Despite the disappointment of having to cancel our Christmas supper club I was able, mercifully, to complete my Christmas present making (albeit at 5pm on Christmas Eve). Receiving my hand-made presents has become something of a tradition for my family. What started out of necessity (being skint, but resourceful) has since become a much-anticipated event….and has grown in proportion from the odd pot of jam and bag of chocolate truffles to full-blown hampers, hand-made liqueurs and far more up market gold dust coated chocolates. My family positively drools at the thought of chutney, sweets and Sloe gin (which I make every year).
Now you don’t have to be a chef, or particularly talented to create beautiful, treasured gifts and with a little stylish inspiration they look so much better than those churned out in the posh shops of London and sold at hugely inflated prices. Although I did succumb and buy two ready-made hampers from one of my suppliers everything else given this year was my own (and my children’s) handiwork.
My son and I spent a day making iced Christmas biscuits for all his friends and to put on our tree, then Rosie took over creating mountains of melt in the mouth peppermint creams, so simple but stunningly effective packed in small jars with tissue or even just wrapped in cellophane bags tied with ribbon. Whilst she was creating I made whiskey truffles with gold dust coating and decanted Sloe gin and home-made Cassis. I paired the Cassis with sparkling wine (to skint for champagne unfortunately) and wrapped in cellophane complete with the instructions for Kir Royale (although with sparkling wine it is really Kir Petillant).
I know it’s a little late for Christmas this year, but with the growing economical pinch and the BBC’s obsession with living The Good Life (did anyone see Giles and Sue live the good life on BBC2 on the 28th December?) I think many more of us will be turning our hand to home-made over the coming year, and that’s no bad thing, so hopefully some of these ideas and recipes will help you create your own gifts next year.
Iced Christmas biscuits:
275g plain flour sifted, 1 teaspoon mixed spice, 100g caster sugar, 200g hard butter, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1 egg, 2 egg whites, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 250g icing sugar, food colourings to decorate and ribbon to thread through the holes.
Mix the flour, spice and sugar then grate the butter into the bowl. Add vanilla and egg and mix to a dough. This might take a bit of work with your hands. Chill in the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4, 350 degree F, 180 degree C. Roll out the dough until it’s about 7.5cm thick, cut out shapes using Christmassy cookie cutters (we used Christmas trees, snow men, stars, hearts and circles) and lay on a greased baking sheet. Make holes in the biscuits using a skewer then bake in the oven for about 12 to 15 minutes. When they come out remake the skewer holes then cool on a wire rack. While they cool beat the egg whites with the lemon juice and gradually add the icing sugar mixing well. Spoon over the biscuits and leave to harden. When dry decorate with food colourings. We painted our Christmas trees with tinsel and baubles and Aidan painted his friends names on each one. Thread ribbon through the holes so you can hang them on the Christmas tree. These can also be stored in a cool dark place for up to two weeks.
1 large egg white, 350-375g icing sugar, a few drops of peppermint oil and some green food colouring.
whisk egg white until frothy, sieve in half the icing sugar and beat well. Add peppermint oil and rest of the icing sugar and mix until stiff. I used double the recipe above and coloured one lot with green colouring. Turn on to a surface dusted with icing sugar and knead adding more icing sugar if necessary until the mixture is the right consistency to roll. Roll as thin as possible and using sweet cutters cut out different shapes; we made stars, hearts and circles. Place on non-stick baking paper and leave to dry for 24 hours. Pack in decorated boxes, small jars or cellophane bags tied with coloured ribbon.