Edible Christmas gifts there’s still time to make…

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Rather than going out to get last minute presents today, why not stay in, listen to some Christmas tunes, and let the smell of edible gifts permeate the house instead?

Below I’ve collected a few of my gifts from Christmases past, and a few other recipes that work as presents – I hope they’re useful if you’re stuck for that last present for someone!

(Click on the titles to find the recipes)

Salted butter caramels

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These are a crowd-pleaser: I’ve made them numerous times in the past and they always get good comments! They also don’t take too long – about 15 minutes on the hob and then a couple of hours to set – stick them in a cute gift bag and you’re sorted…

Vanilla extract

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A lot of people don’t realise you can make your own vanilla extract, but it’s pretty easy and looks impressive! You will need to put a ‘use after’ label (or words to that effect) on this as the vanilla won’t be infused enough by Christmas – but it will look pretty in a glass bottle with the vanilla pods…

  Blue cheese & poppy seed biscuits

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These biscuits are great as an aperitif with a glass of fino, or equally as good with a glass of port post-meal. They’re a good pressie for anyone who likes cheese – just keep them in a sealed container after making. You can also swap out the blue cheese for any other semi-hard cheese you wish!

Pickled rhubarb

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This year I have decided to make some pickled cherries, but I don’t know what they taste like yet as they’re not quite ready. The pickled rhubarb I made earlier in the year was great though and a good accompaniment to cheese and cold meats. It also is quick to make, and can be used after 48 hours – winning!

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Have an excellent Christmas and New Year all – eat, drink and be merry!

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Christmas Gift Ideas: Last-Minute Salted Butter Caramels

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It’s entirely possible (and preferable), that anyone reading this is doing so snug at home, relaxed and ready for Christmas with the presents all wrapped, the food all bought, drinks all chilling in the fridge… if so, I salute you and you can keep that smug smile on your face for as long as you like!

If you’re a present or two short, or you want that homemade touch without bags of effort then I hope I can help. Firstly, who doesn’t like salted caramel? Or homemade sweets? Secondly, these homemade salted caramel sweets are quick and pretty easy to make (if you keep an eye on them), and they only need a couple of hours to set, so they can be made this evening or tomorrow morning and be ready in time for Christmas day. Thirdly, they are made from things you probably have lying around the house anyway – the only exception possibly being a sugar thermometer*.

*In which case, a jar of salted caramel sauce would also make a nice present for someone – just follow the recipe until the sugar thermometer goes in, and instead, cook on a medium heat for another 3 minutes, then pour into a jar or bottle.

So without further ado, I give you:

Salted Butter Caramels

85g granulated sugar

100ml double cream

40g butter

30ml honey

1/2 tsp salt (plus extra if desired)

You will need a sugar thermometer and a loaf tin (or equivalent) for this recipe

Recipe taken (and adapted slightly) from A Beautiful Mess via Rachel Khoo

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Line a loaf tin or square tray with baking/greaseproof paper and set aside – this will be what the caramels set in. Put the sugar in a medium saucepan with 2 tablespoons of water. Cook over a medium/high heat until the sugar dissolves and starts to bubble. Keep cooking the sugar syrup until it turns a dark amber colour (see photo above). This can take a few minutes but the colour/smell can change quite quickly so keep an eye on it and take it off the heat as soon as it looks ready.

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Once you’ve taken it off the heat, add in the rest of the ingredients – the mixture will bubble up and may spit at you so be a bit careful! When stirred in, put the saucepan back on the heat and add the sugar thermometer. Heat the mixture until the temperature on the sugar thermometer reaches the ‘hard ball’ stage (260F). As soon as the temperature hits 260F remove from the heat and pour into the prepared loaf pan or dish you are setting the caramels in. If you wish, you can add some more flaked sea salt to the top of the caramel.

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Let the caramel cool for a couple of hours before cutting into squares or strips and wrapping in baking/greaseproof paper. I found cutting with a greased knife made it a smoother process.

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And Voila! You have another tasty little homemade gift for someone 🙂

Here’s a photo of my salted caramels and Limoncello/Arancello bottles ready to be given to family this Christmas!

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All that remains is to say:

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Because if a clown and hoop la-ing pigs doesn’t say Merry Christmas, what does?!

Christmas Gift Ideas: Limoncello and Spiced Arancello

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It’s two weeks to Christmas! I’m trying my hardest to get into the festive spirit, but it’s taking time this year – I wish I had time to make more presents and sing carols and eat mince pies, but it’s all being crammed into evenings at the moment, when I actually just want to flop on the sofa… This weekend we are buying a real Christmas tree which I think will help me get into the festive mood – I’ve always had an artificial tree, and been fine with it, but this year I want the scent of pine to lift my mood and make me feel Christmassy!

One Christmas gift I’ve squeezed into an evening or two this year, is some Liqueurs – Limoncello and Arancello. Limoncello is an Italian sweet lemon liqueur, and Arancello is the orange version. The Arancello has the added flavours of cinnamon, vanilla and cardamom to give it a spicy, almost mulled, flavour. I’ve made the Limoncello before and it was a success, but the Arancello is  new to me so I’ll be interested to see how it tastes.

They’re both made with vodka (again), as it’s the spirit with the least flavour, lemon or orange peel, and sugar syrup.

They take two weeks to make, so you’ve just got time to whip up a batch for Christmas day! (If you want to give them as presents before Christmas day, remember to put a ‘best after’ label on them…)

I bought one litre bottle of vodka and made half-and-half of these, but I will put the amounts for each recipe down as though you’re just making one or the other, then you can choose what you do!

Recipes taken from BBC Good Food here and here.

Both make approx. 2 litres of liqueur.

Limoncello

1l bottle vodka

5 unwaxed lemons

750g caster sugar

700ml boiling water

Spiced Arancello

1l bottle vodka

5 large oranges

1 cinnamon stick

2-3 cardamom pods

1 vanilla pod

600g caster sugar

500ml boiling water

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Remove the zest from the oranges or lemons using a peeler, try to make sure none of the white pith is left on the peel as it will make the drink taste bitter. You might need to scrape this off with a sharp knife.

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Put the zest into one big jar, or several smaller ones if giving to multiple people. If making Arancello, add the cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla pod also. Add the vodka to the jars/bottles and leave for a week, shaking the jar each day.

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After a week, you can add the sugar syrup. Put the sugar in a heatproof jug, then pour over the required amount of boiling water, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the syrup into the vodka mixture and leave for another week, shaking the jar regularly.

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When the two weeks is up, strain the liqueur into your bottles, and throw away the peel (and spices). These drinks will keep bottled for 6 months, but I doubt they’ll last that long!

Limoncello is delicious ice-cold from the freezer, but I suspect the Arancello would be nice warmed up… I’m looking forward to trying them 🙂

Christmas Gift Ideas: Homemade Vanilla Extract

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Think of this post as an ad break between the epic movie that is ‘El Celler de Can Roca’…

I’ll be honest, i’m struggling with motivation a little bit at the mo – blog-wise and life-wise, and now that Christmas is turning up pretty quickly, I’m realising I need to catch up with that too! I made Vanilla Extract last Christmas for friends and family, and I’ve had a request for more this year. This is fine, as it’s a really quick and easy thing to make – but it does need about two months to mature, so I really should’ve made it a month ago. It will be ok though, i’ll just give it to people with a little ‘Best after’ note so they know when to start using it!

Vanilla extract is made with only two things: Vanilla beans/pods, and alcohol. Commercial Vanilla extract can have sugar syrup in it too, but if it’s just used for baking there’s no need. Vanilla beans can be expensive in the supermarket, and you’ll need quite a few for this recipe (depending on how much you want to make), so I tend to buy them in bulk on Amazon or Ebay – this year I bought a pack of 10 ‘extract grade’ beans from here – they were £2.30 and they were perfectly good – not dry, and smelt amazing.

You don’t need to buy expensive alcohol either, I usually buy standard vodka as it has the least flavour, but I know people also use rum or bourbon which would be nice in baking too.

Anyway onto the super-easy recipe…

Homemade Vanilla Extract

70cl Bottle of alcohol of your choice (my vodka was 37.5%)

10 Vanilla Beans

attractive bottles/jars to gift them in

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1. Cut your vanilla beans in half length-wise with kitchen scissors or a knife – if you’re going to leave them in the jars/bottles to continue maturing, leave them connected at one end (it looks prettier!).

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2. Put them in your bottle of alcohol.

3. Leave for as long as possible!

If you have your gifting bottles/jars ready, you can make the extract straight into these – just divide up the amount of beans/alcohol, and make sure you sterilise the jars before using. I haven’t got round to buying nice bottles yet (told you I was disorganised this year!), so will be leaving mine in the vodka bottle until the last minute, and then decanting and fishing out the pods so they can continue to mature in their new bottles.

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Here’s a photo of the extract I made last year (excuse the phone quality)

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Even if you don’t want to give this as presents to people, it’s really nice to know you have an endless supply of vanilla extract to hand 🙂

P.s Vodka is an excellent base to make Christmassy liqueurs with too, and they only take 2 weeks – so i may be making limoncello or similar soon – watch this space…

P.P.S. Happy thanksgiving to any American readers!