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Edible Gifts for Christmas



As always I am very behind on my Christmas organisation and cooking this year for various reasons none of which are particularly interesting. Except that one of them is that I am pregnant(!) and I have felt so incredibly ill for about 6 weeks that the thought of any food that wasn't yoghurt, orange juice or the most innocuous tuna/ham sandwich on sliced white (a bizarre collection but who am I to argue with the blueberry-sized blob which now controls my life) made my poor, pathetic, overly-sensitive stomach turn. The two tiny fairy lights on the horizon are 1) that the worst seems to have passed and I have an almost-normal appetite back and 2) the reassurance that I will make a lot of my gifts anyway and I have a few rainy evenings and one very rainy weekend to do that still. I have a bucket of harvested home-grown mandarins to make into curd (the flavour is extraordinarily fragrant, the most pure citrus imaginable, and the peel so astringent and impregnated with essential oils that they spit for miles when you break the skin. The cat got hit in the eye as I peeled one the other day and spent a few hours squinting at me reproachfully).


I also wanted to make an edible gold-flecked quince jelly that I had been dreaming about (can't find quinces or gold leaf anywhere, curse it), some home-made nougat (this has been on 'the list' for years and never made it to reality), rich and fudgy chestnut brownies (getting there), and we'll be wrapping up and gifting some spicy home-made new season's olive oil too.


I usually do 3 little presents for everyone, rather than just one thing. I like a cluster rather than a great wedge. Presents like the way I eat; lots of different interesting bits rather than one great, plain main. Something bought, something homemade and something edible (which can also be homemade). Perhaps -rarely- something useful. More often a book, a homemade jam, and some novelty chocolates or a wine/oil or something.


So this year I made a quick stop to Pacini Rais in Cagliari (a chocolate/liqueur shop of dreams, piled ceiling high with various panettone, chocolate cigars, Venchi assorted chocolates, liqueurs and teas) just for a few little glittery bits, then the rest will be simple (socks) and either readable or homemade.


I genuinely love making edible gifts, however short of time or voglia I may be. It is a win-win situation, you get satisfaction creating them, and the receiver gets something unique that you have laboured over. It is more satisfying that buying them, more time-consuming yes, but in an enjoyable, dark December evening sort of way when you can be crafting with carols on in the background cloaked in a rug, your cranky 50's gas heater (central heating?! Don't be ridiculous) fired up to full for a one-off festive treat.


This weekend I will steam up the windows with said coveted heater, curd and carols, and then have fun painting little labels for everything too (it doesn't matter how many tiny watercolour clementines I paint, I never get tired of rendering their perky single leaf. A simple person, really). How they'll travel to England in my suitcase I'm not sure, but I live in hope. Here is a round up of some of my favourite edible gifts to rouse you to make some of your own.


Salted Caramel Truffles


Classy, sophisticated and oh-so-easy. The easiest truffle recipe I know.

Keep these in the fridge or a cool place, the texture is at its best when they are cold.


Makes 20


200g Dark chocolate (at least 70%)

100g sugar

1.5 tbsp water

100ml cream

15g butter

Pinch of sea Salt


Cocoa powder, for dusting


Blitz the chocolate in a food processor until it is in small pieces (or if you don’t have a mixer, chop it by hand and place in a bowl).


Heat the sugar in a heavy saucepan with 3 tablespoons of water and the salt. Heat over a medium heat (swirling, not stirring) until the sugar has dissolved.


Turn the heat up and allow the syrup to boil away until it begins to change colour. Just as the sugar begins to turn the colour of caramel (a coffee colour is good here – dark but beware if it starts smoking or smelling of burning) quickly turn down the heat to low and add the butter and cream. Stir well until they are incorporated. Remove from the heat.


Wait for the caramel to stop bubbling, 30 seconds or so, and then pour it over the chocolate in the processor. Wait a few seconds and then blitz the whole lot together until you have a smooth chocolate cream.


Pour into a dish and set in a deep dish or bowl in the fridge until firm.


Place some cocoa powder on a plate/dish.


Once thoroughly chilled and solid, scoop teaspoons of the truffle mixture and roll them in your hands to form rounds. Drop them into the cocoa powder and move them around to coat. Chill and serve.



Panforte



Spiced, Medieval and chewy, one for the peel, nuts and dried fruit lovers.


Makes 1 x 9 inch cake, serves 8-10


200g almonds (half blanched half skin-on is nice)

40g hazelnuts

100g candied peel

Zest of 1 lemon

Zest of 1 orange

100g 00 flour

30g butter

150g honey

150g sugar

A pinch of salt

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground nutmeg

¼ tsp ground cloves

¼ tsp ground pepper (white is traditional, but black is fine)


Grease and line a 9 inch cake tin with baking paper. Butter the paper too, as this is an exceptionally sticky cake.


Preheat the oven to 170. Place all the nuts on a roasting tray and roast for 10 minutes, until golden. Roughly chop them (very roughly, they can be almost whole, and lots can remain whole).


Chop the candied peel into small pieces (no larger than hazelnut size) and measure all of the remaining ingredients into a bowl. Add the chopped nuts and the peel.


Place the honey, sugar, butter and salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir until the sugar has melted and allow the syrup to just come to a rolling boil.


Pour the syrup into the bowl with the other ingredients and stir well to combine. Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin and place in the oven. Cook for 20-25 minutes, until just golden, then allow to cool completely before dusting with icing sugar and serving in strong slices with a strong coffee, or wrapping in lots of wax paper and tying with a ribbon to give as a gift.



Citrus Curd


Use whichever citrus you like, and colour will vary but flavour will stay tart and buttery and delicious


Makes around 4 medium jars


3 eggs

5 egg yolks

200g unsalted butter, cut into pieces

250g sugar

4 lemons

3 clementines

1 small orange


Sterilise your jars.


Zest and juice the fruit (you should have 300ml of juice in totally. If you have a lot extra use it for a cake).


Mix the juice, zest, eggs and yolks and sugar and place in a medium saucepan over a low heat.


Whisk until the sugar has melted, then add half of the butter. Continue cooking and whisking over a medium heat until the butter has been incorporated. Now add the rest of the butter and continue cooking and stirring for another 8-10 minutes, until the mixture starts to bubble.


Strain through a fine sieve and decant into your prepared jars. Store in the fridge.



Soft & Chewy Amaretti




Decorate them as you like - cherries or no cherries - these classic snow-dusted amaretti are chewy, satisfying and dead-easy. Package them in clear plastic bags and wrap with coloured paper, or garnish with wild herbs/flowers.



Makes 30


500g blanched almonds

400g caster sugar

Grated zest of 1 lemon

150g egg white

Glace cherries, to decorate


Grind the almonds, lemon zest and sugar into a fine powder. Pour into a bowl and add the egg white, little by little, until you have a soft dough.


Preheat the oven to 175-180. Line a large flat baking tray with baking paper.


Shape by hand, wet your hands slightly, roll equal-sized small golf ball pieces and then flatten them slightly with the palm of your hand once they’re on the baking sheet.


Press a half glace cherry/a whole almond into the top and put them in the oven. Bake for around 13-15 minutes, until golden brown but still chewy.


Marzipan Fruits


My favourite thing of all to make. Keep forever, and whoever I gift them to never eats them (perhaps one or two) and the rest are kept in a glass box for posterity. I keep meaning to branch out into all kinds of painted marzipan creatures/things, but the best-laid plans of mice and men...


Makes 12-14 walnut-sized fruits of various shapes


150g icing sugar

150g ground almonds

10g water

10g lemon juice


Selected Food colouring & paintbrushes


A few cloves, or plastic/paper leaves and stalks


Bring the water, icing sugar and lemon juice and almonds together in a bowl and then knead on an icing sugar-dusted work surface until smooth. Shape into little balls and then fruits.


Using small paintbrushes, paint the fruits. Brown spots on yellow bananas, the tip of a sharp knife for dimpled orange skin. Scarlet strawberries, purple plums. Place them, once painted and dried, in paper cases. Give away to people you love, or keep them for yourself, if you prefer.


Chocolate Salami


Not as highly appreciated as it should be, this is always gratefully received and is fun (and messy) to make and wrap. You can vary your fat lumps(!!) ie the pale pieces in the dark chocolate sausage according to preference (use ginger biscuits instead of plain, and pistachios and cranberries for a festive effect). It's a movable feast.



Makes 1 (almost obscenely) large salami, or two modest ones


250g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)

150g butter (at room temperature)

120g caster sugar

Pinch of salt

2 eggs

200g broken biscuits (rich tea or another simple, dry, not-too-sweet biscuit)

80g toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

1 tbsp of cocoa powder

80g dried cherries (you can substitute cranberries or any other fruit you wish)

Icing sugar, for dusting



Preheat the oven to 170 and lay your hazelnuts on a baking tray. Toast them for ten minutes or so, until lightly golden. Remove and set aside to cool. Roughly chop them, or bash them briefly with the bottom of a rolling pin.

Break your biscuits however you choose to do so – whether by putting them in a bag and bashing them with a rolling pin or blitzing them quickly in a food processor. It is important they stay in fairly large pieces, you’re not aiming for crumbs.


Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie or in a microwave. Allow it to cool for a few minutes.


Beat the butter, salt and sugar until creamy and then whisk in the eggs, a little at a time, until a smooth batter is formed. Add the cocoa powder and the cooled, melted chocolate. Add the broken biscuits and the sour cherries and stir well to combine. Add the hazelnuts and stir again.

Scoop the mixture out (it will look quite sticky at this stage) onto a rectangle of cling film, aiming for a sort of long oblong shape. Place another piece of clingfilm the same size of the top and wrap the sausage completely. Roll it in your hands to smooth out the shape and then twist the ends. Place it in the fridge to chill.


Once solid and nicely firm, dust your sausage in icing sugar and either wrap it in baking paper if giving it as a gift, or if you want to go the whole hog tie it up as you would a proper salami. There are some very instructive videos on Youtube about how to tie salami properly, if you are so inclined.






2 Comments


Dear Letitia, Whoever you are carrying is so lucky to have you to nurture their nascent journey. It is shocking and depressing to read someone write that being a mother (capital m !!) is the greatest thing you can do in life, although it helps to explain the dismal role to which women, who could contribute so much more to the munificence of culture and society, are often consigned and are more often socialized to accept. I'm still concerned with UNICEF Ukraine: compare the wonderful role women play in the government and society with the abject role to which Putin consigns them in Russia.

The reason I write to you with some passion on this subject is that I sense…

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merryn.galluccio
merryn.galluccio
Dec 14, 2022

Congratulations Letitia! Being a Mother is the greatest thing you can do in life. I hope your pregnancy sails smoothly from now on that the first three months are behind. How exciting! Thank you for these gorgeous edible Christmas gift treats for those whom we love. The marzipan fruits are now definitely on the to do list but these all look amazing. your chicken with grape recipe was sublime by the way. Merry Christmas it is wonderful you will venture home and no doubt get spoiled by your family. Take care x

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