They say that food is the way to anyone’s heart, and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to festive gifting.
‘Handmade edible gifts provide a thoughtfulness you just can’t get from something shop bought,’ says Rachel de Thample, author of Gifts From The Modern Larder. ‘I love connecting presents with moments I’ve shared with the recipient. Indeed, many of the recipes in the book were crafted as a consumable capsule of a specific memory.’
What exactly makes her larder so modern, you may ask? ‘The idea of a modern larder is of course completely open to interpretation, but for me and those I spoke to about it, the words healthier, faster and resourceful but also gourmet, creative and fun arose,’ Rachel explains.
It was these notions that led to quick, tasty ideas like her mulled fig jam and chestnut snowballs – ideal (not to mention delicious) ideas for a moment of enjoyment, to be savoured in the midst of the Christmas rush.
So, from hostess gifts to sweets to share around the tree, we’ve borrowed her five most Christmassy treats for you to make this season.
A stunning way to celebrate wild chestnuts, if you can get your hands on some – I love gathering them from my local woods or on an autumnal foray in the park, but if you can’t find wild chestnuts you can buy them or use vac-packed chestnuts.
50g shelled, cooked chestnuts
2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons coconut sugar or icing sugar, plus 75g for dusting
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus 1 teaspoon for dusting
a few gratings of fresh nutmeg
a pinch of sea salt
75g plain white XXXXX
2 tablespoons chestnut flour
1. Finely chop or pulse the chestnuts in a food processor until they’re as fine as you can get them. Add the butter and olive oil and pulse until combined. Add the sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and flour, and pulse until it all comes together into a dough that’s soft but firm enough to work with, a bit like Play-Doh. If it’s looking too dry, add a little water (1–3 tablespoons) to bring it together. Chill the dough for 20 minutes in the freezer, or freeze to make the biscuits at a later date. I like to make batches of the dough during chestnut season and freeze it to cook at Christmas.
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Rub a large baking sheet with enough oil to lightly coat. Scoop the dough up by the tablespoon and roll into 12 smooth balls. Arrange on the baking sheet leaving 2–3cm between each biscuit. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden. Cool fully before removing from the tray.
3. Mix the remaining sugar with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and dust over the cooked biscuits to coat. Serve straight away or store in an airtight container for up 3 days.
Mayan chocolate biscuits
These chocolate biscuits are almost like a cross between a chocolate truffle in their richness, yet balanced with a light-as-air meringue-like texture. Any chocolate lover will fall over themselves to receive these as a gift.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
100g dark chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons coconut sugar, molasses or brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of chilli powder or ground chipotle chilli
pinch of sea salt
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Put the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water) until the chocolate has melted.
2. Whisk the egg white with a pinch of salt until light, fluffy and meringue-like. Whisk the yolk, sugar and spices with an electric mixer or handheld electric whisk for about 5 minutes until the mixture lightens.
3. Spoon the melted chocolate into the yolk mixture and whisk until smooth and glossy. Fold the egg white through the mixture, little by little, until fully incorporated. The mixture will be quite thick.
4. Dollop 12–15 rounded teaspoons of the dough on a lightly greased baking tray, leaving space between each biscuit. Bake for 5–7 minutes, or until the biscuits are set and a little cracked on top. Cool before removing from the tray. Finish with a pinch of sea salt if you like.
TIP A vintage box, such as the cigar box pictured, gives these biscuits a really luxurious feel.
Mulled fig jam
This gorgeous jam is as good on toast as it is paired with cheese or meat like smoked duck, game or goose. It’s also a delicious addition to Christmas puddings, or served with yogurt and toasted nuts.
MAKES 3–4 x 200g JARS
1. Place the chopped figs, orange zest and juice, red wine and 250ml water into a heavy-based saucepan or jam pan. Put the spices and ginger into a square of cheesecloth and tie into a secure bundle, then add to the pan. Simmer over medium heat for 30 minutes, or until the figs have started to break down and soften. Take off the heat, remove the spice bag (squeezing it to extract as much flavour and liquid as possible), and stir in the sugar until dissolved.
2. Return to the heat and bring back to the boil for 5 minutes, or until the mixture thickens into a jammy consistency. It will thicken rather than reach a setting point, so bear this in mind when determining the desired consistency. When ready, take off the heat, remove any scum and leave to sit for 5 minutes.
3. Ladle into warm, dry sterilized jars (see below) and seal. The jam will keep for up to 1 year unopened. Once opened, refrigerate and consume within 4 weeks.
How to sterilise jars
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Wash the jars and lids thoroughly with hot soapy water. Put the jars in the oven for 10 minutes. Carefully place the lids in boiling water for the same amount of time. When they’re done, slide them into the oven, with the top of the lid facing upwards, for about 2–3 minutes until just dry. Take the jars and lids out of the oven and fill them while they’re still hot.
Trio of nuts
Nuts are a brilliant gift at Christmas or to bring to a picnic or drinks party.
EACH RECIPES MAKES 200G
PERSIAN LEMON PISTACHIOS
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of saffron threads
pinch of sea salt
a pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
HONEY NUT CLUSTERS
4 tablespoons honey
200g mixed nuts or your favourite nut
pinch of chilli powder (optional)
pinch of finely chopped rosemary leaves (optional)
pinch of sea salt
4 tablespoons kimchi brine
200g mixed nuts or your favourite nut
FOR THE PERSIAN LEMON PISTACHIOS NUTS
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Whisk the lemon juice, oil, saffron and sea salt. Toss the pistachios in to coat. Arrange on a baking tray in a single layer. Roast for 20 minutes, or until the pistachios are lightly golden, crisp and fragrant.
FOR THE HONEY NUT CLUSTERS
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Warm the honey in a small saucepan until just softened. Toss with the nuts to coat fully. Add the chilli powder and rosemary (if using) and the salt. Arrange in clusters on a baking tray. Roast for 20 minutes, or until the nuts are lightly golden, crisp and fragrant.
FOR THE KIMCHI-COATED NUTS
Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Toss the kimchi brine and nuts together. Arrange on a baking tray in a single layer. Roast for 20 minutes, or until the nuts are lightly golden, crisp and fragrant.
Sloe gin and slider
This is a wonderful two-for-one recipe as the strained sloes can be made into a second drink called Slider, and both make great Christmas gifts. Traditional sloe gin recipes call for equal amounts of sugar to sloes, but I’ve used less sugar, which gives a deliciously dry finish. If you prefer syrupy, port-like sloe gin, double up on the sugar.
Sometimes you need to add equal quantities of sugar to fruit and that is because some fruits (such as fresh juicy oranges or lemons, or summer berries and stone fruits such as raspberries and peaches) will dilute the preserving qualities of the alcohol, and if you don’t add enough sugar to turn those juices into a shelf life-friendly syrup, the drink will start to ferment and could spoil. Sloes are quite dry, as is rhubarb, which means you can easily get away with using less sugar.
300g ripe sloes
300g gin-infused sloes
500ml apple cider
1. Prick each fruit a few times with a fork or the tip of a small knife. Alternatively, freeze the sloes. This makes the fruit swell and burst, which means you don’t have to puncture the skins by hand. Once pierced or frozen, mix the sloes with the sugar. Set aside for 1 hour to help draw out some of the juices, creating a bit of a sloe syrup.
2. Cover with the gin and store either in one large jar or bottle, or divided into smaller bottles, ensuring the sugar and sloes are equally distributed. Shake every week or so and leave to infuse for 6–8 weeks (or up to 1–2 years, for a really mature flavour). Strain and decant into clean bottles, but keep the strained sloes to make Slider.
3. To make Slider, place the infused sloes into a clean jar or bottle and cover with the cider. Leave to infuse for 4–6 weeks. Strain and decant into clean bottles. This is best consumed within 2 weeks after it’s fully infused. You can offer it as a gift with the sloes still in it. It’s delicious on its own as an aperitif.
Gifts From the Modern Larder by Rachel de Thample is published by Kyle Books, £16.99