HOME MADE GIFTS:Edible gifts are always appreciated, and they're cost effective as well as thoughtful. EUNICE POWERsuggests some lovely things to make and bake
HERE IS SIMPLY nothing to surpass a well-presented handmade edible gift. They exude thoughtfulness, care and love. As many of us are more time-rich now than we may have been before, making edible gifts is a great way to bulk up hampers. They also make great hostess gifts and they provide a wonderful arsenal of presents for those last minute moments or unforeseen callers.
I keep an eye out for nice tins and boxes, Kilner jars, pretty bottles and clear wrapping paper at this time of the year – discount stores are often a treasure trove of such items. The trick is to make sure your containers are small, otherwise you will end up having to make a mountain of truffles, for example, to fill just one.
Get creative with your presentation. too. Wrapping your edible gift isn’t all about fancy ribbon and shop-bought rosettes – a sprig of holly (berries removed of course) secured by some simple garden twine often makes the perfect finishing touch.
Mulled wine syrup
1 large orange
500g caster sugar
10 cloves, plus extra for garnish
2 cinnamon sticks
Half a nutmeg, freshly grated
1 litre of water
Peel the rind off the orange with a potato peeler. Juice the orange, sieve the juice and add it to a large saucepan along with the water, sugar and spices. Heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook for five to eight minutes until you have a thick syrup.
Allow the syrup to cool down, then pour it into bottles.
When making mulled wine, I usually add about 50cl of syrup to a 75cl bottle of wine. Heat until almost simmering point – don’t allow the mulled wine to boil as you don’t want to burn off the alcohol. If you would like to make a non-alcoholic punch, add the syrup to a good quality bottle of apple juice such as Crinnaghtaun apple juice from Cappoquin.
Boxes of these are lovely little gifts and a wonderful addition to a Christmas food hamper. Sometimes I roll them in crushed hazelnuts, coconut, grated white chocolate or pistachio nuts rather than exclusively in cocoa, to give a bit or a variation in colour and texture.
275g dark chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa solids), broken into small pieces, or if you can get your hands on dark chocolate cocoa buttons, even better
50g butter, at room temperature
50g cocoa powder
Place the chocolate in a bowl. Bring the cream to the boil, pour it over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted. Add the butter, stirring gently. At this point the mixture should be smooth and glossy. Next, stir in the mincemeat. When all the mincemeat is incorporated, allow the mixture to cool, cover the bowl with cling film and leave it in the fridge for a couple of hours to set.
Put the cocoa powder into a bowl. Take teaspoons of the truffle mixture and roll into balls using the palm of your hands. As you do this the outside of the truffle warms up, becomes a little sticky and the cocoa powder will stick to it better. Drop the truffle into the bowl of cocoa, roll it around to get an even coating, shake off the excess cocoa, and then pop into . . . no, not your mouth . . . a tissue-lined gift box.
The following are three of my favourite biscuits. They take about 20 minutes to make and 15 to 20 minutes to bake. They should keep for up to a week in an airtight container. For all three recipes, pre-heat an oven to 170 degrees/gas 3. Line baking trays with parchment paper.
These little gems are delicious, with a buttery shortbread base and crunchy meringue topping. Recipe makes about 30, this will vary depending on the size of your cutter.
225g soft butter
50g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp of sherry or brandy
1 egg white
125g castor sugar
Beat the butter and icing sugar until it is soft and creamy. Add the egg yolk and brandy or sherry. Fold in the flour until the mixture resembles a soft dough. Turn it out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to form a flat round. Wrap it in cling film and chill it for at least 20 minutes before rolling out.
While the dough is chilling, make the meringue. Whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage, then add the sugar little by little, whisking until it is thick, stiff and glossy. Roll the pastry out evenly to about one-centimetre thickness and cut out biscuits with a star cutter. Place a little meringue on the middle of each star, and place a sliced almond on top of the meringue.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the biscuits are cooked. Cool on a wire rack.
Stem ginger cookies
Makes about 30
225g soft butter
125g icing sugar
A pinch of salt
50g crystallised ginger, finely chopped (from the baking section in your local supermarket)
Beat the butter and sugar together. Fold in the flour, pinch of salt and ginger. Mix until it resembles soft breadcrumbs, then pull the mixture together by hand. Turn it out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to form a flat round.
Break off walnut-sized pieces of the dough and, using lightly floured hands, roll into balls. Place these on the baking tray, flatten each ball by lightly pressing a fork on top of each. These cookies spread when cooking, so make sure to leave room between each one.
Bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
White chocolate, cranberry and hazelnut biscuits
Makes about 30
200g softened butter
160g icing sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp of bicarbonate soda (bread 95g)
95g white chocolate, roughly chopped
40g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
65g dried cranberries
Mix the butter, egg and sugar in a food processor or mixer until it is light and fluffy. Transfer to a bowl and sieve in the flour and bread soda, white chocolate, hazelnuts and cranberries and mix until all ingredients are incorporated.
Take teaspoons of the dough out of the bowl and roll them into walnut size balls. Place these on a baking sheet and flatten slightly with a fork dipped in hot water (shake off any access water).
These biscuits will spread out during cooking so allow room for this when you are placing them on the cookie tray. Bake for 15 minutes until golden, then cool the biscuits on a wire rack.