Friday 9 December 2016

Recipes: Brenda Costigan has some great ideas for a Christmas gift with a truly personal touch

Instead of spending a small fortune on presents this year, Brenda Costigan has some great ideas for a Christmas gift with a truly personal touch, and they're good enough to eat

Brenda Costigan

Published 12/12/2011 | 06:00

CHOCOLATE CLUSTERS
CHOCOLATE CLUSTERS

Christmas always brings that age-old debate about whether it's better to give than receive. Making edible gifts is a bit of both, providing the receiver shares with you!

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And, of course, such a gift means more to the recipient as the time and care put into the preparation shows a sense of caring that money cannot buy. It is important to package the gift prettily; use a little glass jar or dish -- or a box that you picked up during the year can be given a personal touch by filling it with your favourite home-made goodies.

Always tell your friends if a gift is home-made and edible, otherwise it may be left under the tree and spoil. Do not give a gift that requires immediate eating, unless your friend is aware of this. It is a clever idea to include a tag on your gift that describes the item, with reference to how long it will keep and any special storage conditions.

If you find crisp cellophane hard to get, you should be able to buy a length in your local flower shop.

CHOCOLATE CLUSTERS

(Pictured)

These sweets make a lovely gift -- they are so much more personal than a store-bought box of chocolates. Juicy raisins and crunchy toasted almonds are mixed through melted chocolate.

To decorate, you will need:

Use about 25g (1oz) toasted flaked almonds or a seasonal finish (see recipe below).

You will need:

110g (4oz) raisins

2 tablespoons brandy or Irish Mist

200g (7oz) good-quality dark chocolate

2 tablespoons fresh cream

25g (1oz) crystallized ginger, chopped finely, (optional)

50g (2oz) toasted almonds, chopped

Use sweet paper cases (or simply spoon out little blobs on to a sheet of baking parchment)

Prepare the decoration of your choice.

Put the raisins into a small saucepan with the brandy or Irish Mist, whichever you are using. Cover with a lid and cook gently for a couple of minutes until the liquid has been absorbed by the fruit. Don't let it burn. Put to one side and keep warm.

Meanwhile, break the dark chocolate into small bits and put it into a warm bowl. Put the fresh cream into a little saucepan and heat until it starts to bubble slightly around the edges, but don't let it boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, let it stand for a few minutes to heat through, then stir the mixture until it is smooth.

Next, add in the warm -- not hot -- raisins, the finely chopped ginger, if you're using it, and the chopped toasted almonds, and stir well.

Allow the mixture to cool a little for a few minutes, then spoon it into the sweet paper cases or, if you're not using these, place spoonfuls directly on to the baking parchment. Top with a few flaked almonds while the chocolate is still soft. Allow to set in a cool place -- don't put the sweets in a fridge, it's too cold.

To package the chocolate clusters as a gift, choose little dishes or little boxes to put them in. If you like, line the box with a paper doily. Wrap the box or dish up with some crisp cellophane and tie it up attractively.

SEASONAL FINISH

Holly leaves and berries made with almond icing give a colourful touch to your sweets. Add food colouring by dipping a skewer in it -- only add a few drops at a time, as food colouring is very powerful.

You will need:

Red and green food colouring

110-150g (4-5oz) almond icing (see recipe for chocolate marzipan sweets, below)

Caster sugar for rolling

Add the red food colouring, a few drops at a time, to one-third of the almond icing, adding the green to the other two-thirds. Rubbing a little caster sugar on your hands, shape the red almond icing into little red berries. Then, using the green almond icing, shape it into small little triangles, pinching one end and then tweaking it slightly to give it a leafy curved appearance. Place the berries and leaves on the sweets while the chocolate is still soft.

CHOCOLATE MARZIPAN SWEETS

(Pictured)

Make your favourite almond-icing recipe and shape into little bite-sized balls. Dip some of the balls in melted dark chocolate and some in melted white chocolate. Pack these sweets in little open-topped boxes, wrap in cellophane and tie with ribbon.

You will need:

225g (8oz) ground almonds

150g (5oz) caster sugar

40g (1 1/2oz) icing sugar

1 egg white, preferably organic and free range

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1-2 tablespoons whiskey

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond essence

25g (1oz) toasted almonds, chopped (optional)

To decorate:

About 150g (5oz) dark chocolate, melted

Toasted flaked almonds

About 150g (5oz) white chocolate, melted

Dark chocolate, grated

In a bowl, mix together the dry ingredients -- the ground almonds, the caster sugar and the icing sugar. In a separate container, whisk together the liquid ingredients -- the egg white, the lemon juice, the whiskey, the vanilla extract and the almond essence. Add enough of the wet mixture to the dry mixture to make a stiff moist paste, mixing well. If you like, include the chopped toasted almonds into the mix to give it a crunch. Gather into a ball.

Shape the almond icing into little balls about the size of a gobstopper or a large marble. Sit the balls on a sheet of baking parchment and leave for a few hours, or overnight, so that they dry very slightly on the outside but still retain the lovely moistness inside.

The next day, using a skewer or wooden cocktail sticks to hold them, dip half of the sweets into the melted dark chocolate, and then sprinkle the surface with the toasted flaked almonds. Dip the rest of the sweets in the melted white chocolate and sprinkle them with the grated dark chocolate. Place the sweets once more on the baking parchment. Leave until the chocolate sets.

CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

These luxurious sweets will keep for about two weeks in a cool place. Most dark chocolate is suitable, but, to be extra special, use very rich chocolate, containing at least 70 per cent cocoa solids. Crushed amaretti biscuits or chopped toasted almonds make a delightful crispy coating. I like to include some chopped toasted hazelnuts and ground almonds in the mixture to add flavour and texture, and to make it firmer. You might like to try other additions, such as chopped ginger preserved in syrup. Makes about 18 sweets.

You will need:

200g (7oz) dark chocolate, minimum 70 per cent cocoa solids, broken up

125ml (4 1/2fl oz) fresh cream

1-2 tablespoons brandy or liquor of your choice

40g (1 1/2oz) toasted hazelnuts, chopped

25g (1oz) ground almonds

15g (1/2oz) icing sugar

Cocoa powder, for dusting hands

For the coatings, you will need:

About 50g (2oz) amaretti biscuits, finely crushed

About 50g (2oz) toasted blanched almonds, finely chopped

Cocoa powder

100g (3 1/2oz) melted chocolate

Put the dark chocolate pieces into a warm bowl. Put the fresh cream into a little saucepan and heat it until it starts to bubble slightly around the edges, but don't let it boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Let it stand for a few minutes to heat through, then stir until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the brandy or liquor of your choice, whichever you're using, the chopped toasted hazelnuts, the ground almonds and the icing sugar. Cover the bowl and allow the contents to cool for a number of hours until it has set. Dust your hands with cocoa powder, then take generous teaspoonfuls of the mixture and use your hands to shape them into balls. Place the balls on a tray lined with baking parchment.

Put the finely crushed amaretti on one plate, the finely chopped toasted blanched almonds on another and the cocoa powder on a third. Have the melted chocolate to hand also. Dip the sweets separately into the coating of your choice. When coated, place the sweets on a tray lined with baking parchment. Those to be dipped in the melted chocolate will require a skewer or wooden cocktail stick to lift them out. Leave the sweets to set on the baking parchment, sprinkling a few chopped toasted almonds on top. They are now ready to pack in pretty little boxes.

TOASTED SPICED NUTS

A coating of softly beaten egg white mixed with spices and brown sugar is used to coat a selection of whole mixed nuts. These are spread out in a single layer and baked in the oven. The resulting nuts have delightful flavour with a chunky, uneven appearance. Choose a little glass jar with a lid in which to pack your gift, and tie a seasonal bow around the neck.

You will need:

225g (8oz) unsalted mixed whole nuts -- pecans, walnuts, blanched almonds, blanched hazelnuts, brazils, etc

1 large egg white

50g (2oz) light brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon allspice (optional)

1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat the oven to 140 C, 275 F, Gas 1. Use a baking tin, or tins, covered with a layer of baking parchment.

Leave the nuts whole. The walnuts and pecans do not need to be skinned. Whisk the egg white until it is beginning to get stiff -- you'll know it's ready when little peaks form when the beaters are lifted out. Lightly beat in the light brown sugar, the cinnamon, the allspice, if you are using it, and the salt. Stir in the nuts and ensure they are coated evenly. Spread the nut mixture on the baking tin (or tins) in a single layer, separating the nuts as best you can. Bake for 45 minutes until the nuts are dry to the touch. Leave them on the baking sheet in a warm kitchen to dry out for about 1-2 hours. Loosen the nuts, separating them from the parchment -- some of the coating will be left behind -- and store them in an airtight container.

CRANBERRY SALSA

This delicious salsa has a sharp, sweet, fruity flavour which is great with hot or cold turkey and ham. No cooking is required -- everything is raw, just buzz it all together in a food processor! The colour of the salsa mellows to a rich wine-red colour after a day.

This will keep for about 10-14 days, if you store it in the fridge. Pack in a jar, cover and attach a label with the use-by date.

You will need:

2 medium oranges

350g (12oz) fresh raw cranberries, washed and dried

1 large eating apple, unpeeled, roughly chopped, discarding the core

175-225g (6-8oz) caster sugar

A few pinches ground nutmeg

Peel the oranges with a sharp knife to remove the skin and pith, and then chop the flesh roughly, removing any pips. Then simply buzz the oranges, the cranberries, the chopped apple and the caster sugar together in a food processor. Flavour with the ground nutmeg.

Pack in spotlessly clean, pretty jars and tie with a seasonal ribbon.

MACAROONS

Macaroons are one of my favourite seasonal treats and they look very pretty presented in a glass jar or pretty little basket, decorated with a Christmas decoration. Rice paper can be bought in some delicatessens or in most Asian shops.

You will need:

100g ground almonds

175g (6oz) caster sugar

2-3 medium egg whites, lightly whisked

1/2 teaspoon almond essence

Rice paper

12-16 blanched whole almonds

In a bowl, mix the ground almonds and the caster sugar. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the egg whites and the almond essence with a fork.

Mix enough of the egg-white mixture into the almond and sugar mixture to achieve a soft but not runny consistency -- the softer the mixture, the more it will spread out on the tin during baking. Place a spoonful of the mixture on to rice paper, allowing a little space between each one. Press a whole almond into the centre of each spoonful.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes in the oven -- preheated to 170 C, 325 F, Gas 3 -- until the macaroons turn pale gold.

Allow the macaroons to cool completely before packing, then trim away the excess rice paper, and store them in an airtight container.

L

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