Before I start I want to apologise for two things. Firstly, I’m going to mention the C word. Yes, that’s right, Christmas. And secondly, the quality of the photos in this post are shockingly bad. They were taken last Christmas before I had even planned on starting this blog. So, for both, I am sorry!
Every Christmas I make edible presents for family and friends and last year I decided to attempt to make hampers full of my handmade delicious goodies. They proved very successful and I got a lot of compliments which meant the frustrated late nights when things went wrong were all worth it. So, I have decided to put together the recipes for each gift I created and any tips I can pass on so that you too can create your own hampers to give this year and avoid any of the disasters I encountered. Each one is very simple to do but, believe me, your friends and family will amazed at how much effort you’ve put into their gifts.
Cranberry and Orange Vodka
This very seasonal drink is supposed to be served as a single shot and then savoured, not the way my mum drank it in a half full tumbler that she kept topping up. She was rather sozzled by the end of the evening! It goes great with the oatcakes and chilli chutney recipes below, especially if teamed with your favourite cheese.
- 250g fresh or frozen cranberries
- Pared zest of 2 oranges – if you want to really taste the orange I would make this 3
- 200g caster sugar
- 1 litre vodka
Servings: 4 x 250ml bottles
|Step 1||Sterilise a 1.5 litre clip top Kilner jar.|
|Step 2||Place the cranberries in a dish and stab them with a fork to allow their juices to come out. Do not mush them together.|
|Step 3||Pare the zest from the oranges so you have orange peel strips.|
|Step 4||Place the orange zest, cranberries and sugar into the jar and pour the vodka on top.|
|Step 5||Place the sealed jar in a dark place for two weeks, gently shaking it every now and again to release the juices|
|Step 6||Once the sugar has all dissolved decant the liquid into the jars using a muslin-lined sieve so that none of the fruit goes into the bottle.|
|Step 7||Allow the bottles to rest for four weeks before drinking otherwise it will be far too strong.|
I would recommend using just supermarket brand vodka as the more expensive stuff won’t make this taste any better. It’s about the fruitiness, not the vodka.
It can be made well in advance and, once the four weeks resting time is up, the bottles can be placed directly into the freezer until you are ready to give them as a gift. Add your own label (I printed mine from the WorldLabel blog)and tie it on with curling ribbon for a pretty finishing touch.
Iced Christmas Biscuits
This is a recipe I have used time and time again and they always prove a hit whenever I give them as gifts. They have a strong Christmasy flavour with cinnamon and ginger but if you’re not keen on this then you could always try my Shrewsbury Biscuits recipe as an alternative and you can ice them in exactly the same way.
- 170g / 6oz flour
- 60g / 2oz cold butter, cut into small pieces
- 85g / 3oz brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons of golden syrup
- 2 tablespoons of milk
- 1 egg yolk
- ¼ teaspoon of ginger
- ½ teaspoon of cinnamon
- Ready to roll icing in various Christmas colours
- Icing sugar
Servings: 12 – 16 biscuits
|Step 1||Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F.|
|Step 2||Sift the flour, ginger and cinnamon into a large bowl and mix together.|
|Step 3||Add the butter to the mixture and rub it thoroughly between your fingers until is resembles breadcrumbs.|
|Step 4||Mix in the brown sugar.|
|Step 5||In a separate bowl mix the syrup, milk and egg yolk together and add it to the flour mixture. Stir it until you have a smooth paste.|
|Step 6||Flour your surface and knead the pastry for a few minutes before rolling out to a 5mm thickness.|
|Step 7||Cut the pastry into biscuits using Christmas shaped cutters (for the Christmas puddings just use a round, straight edge cutter) and place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.|
|Step 8||Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes until the biscuits are a light golden colour and leave on a cooling tray to harden.|
|Step 1||Roll out the first colour of ready to roll icing (green for the trees or white for the Christmas puddings.|
|Step 2||Using the same cutters cut out the same shape in icing.|
|Step 3||Roll little balls for the holly berries and Christmas tree decorations and gently flatten the ones for the tree.|
|Step 4||Mix a small amount of icing sugar with a few drops of water and use this as a paste to stick the icing to the biscuit.|
|Step 5||Don’t push the icing down onto the biscuit as this will ruin the shape. Just gently work your fingers around the edges to secure the icing and make sure nothing is hanging over. You’ll be amazed at how pliable it is, so go careful.|
|Step 6||Leave the finished biscuits to harden on a plate out in the open air (putting them in a fridge won’t help. Trust me I tried it!)|
|Step 7||Once they’ve set firm, place them carefully into a clear presentation bag and tie with a ribbon and hand written label.|
Keep an eye on the biscuits as they are cooking because they will suddenly go too dark and will become very hard once they’ve cooled.
For the icing shapes cut the round Christmas pudding shapes in white and then cut them in half using a wiggley line. Use one half for each pudding biscuit. For the candy canes cut them out using the candy cane cutter in both white and red, then place a white one on top of a red one and cut diagonally down the shape. Swap the colours around so you have two alternating coloured candy canes shapes.
Cheeky Chilli Chutney
This is a Jamie Oliver recipe which is incredibly easy to make and would make a great gift on it’s own or teamed with the oatcakes. The original recipe recommends using 8 – 10 red chillies. I used 8 in mine and it was seriously hot, so hot in fact that my aunt couldn’t eat it. I would recommend 5 or 6 chillies for a flavour that isn’t going to leave you a sweating mess! Therefore, I have adjusted the recipe to include just 6 chillies.
- 6 fresh red chillies
- 8 red peppers
- 2 medium red onions
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 100g brown sugar
- 150 ml balsamic vinegar
- Olive oil
- Salt and black pepper to taste
Servings: 3 small jars
|Step 1||Sterilise 3 small clip top Kilner jars.|
|Step 2||Place the peppers and chillies on a tray and put them under a hot grill. Turn them occasionally until they are blackened and blistered.|
|Step 3||Carefully place the peppers and chillies into a bowl and cover it with clingfilm. They’ll continue cooking in their own steam.|
|Step 4||Once they’ve cooled down remove the skins, trim off the stalks, deseed each one and finely chop them.|
|Step 5||In a saucepan add a splash of olive oil and heat it up.|
|Step 6||Add the chopped onions, rosemary, bay leaves, cinnamon and salt and pepper to taste.|
|Step 7||Cool gently for approximately 20 minutes until the onions become golden and sticky.|
|Step 8||Add the peppers, chillies, sugar and vingear to the mixture and continue cooking until you are left with a thick sticky chutney.|
|Step 9||Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves and spoon into the jars. Leave to cool before sealing.|
I would recommend gluing a handwritten label to the lid with a warning on how hot this will be. I should’ve done this the first time so my family weren’t so shocked on the first tasting!
I’d never tasted or tried making oatcakes until last Christmas but thought they would make a great accompaniment to the chutney and vodka. Boy, was I right! These went down like a storm and I think this was what I was complimented on the most. My mum in particular loved them and asked if I would make some more. (I apologise for the stock picture but I stupidly forgot to take a photo of these).
- 225g / 8oz oatmeal
- ½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
- 25g / 1oz dried, sweetened cranberries
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- 150ml water
- Salt to taste
Servings: About 20 small oatcakes
|Step 1||Heat the oven to 180°C / fan 160°C / gas 4|
|Step 2||Mix the oatmeal, bicarbonate of soda and salt in a bowl and then add the cranberries.|
|Step 3||Heat the butter and water in a pan and continue stirring until the butter melts.|
|Step 4||Make a well in the centre of the oats mixture, pour in the butter and mix it all together.|
|Step 5||Initially the mixture will seem too wet but the oats will soak it in if left for a couple of minutes and you’ll be left with a soft dough.|
|Step 6||Dust your surface with oats, roll out the dough to about 7mm thick and cut it into biscuits using a round cutter.|
|Step 7||Place them on a parchment lined baking tray and bake for approximately 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes to stop them going stodgy.|
|Step 8||Once they are crisp and lightly golden place them on a cooling tray.|
These will keep for about 5 – 7 days so make sure you make them at the very last minute. However, you can make up the dough, cut it into shapes and freeze them until you are ready to bake them, which would save a little bit of time.
I used Flahavan’s Organic Jumbo Oats in mine which I know some people find are too big to work with but if you get the right consistency of water and butter to the oats then I find they have a great texture to them that smaller oats just don’t have.
If you wanted a more savoury flavour than cranberries then try adding some black pepper or chopped chilli and coriander instead.
Honeycomb Chocolate Bark
Chocolate bark is so easy to make, all you do is melt some chocolate, smooth it into the bottom of a parchment lined tin and before it hardens sprinkle your toppings over it to give it its own unique flavour. Whenever I make mine I use Cadbury’s milk chocolate (the best!), Green & Black’s 70% dark chocolate and the cheapest white chocolate I can find. Never use good quality white chocolate as it will congeal when it melts. Trust me, it’s not pleasant!
One of my favourite toppings, as well as cranberries and hazelnuts, is honeycomb and I think the main reason is because it is so much fun to make. When you see the magic happening in the pan you can’t help but smile. Of course, you could just make honeycomb and give it as a present but I love making chocolates at Christmas so I went the whole hog.
- 80g / 3oz butter
- 160g / 5½ oz caster sugar
- 80g / 3oz golden syrup
- 2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda
Serves: 8 small bags
|Step 1||Either oil a baking tin or line it with baking parchment|
|Step 2||Add the butter, sugar and syrup to a medium pan and heat it gently until the sugar dissolves.|
|Step 3||Turn up the heat and boil the mixture but don’t stir it. However, if it starts to go darker on one side, just gently swirl the pan to mix it together again.|
|Step 4||Boil for approximately 5 minutes or until the mixture turns a golden honeycomb colour.|
|Step 5||Add the bicarbonate of soda and stir it for a few seconds. This is the fun bit when it all bubbles!|
|Step 6||Pour the mixture into the baking tin and let it cool. Once it’s set, break it up into smaller pieces.|
|Step 7||Sprinkle the honeycomb pieces over your melted chocolate, leave it to harden, then break it into bits and place in clear presentation bags.|
The Finished Hampers
You will need the following items to be able to put your hamper together:
- Wicker baskets with fabric inserts – I bought mine from Home Allure on eBay
- Shredded paper – I ordered 400g of bright red from Candi Gifts who have a massive range of colours and, thankfully, sell it in small quantities
- Plain scrap paper
- Florists cellophane wrap – one of my friends gave me some she had but you can also buy this at Candi Gifts
- Curling ribbon – I have a huge bag of ribbons so I can always find something suitable in there but I bought this particular ribbon on a big roll in Hobbycraft and it’s lasted me for years
- Wicker heart with ribbon hanger – mine came from East 2 Eden on eBay
- Brown card tags – I got these from a local stationers
- A ‘Handmade by’ stamp – I had mine specially made to have my name on it from the same local stationers and I use it every year for my handmade gifts
Making up the hampers
|Step 1||Scrunch up the plain scrap paper and squish it into the bottom of the wicker basket. This will give your hamper some padding and will mean that you won’t need to use as much shredded paper to give the items enough cushioning.|
|Step 2||Add enough shredded paper on top so it spills over the edges to give it a luxurious look.|
|Step 3||Place your handmade gifts in the basket with the taller things at the back and shorter things at the front so everything can be seen through the cellophane.|
|Step 4||Cut the cellophane into large rectangles. These rectangles need to be larger than you imagine to give enough excess at the top.|
|Step 5||Cut a strip of Sellotape and put it somewhere where it is easy to grab.|
|Step 6||Place the basket in the middle of the cellophane and pull the corners up to meet above the basket. Hold and tuck the sides in so that everything sits closely around the basket.|
|Step 7||Grab the excess cellophane close to the hamper gifts and wrap the Sellotape just under where your hand is to secure it. This will allow you to tie the ribbon without having to hold onto the cellophane.|
|Step 8||Stamp your tag and thread the curling ribbon through the string on the tag and the ribbon on the wicker heart.|
|Step 9||Place the ribbon around the cellophane where you’ve put the Sellotape and tie in a bow.|
|Step 10||Curl the ribbon with the edge of a pair of scissors and arrange the excess cellophane so it’s not all squished together. You may need to trim some off the top if it seems too high.|
|Step 11||And, voila, you’re done!|
Do you make your own gifts for people at Christmas? What’s your favourite thing to make?