I have never been one for getting too keen about Christmas too early, but as the proper festive month of December starts I turn my mind to homemade presents. Some need a little time to sit and mature so when I have a spare dark evening or the odd grey Saturday these are what I make.
There is lots of joy in making something at home that you usually buy, an unparalleled feeling of smugness; you can spend the afternoon metaphorically patting yourself on the back. My favourite thing about homemade presents home, though, is the freedom to make things that are truly original, to mix flavours you can’t find anywhere else, and tweak and blend things that are different and delicious, and these three offerings are just that.
HAZELNUT AND CACAO BUTTER
Think Nutella. But better tasting and better for you. For really smooth nut butter you will need a good food processor or high-speed blender. If you don’t have one of these, a crunchy texture can be achieved using a hand blender.
- 300g raw skinned hazelnuts
- 4 tbsp maple syrup
- 4 tbsp coconut oil or cacao butter
- 4 tbsp cocoa powder or cacao nibs
- 100–150ml water
- Get all your ingredients together. If using coconut oil, melt it and let it cool. A hot spoon will help you measure the coconut oil more easily.
- Place the nuts in your food processor or blender and blitz until you have a fine powder. You will need to stop the food processor and use a spatula to scrape down the sides from time to time. This should take two to four minutes, depending on how powerful your blender is. If you like your nut butter crunchy, spoon out two heaped tablespoons before it’s completely smooth, to stir through at the end.
- Once the nuts begin to form a paste, add the rest of the ingredients except the water and blend until you have a smooth butter – you may need to scrape down the sides again a few times.
- Add the water and blend again. Top up with a little extra water if necessary, until your nut butter is the consistency you like. Scoop out of the processor; if you have reserved some crunchy nuts, put the nut butter into a bowl, add the crunchy nuts and beat together. Then spoon the butter into sterilised jars. Keeps, in a cool place, for up to six weeks.
SPICED PEAR AND BAY CHUTNEY
MAKES 1.5 LITRES (ABOUT 4 × 400G JARS)
- 2kg pears
- 1 tbsp fennel seeds
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- Olive oil
- 2 red chillies, deseeded and finely sliced
- 600g unrefined golden caster sugar
- 4 bay leaves
- 150ml white wine vinegar.
- Chop the pears into small pieces, about the size of a broad bean. In a pestle and mortar, pound the fennel seeds and coriander seeds until they are cracked
- Heat a little olive oil in a large pan. Add the chopped chillies and the bashed spices and stir for a minute until they heat up. Now add the chopped pears, sugar, bay leaves and vinegar and bring to a slow blipping simmer on a low heat.
- Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until you have a syrupy chutney. Remember that it will set a little as it cools.
- Spoon into sterilised jars and keep in the fridge or in a cool place for a couple of weeks.
CHRISTMAS TREE MERINGUES
There is something magical about meringues, which seem to fit perfectly with the magic of Christmas. I make tiny delicately flavoured and coloured meringues and tie them like little presents with bright coloured ribbon and hang them all over my tree. They can be eaten as little treats straight from the tree, or as a fun pudding on Christmas day people can go and pick their own meringues off the tree and pile them into bowls with vanilla-spiked cream or yoghurt and poached winter fruit, lighter and brighter than a Christmas pudding. Kids love to spoon the meringue mix onto trays and older ones can help with ribbon tying.
MAKES ABOUT 50 SMALL MERINGUES
- 4 large eggs whites
- 200g golden caster sugar
Plus the following for each flavour:
- Lemon meringues: very finely grated zest 1 lemon
- Optional: a few drops of natural yellow food colouring
- Orange meringues: very finely grated zest 1 orange
- Optional: a few drops of natural orange food colouring
- Pistachio meringues: 2 tbsp finely chopped shelled pistachios
- Optional: a few drops of natural green food colouring
- Raspberry meringues: 2 tbsp freeze-dried raspberries, pounded to dust using a pestle and mortar
- Optional: a few drops of natural pink food colouring
- Heat oven to 150C and line two large baking sheets with greaseproof paper.
- Crack your egg whites into a large mixing bowl or stand-up mixer, making sure it’s grease-free before you start.
- Whisk the eggs with an electric hand whisk or in your mixer on a medium speed, until they reach soft peaks. Next add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, whisking continuously, until you have a thick and glossy meringue, then turn the mixer up to the highest setting and whisk for a further two minutes or until all the grains have dissolved, you can test this by pinching a little of the mixture between your fingers.
- Divide the mixture into four clean bowls and add one of the flavours to each, as well as a tiny drop of natural food colouring if you like, then fold the flavouring through the mixture. Use a tablespoon to spoon the meringue into little piles, do this until you have used up all four mixtures, make sure to leave a little space in between for them to spread.
- Bake for one hour until solid to the touch. Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks. Tie each of the meringues with a coloured ribbon and hang from the tree, these will keep for two to three weeks.