As we all know, Christmas can be pricey and a bit stressful. I often stress about what to give, will it be useful? Will it be what they want or need?
Then I thought ‘why not give what I would love’ - perhaps a box of hand-made biscuits or slices.
Or a jar of flavoured salts which you can add a pinch here or a sprinkle there.
For the grown-ups a delicious elderflower syrup to add a floral note to a much welcomed glass of gin.
Not forgetting the men in our lives, a fiery, tangy bottle of home-made chilli sauce and a useful rub to add a little zing to the many barbecue meals over the summer months.
These are just a few delicious ideas to help you through. The idea of hand-made gifts is nothing new and is still used throughout the world, especially at Christmas.
It is a humbling and rewarding way to give to the ones you love this festive season.
Merry Christmas everyone.
3 In 1 biscuit dough
Homemade biscuits are such a cute and thoughtful gift. However, getting around to making them at Christmas-time can be a bit overwhelming.
This recipe is an easy way to create impressive biscuits from one batch of dough.
You can get creative with the flavourings and toppings.
The dough can also be frozen well in advance, which is another great, stress-free advantage.
MAKES 60 BISCUITS
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
340g butter, softened
2¼ cup icing sugar
½ tsp salt
1½ tsp vanilla extract
1 egg white
3½ cups all purpose flour
1½ tsp baking soda
1½ tsp cream of tartar (optional)
Decoration: coloured icing with crushed Christmas sweets, chopped chocolate, decorative cake sprinkles, food colouring, coloured coconut
Mixed spice dough flavouring
2 Tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
Decoration: crystallised ginger, mixed peel, glace cherries
Chocolate dough flavouring
¼ cup sifted cocoa
1 Tbsp milk
Decoration: melted dark or white chocolate, piped icing, crushed nuts etc
In the bowl of your mixer, add softened butter, sifted icing sugar, salt and vanilla. Beat well until smooth and creamy (2-3 minutes).
Add the egg and egg white and beat until well blended.
Sift in the dry ingredients and gentle beat to combine.
Divide the dough into 3 and place in separate bowls. Add the flavourings and mix to combine.
Lay a piece of baking paper on your bench. Turn out the first dough and spread it out into a log about 20cm long and 4cm diameter.
Roll the baking paper around the dough and run your hand along the dough to ensure it is even, secure the ends by twisting the paper tight.
Continue with the remaining dough.
Once all the dough is done, either refrigerate for at least 3 hours or freeze until required.
When ready to bake, remove the logs of dough.
Preheat the oven 170°C fan bake / 180°C.
Cut the logs so you get 0.5cm thick rounds. Place 2cm apart on baking paper lined trays and bake for 9-10 minutes or until the biscuits are just beginning to colour on the edges. Remove and cool completely before decorating.
Once cooked they will store in an airtight container for up to a week.
Flavoured salts are very useful in the kitchen, a sprinkle here and a sprinkle there will boost pretty much anything you are planning to cook. They are quick to make, versatile, with endless flavour options.
MAKES 6 x 50g JARS
Preparation time: 30 minutes
1 cup sea salt flakes
½ cup fresh herbs, removed from stalks, dried until brittle
1 cup sea salt
115g dried porcini mushrooms
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly ground
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp sumac
1 Tbsp sea salt
Blend the above mixes in a blender until a medium/fine blend occurs.
Store in dry jars and seal tightly.
Spicy treats for the men
I am from a large family and have five brothers, all with different tastes.
One thing they all like to do is to crank up the barbecue and get cooking over the summer months.
These simple home-made spicy treats will be a delicious accompaniment to their cooking triumphs this summer.
The chilli sauce is fermented resulting in layers of tangy flavours with a punch at the end to round it off.
The rub not only goes with meat, but can also be tossed through vegetables to liven them up.
Fermented chilli sauce
I like to make my chilli sauce by fermenting the ingredients. It allows the ingredients to take on a natural tanginess which adds to the overall flavour.
It is very easy to assemble and the only issue is that you have to wait a little for nature to do its thing.
MAKES 1 LITRE
Preparation time: 1 week (approx)
600g red chillis, stalks removed, seeds removed (optional depending on your taste)
1 garlic bulb, peeled
1 red onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled, finely diced
3 capsicum, deseeded, roughly chopped into pieces
1 kiwifruit, peeled and roughly chopped
10 black peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 litre water
Add all the ingredients into a large sterilised jar, add the salt and water.
Cover with a sterilised, non-reactive weight to ensure the ingredients sit under the brine. Seal with a lid, place out of direct sunlight for anywhere between 3-7 days, maybe longer.
Release the lid daily to let the built up gases escape. It will start to bubble and the liquid will become cloudy which is a good indication that the sauce is fermenting.
Strain off half of the liquid, putting it aside. You will need this to adjust the consistency later on.
Blend until smooth. Add more liquid until you get a thick, but pourable consistency.
Pour into sterilised jars, seal and store in the fridge for up to 3 months.
Rubs are useful for spicing up your meats or adding a little zing to your veges. The spices used can vary, resulting in different flavour profiles.
Some people like to add a hint of warming spices, others like adding herbs for lighter notes.
I have included a good all-rounder which you can certainly add your own twist to make it even more personalised.
MAKES 1½ CUPS
Preparation: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 8 minutes
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dried oregano
1½ Tbsp onion powder
1½ Tbsp garlic powder
1½ Tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp cayenne powder
1 Tbsp mustard powder
3 Tbsp sea salt flakes
Add the black peppercorns and cumin to a dry pan and toast gently for a couple of minutes.
Add the oregano, onion and garlic powder and paprika and toss to combine. Turn off the heat.
Grind the above ingredients in a spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle.
Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.
Cool completely before storing.
Elderflower gin and tonic
Homemade elderflower syrup/cordial is one of my Christmas traditions. For a little effort you will make litres of refreshing syrup which can be used in so many ways.
This year I am doing a “grown-up” version with the addition of gin and few cute extras which make this the perfect gift for those “hard to buy for” friends and family members.
MAKES 5 LITRES
Preparation time: 4 days
4 heads of freshly picked elderflowers
2 cups of honey, coconut sugar, caster sugar
1 litre hot water
4 litres cold water
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 lemons, roughly chopped
Pick over the elderflowers, discard any browning flowers, bugs and all stalks. Set aside.
Place the sugar into a non-reactive large vessel. Pour over the hot water and stir to dissolve the sugar.
Add the cold water, vinegar, lemons and flowers. Stir to combine and to press down the flowers.
Cover with a clean muslin cloth and leave somewhere warm for 2-4 days or until you start to see carbonation appear.
Strain the soda through a fine sieve and bottle into sterilised bottles, seal and set aside for another couple of days before consuming.
Gin and tonic (per serving)
30ml elderflower syrup (or to taste)
2 juniper berries
Zest of grapefruit or lemon
Mix all the following and serve with ice and serve.