stick on two slices of marshmallows as the eyes, and use the black writing icing for the pupils. Stick on the pretzels as the ears.
Fiery chilli jam
Chilli jam is the perfect companion for all that cheese over the festive season – just be careful the recipient is ok with a bit of heat and make sure you label the jar accordingly so they don’t get a nasty surprise when they accidentally spread it on their morning toast!
- 150g long fresh red chilli peppers (deseeded and cut into 4 pieces)
- 150g red peppers (cored, deseeded and cut into rough chunks)
- 1kg jam sugar
- 600ml cider vinegar
You will need 6 x 250ml / 1 cup sealable jars, with vinegar-proof lids, such as Kilner jars or re-usable pickle jars.
- Sterilize your jars and leave to cool.
- Put the cut-up chillies into a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Add the chunks of red pepper and pulse again until you have a vibrantly red-flecked processor bowl.
- Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar in a wide, medium-sized pan over a low heat without stirring.
- Scrape the chilli-pepper mixture out of the bowl and add to the pan. Bring the pan to the boil, then leave it at a rollicking boil for 10 minutes.
- Take the pan off the heat and allow it cool. The liquid will become syrupy, then from syrup to viscous and from viscous to jelly-like as it cools.
- After about 40 minutes, or once the red flecks are more or less evenly dispersed in the jelly (as the liquid firms up, the hints of chilli and pepper start being suspended in it rather than floating on it), ladle into your jars. If you want to stir gently at this stage, it will do no harm. Then seal tightly.