Yot’s hard to write about homemade festive food gifts without sounding like a cliche. But some opinions are overused simply because they are, well, just so true. The older I get, the less “stuff” I want, and the more happiness looks like something delicious someone has taken the time to make for me. So, for anyone else planning on some DIY gifts for the weeks ahead, here is something savory, something sweet and something to raise a glass (or piece of toast) to.
“Everything” cheesers (pictured top)
These moreish cheese biscuits are good enough to eat on their own or with a bit of chutney smeared on top. Freeze the unbaked logs for up to a month, then defrost and slice before baking.
Prep 15 minutes
chill 1 hour
Cook 25 minutes
Rest 30 min
For the “everything” mix/coating
15g onion granules
15g poppy seeds
10g black sesame seeds
15g white sesame seeds
5g garlic granules
For the cheese biscuits
150g gruyerecoarsely grated
50g mature cheddarcoarsely grated
100g unsalted butterat room temperature
1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
½ tsp table salt
½ tsp flaked sea salt
1 tsp mild curry powder
120g plain flour
75g pine nutsroughly blitzed
1 egg whitebeaten (or a little water)
Combine all the coating ingredients in a small bowl.
Put the two cheeses and the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment in place, then mix on medium speed for four to five minutes, until creamy and slightly fluffy. Add the pepper, both salts, the curry powder, flour and pine nuts, and mix again, this time on low speed, until it just starts coming together into a dough. Tip out on to a clean work surface and gently work the dough into a ball.
Divide the dough in two, and roll each half into a roughly 24cm-long log. Wrap each log in a sheet of baking paper, twist both ends tightly to seal, then roll the log backwards and forwards a few times so it’s nice and uniform. Refrigerate for about an hour, until the dough logs are firm.
Heat the oven to 175C (155C fan)/310F/gas 2½, and spread the “everything” mix on a large oven tray. Peel the paper off each log, brush both with beaten egg white (or water), then roll them in the seasoning mix, pressing down lightly as you go, so they get evenly coated.
Cut the logs into 1cm rounds and arrange them 2cm apart on two large, 40cm x 30cm baking trays. Bake for about 22 minutes, rotating the trays once halfway, until golden, then remove and leave to cool completely for 30 minutes before serving. Once baked, the biscuits will keep in an airtight container for up to five days.
Ginger and pecan brittle
This is a two-in-one gift: the brittle is delicious just as it is, or blitz it into a decadent praline paste to smother on toast or drizzle on ice-cream. If you prefer, swap the pecans for other nuts such as hazelnuts or almonds. It’s crucial that the pecans are warm when you add them to the caramel, otherwise they will cool the mix and it will set too quickly.
Prep 10 minutes
Cook 25 minutes
Set 30 min
140g pecanstoasted and roughly chopped
225g caster sugar
150g golden syrup
75g unsalted butter
60g fresh gingerpeeled and finely grated
¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾ tsp flaked salt
Heat the oven to 120C (100C fan)/230F/gas ⅓. Put the pecans on a large oven tray lined with baking paper and put in the oven to warm up while you make the caramel.
Put the sugar, golden syrup, butter, 70ml room-temperature water and ginger in a large, heavy-based saucepan on a medium-high heat, and leave to cook without stirring for three minutes, until bubbling. Once it’s all bubbling furiously, cook, stirring frequently, for another 11 minutes, until the caramel turns dark amber in colour. If you have a sugar thermometer, it should read 170C; if you don’t, have a bowl of really cold water to hand and drop in a spoonful of the caramel: it’s ready when it immediately solidifies into a ball and sinks to the bottom.
Take the pan off the heat and immediately stir in the bicarbonate of soda and pecans, keeping the lined pecan tray close by. Working quickly, pour the caramel on to the now empty tray and use a spatula to spread it out to about ½cm thick and 22-24cm in diameter. While the caramel is still hot, sprinkle over the flaked salt, then set aside to cool and harden for 30 minutes.
Once cool, break the brittle into shards and store in an airtight container for up to a week.
To turn the brittle into a praline paste, break the shards into smaller pieces, put these in a food processor and blitz until very smooth and glossy, scraping down the bowl a few times as you go. Pour into sterilized, airtight jars and refrigerate for up to a month.
Mulled wine fig jam
This festive treat of spiced and boozy sweetness will brighten any Christmas cheeseboard or your morning toast. Just make sure to save some for yourself. The jam will keep in the fridge for up to a month.
Macerate: 1 hour
Prep 20 minutes
Cook 40 minutes
Makes 1 x 900g jar
12 black figs (900g), cut into 1cm pieces
275g jam sugar (AKA preserving sugar)
4 lemons5 thin strips of zest shaved off and julienned, the rest juiced, to get 75ml
2 oranges5 thin strips of zest shaved off and julienned, the rest juiced, to get 200ml
25g gingerpeeled and julienned
3 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
Flaked sea salt
250ml red wine
First macerate the figs. Put the first eight ingredients in a large bowl with half a teaspoon of flaked salt, stir to combine, then set aside for an hour, until the figs have released all their juices.
Pour the fig mixture into a large saucepan, add the wine and place on a medium-high heat. Cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to begin with and skimming off any scum that rises to the surface. Towards the end of the cooking time, stir more regularly to prevent the jam catching and burning.
Once the time is up and the jam mix is thick and glossy, take off the heat and, while it’s still hot, stir in the brandy. Transfer to a large sterilized jar (or two smaller jars), and leave to cool completely before sealing tightly with a lid. Refrigerate if not using right away, and serve either cold or at room temperature.