independent– This year, more than ever, there seems to be an increasing focus on local and artisan gifts to give for Christmas. In these unsettling times, we’ve gone back to basics in a big way, with a growing sense of community and loyalty to those around us.
Edible gifts are always gratefully received, and you can be as creative as you like, making up bespoke little hampers for your loved ones containing everything from jams and jellies to chutneys and charcuterie.
Fudge is a fabulous gift to give and receive. The vanilla fudge recipe overleaf makes many squares, plus it is absolutely divine and it lasts for weeks – if you can resist scoffing it all at once! Vanilla is a classic fudge flavour, and the addition of light muscovado sugar gives a lovely toffee-like richness I love.
To make a rum and raisin fudge, put 125g raisins in a bowl with 4 tablespoons of rum. Leave the raisins to sit in the rum for a couple of hours to plump up. Make the vanilla fudge as per the recipe overleaf, then stir the rum-soaked raisins through just as the fudge starts to get grainy at the end.
Chocolate truffles, the classic chocolate gift, are one of the easiest to make. I love that each one is hand-rolled so they’re distinctively home-made. Leave out the booze if you wish from the recipe overleaf, and replace it with grated orange zest, vanilla extract or a light sprinkling of sea salt.
And for a lovely bit of sparkle – let’s face it, after the year we’ve all had, we need a bit of sparkle – this easy-to-whip-up festive chocolate biscuit cake with boozy raisins, right, will not disappoint.
A sugar thermometer is an essential bit of kitchen kit for whipping up marshmallows, nougat and candy canes, and it is a handy little gift for the person in your life who loves to make confectionery. Choose from a traditional thermometer or a more modern battery-powered thermometer with a probe.
Festive sparkling chocolate biscuit cake
Makes 16 small squares
You will need:
100ml Coole Swan, Baileys or another Irish cream liqueur
250g dark chocolate, chopped or in pieces
250g milk chocolate, chopped or in pieces
185g shortbread biscuits
100g white chocolate, chopped or in pieces
A few pinches of edible glitter
1 Line the base and sides of a 19cm-20cm square tin with parchment paper.
2 Put the cream liqueur in a small saucepan with the raisins and bring up to a simmer. Take the saucepan off the heat and allow the raisins to sit for at least 10 minutes so they plump up.
3 Put 150g of the dark chocolate pieces, 150g of the milk chocolate pieces and the butter in a bowl sitting over a saucepan containing a few centimetres of water. Put the saucepan on the heat and bring up to the boil. Turn the heat down and let the chocolate and the butter melt slowly. Take the saucepan off the heat, and set aside.
4 Break up the shortbread biscuits into approximately 1cm chunks and add them into the melted chocolate and butter mixture, along with the plumped-up raisins and any cream liqueur that’s left in the saucepan. Mix well, then tip the mixture into the prepared tin. Smooth the top with the back of a tablespoon. Put in the fridge to set.
5 While the mixture in the fridge is setting, place the white chocolate pieces in a bowl, the remaining 100g of dark chocolate pieces in another bowl and the remaining 100g of milk chocolate pieces in a third bowl. Melt them all separately by placing each bowl over a saucepan of water that you bring up to a simmer, then take the saucepan off the heat immediately, leaving the bowl sitting over the steam in the pot – the chocolate will melt slowly.
6 Once the bowls of dark, milk and white chocolate have melted, take the chocolate biscuit cake out of the fridge and place it on your worktop. Place spoonfuls of the dark chocolate all over the top of the cake, leaving space between the blobs. Next, add spoonfuls of the milk chocolate between these blobs, and finally add spoonfuls of the white chocolate in any spaces.
7 Using the handle end of a teaspoon, make swirls through the chocolate until you’re happy with the design. Scatter the edible glitter over the top and place the cake back in the fridge to set. Once it’s set, take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Take it out of the tin and cut into squares.
Makes about 60 pieces
You will need:
1 x 397g tin of condensed milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
450g light muscovado sugar
1 Place a 19cm-20cm square cake tin on your worktop. You could also use a small roasting tray or a small Swiss roll tin.
2 Put the tinned condensed milk, the butter, the vanilla extract and the muscovado sugar in a saucepan. Stir and bring to the boil.
3 Boil for about 10 minutes, stirring all the time – do not let it burn on the bottom – until a sugar thermometer dipped into the mixture reaches 113C, 235F. I always check that the fudge has reached the soft-ball stage by putting a half-teaspoon blob of fudge into a bowl of cold water – it should be firm but malleable. If it’s not feeling firm but is malleable at 113C, cook it for a little longer until it is ready; sometimes it needs to get to 118C, 244F or 120C, 248F.
4 Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat. Sit the bottom of the saucepan in a sink of cold water that comes 2cm-3cm up the outside of the pan. Stir the fudge until it cools down a bit – it will go from smooth, shiny and toffeeish to looking matte in appearance and a bit thick and grainy.
5 As soon as the fudge starts to look grainy, scrape it into the tin. The fudge should be 1cm -1.5cm thick. Let it cool, then cut into squares.
Rich chocolate truffles
Makes about 60
You will need:
350g dark chocolate, finely chopped or in small pieces
1-2 tablespoons dark rum, brandy or whiskey
25g cocoa powder
1 Put the cream in a saucepan and on a medium-low heat. When it is hot but not boiling, take the saucepan off the heat and add in the chocolate pieces and stir through.
2 Stir in the butter and the alcohol to mix and pour the mixture into a wide bowl or a pie dish. Place in the fridge to chill – the truffle mixture should just take about an hour to set, however, it could be covered and left in the fridge for a few days until you’re ready to roll the truffles.
3 Once you’re ready to roll the truffles, sift the cocoa powder into a large bowl. Then remove the truffle mixture from the fridge and either roll it into balls with wet hands (nice messy work!) or scoop it up with a melon baller or a teaspoon – keep dipping the implement into hot water for easier scooping – then toss gently in the cocoa powder. Store the truffles in plastic bags or gift boxes in the fridge; they will keep for about 2 weeks. l
Rather than rolling the chocolate truffles in cocoa powder, you could use chopped toasted nuts such as pistachios or almonds.