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Make your own pressies
7:00am Saturday 8th December 2012 in NewsXtra
In keeping with Britain's recent baking boom, spend a weekend in your kitchen whipping up these simple yet delicious homemade goodies. They'll make great - and impressive - gifts for family and friends.
By Diana Pilkington
They say it's the thought that counts, and what could be more thoughtful than going to the trouble of making your own Christmas gifts this year?
Not only will it save you some cash, you'll earn lots of brownie points from your appreciative loved ones in the process.
In her new book, Gifts From Your Kitchen, Deborah Nicholas writes: "I truly believe that each gift given should mean something, both to the creator and the recipient.
"Anyone can buy a CD or a movie but it means something special when you take the time to create a batch of cupcakes."
Here are a selection of the author's gift ideas for you to try at home, along with suggestions for how to present them...
Fruit and nut buttons
200g good-quality dark chocolate
150g freeze-dried fruits
100g chopped mixed nuts
Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of boiling water. Do not allow the bowl to touch the water. Stir until melted.
Remove from heat and stir in half the freeze-dried fruit and three-quarters of the mixed nuts.
Stir until all the fruit and nuts are covered in chocolate and spoon into button or sweet moulds.
Whilst the chocolate is still wet, sprinkle the remaining fruit and nuts over the top of each button.
Allow to set completely before removing from the button tray.
Top tip: Drop a handful of the buttons into a gift bag and embellish with a customised bag topper.
(Makes enough to cover 30 sq cm before it is broken into pieces)
200g caster sugar
2tbsp strongly flavoured honey
150g golden syrup
150g salted peanuts
1½tsp vanilla extract
1tsp ground cinnamon
25g soft butter
1¼tsp bicarbonate of soda
Take out a large sheet of baking parchment and set it beside the stove ready to receive the brittle once it is ready to pour.
Add the sugar, water, honey and syrup to a pan and gently bring to the boil. Turn up the heat and let it boil seriously for 10 minutes. It will be smoking by then so be warned! (Stand over it all the time to make sure it does not catch.) Be very careful as the sugar will be seriously hot.
Take the pan off the heat and, with a wooden spoon, stir in the nuts, followed by the vanilla, cinnamon, butter and bicarbonate of soda. You will have a golden, frothy, hot and gooey mix.
Pour this quickly onto the waiting parchment and, using an oiled wooden spoon, coax and pull it to make a nut-studded sheet, puddle-shaped rather than heaped.
Leave it to cool, then break into pieces and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Eat within 14 days.
Top tip: Peanut brittle is best presented in either greaseproof bags or glass jars - you can buy glassine bags, which look fabulous with a printed label topper and ribbon fastening. Glass jars keep the air away from the brittle, allowing it to last a little longer. Print a cute 'From the kitchen of ...' label and fasten with a colourful ribbon for a simple homemade gift.
If available, you could use corn syrup instead of golden syrup - it is becoming more popular in the UK and available to buy in more supermarkets. This will result in a darker, clearer-looking brittle whereas the golden syrup creates a more cloudy, golden effect.
Why not coat the hardened brittle pieces in chocolate? Simply melt some good-quality dark chocolate over a pan of boiling water (ensuring the bowl does not touch the water) and carefully dip each piece of brittle in the chocolate. Leave to harden on a cooling rack placed over a sheet of baking parchment so that any excess chocolate drips away (but you can eat the drips!)
Spiced red cabbage
(Makes 3 x 250ml jars)
½ red cabbage, thinly sliced
10tbsp table salt
400ml distilled white vinegar
1tsp white peppercorns
1tsp five-spice powder
3 whole cloves
1tsp light mustard seeds
Place the red cabbage in a large bowl, covering each layer as you go with a sprinkling of salt. Cover and put to one side overnight.
The following day, rinse the cabbage with cold water until all the salt has been removed.
Sterilise the jars and lids by placing face down in a preheated oven at 140°C/Gas 1 for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the vinegar and spices into a heavy-based saucepan and boil rapidly for about 5 minutes.
Add the cabbage and stir until fully covered with the vinegar and heated through.
Spoon the mix into the sterilised jars and make sure the cabbage is submerged in the spiced vinegar. Never put hot liquid into cold jars or cold liquid into hot jars.
Top tip: Present with a handmade label and decorative ribbon. Store in the sealed jars for up to 1 year. Once opened, refrigerate and eat within 3 months.
(Makes a 250ml bottle)
For the vodka:
1 family size bag of Skittles
35cl bottle of good-quality vodka
1l airtight jar
250ml presentation bottle
Coffee filter paper or muslin
Start by separating all the colours of Skittles. You will end up with five different options for your candy vodka. You could use both red and purple in the same jar - the more sweets you add, the sweeter the vodka will become.
If working with a different colour, remember that green leaves a bitter taste so take those out unless you like a slightly sour tang!
Place the chosen colour Skittles into the bottom of the airtight jar and pour in half the bottle of vodka. Fasten the jar and shake occasionally over the next day or two when the Skittles will dissolve and leave a crystallised layer of sugar on the top of the vodka.
Line a funnel with either coffee filter paper or muslin and place in the neck of the presentation bottle. Carefully sift out all of the crystals, leaving a coloured but clear candy vodka.
Top tip: Fasten with a decorative ribbon and label: 'Please drink responsibly'.
Mulled wine spice bag
1 cinnamon stick
20 whole cloves
2tsp mixed peel
2 cardamom pods
5 whole allspice
20cm square of muslin
Place all of the ingredients into the centre of the muslin square and bring up two opposite corners.
Fasten into a knot and repeat for the remaining corners.
Bring the ends of the first knot over the second knot and tie again to prevent any knots from slipping.
Top tip: Add a swing tag with ingredients and instructions and fasten to neck of a red wine bottle. Do not use died ribbon or string as the colours will transfer when boiled in the wine!
:: Gifts From Your Kitchen by Deborah Nicholas is published by Spring Hill, an imprint of How To Books, priced £14.99. Available now.