For me, giving gifts to friends reinforces our connection and their unique relationship to me. And Christmas is the perfect opportunity to cement this bond. It’s a way of expressing appreciation, and home-made cookies, candies and cakes say, ‘you’re sweet’!
My mother was always making and giving bakes and at Christmas would make a huge traditional festive cake, cut it into eight pieces, cover each with almond icing and then butter icing. Wrapped in cellophane it was her way of thanking neighbours for their kindnesses during the year.
For three years my fave quick and simple gift from my kitchen was an after-dinner treat. I’d soak pitted prunes in gin for a few weeks then transfer them and the gin into small attractive gift jars. But when a friend said ‘Oh, your amazing prunes in gin again,’ I felt I had to give something a little different. I dipped prunes in melted dark chocolate and chilled them until solid!
If you know of a shortbread fan, then traditional shortbread with an edge or corner dipped in melted dark chocolate after baking is a treat. Or try dipping an edge in melted white chocolate then sprinkle with crushed pistachios. Presented in one of the many beautiful gift boxes available these days it will warm the heart of even the most discerning shortbread lover.
Any scraps can be re-rolled and cut into shapes.
100g each: butter (chilled), plain flour, finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary leaves
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 small egg, beaten
extra parmesan and rosemary to garnish
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Dice the butter and place in a food processor with the flour and parmesan. Mix until crumbly. Remove and add the rosemary and black pepper. Knead until a dough forms. Cover and chill for 15 minutes. Either roll into 2 equal logs or roll out to about 1cm thickness.
Using a 4cm diameter biscuit cutter, make shapes and place on the baking tray. Chill while the oven is heating.
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Brush the tops with a little of the beaten egg and sprinkle with a little parmesan and a rosemary leaf. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden. Makes about 30.
WHITE CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT BARK
I had a problem finding green glace cherries this season, so I used diced, green jube-like sweets. Ensure the chocolate doesn't get too hot.
250g white chocolate
2-3 drops peppermint essence
3-4 small peppermint sticks, crushed
1/4 cup diced green glace cherries or green jubes
1-2 tablespoons silver cachous
2 tablespoons chopped glace mixed peel
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Melt the chocolate over hot water or in bursts in the microwave. Stir well until smooth. Cool slightly and add the peppermint essence. Mix well. Pour onto the baking paper and spread to a thickness of about 7mm.
Sprinkle with the crushed peppermint sticks, cherries or jubes, cachous and lace mixed peel. Chill until set, about 2 hours, or leave overnight.
Break into large pieces. Store in attractive containers.
500g each: oranges, lemons
2 litres water
1 tablespoon whole cloves
2 cinnamon stick, broken up
3 star anise
Halve the oranges and lemons and remove any pips. Roughly chop the fruit. Place in batches in a food processor with water to cover. Process, until evenly chopped. Repeat until all the fruit is chopped.
Pour the fruit and water into a preserving pan or large saucepan. Tie the cloves, cinnamon sticks and star anise in muslin or similar and add to the saucepan. Bring to boiling point and simmer for 1 hour.
Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until well dissolved. Boil rapidly until the marmalade reaches setting point, 104°C. Ensure the marmalade does not stick on the base.
Remove from the heat. Remove the spice bag and discard. Pour the marmalade into hot sterilised jars then seal. Makes about 8 cups