A little Christmas cheer

All I want for Christmas is a better 2021

Merry Christmas to everyone from Louise Pickford food creative

This will be a strange Christmas for many of us around the world and for many there will be little to cheer and much to forget and move on to what we all hope will be a far better 2021. Thank you to all my subscribers for their support and I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas. If you are struggling to find a gift for someone or perhaps have left it too late for online shopping why not make something to eat or drink instead? Everyone loves a homemade gift, it feels very special and somehow more personal. Here are a few of my favourites from the last few Christmases to share with you and bid you all the best for the festive season.

Salted Cashew Nut Brittle

500 g granulated sugar

150 ml cold water

250 g cashew nuts

sea salt, to serve

Spray oil a thick baking sheet and set to one side.

Put the sugar and water in a heavy-based frying pan and heat gently over a very low heat until the sugar dissolves. Then increase the heat and without stirring allow the syrup to turn a lovely golden colour, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the cashew nuts and immediately pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Lightly sprinkle with sea salt and set aside to cool. While still warm loosen the slab, then leave to go cold on grease proof paper.

Using a small toffee hammer, break the brittle into chunks or bite size pieces and wrap in gift bags.

Golden Eggnog Truffles

Makes: about 30

300 g dark chocolate, chopped

300 ml double cream

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

3 tbsp Brandy or Cointreau

350 g white chocolate melts

a few sheets gold leaf

Heat the cream in a saucepan until it just reaches a simmer. Remove from the heat, add the dark chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted. Stir in the spices and Grand Marnier. Leave to cool and then chill 2 hours until firm.

Using a teaspoon scoop up small pieces of the chocolate and using cool lightly damp hands roll into bite size truffles. Transfer to a tray and freeze for 2-3 hours until frozen.

Melt the white chocolate in a bowl set of gently simmering water (do not allow the bowl to touch the water). Remove the truffles form the freeze and skewer with a cocktail stick. Dip quickly in and out of the melted chocolate and leave to set on baking paper. Chill until required.

Just before wrapping, pop the truffles into mini muffin cases and top each one with a little gold leaf.

Tip: Truffles should be kept refrigerated for up to 3 days. Gold leaf is available from specialist cake decorators and some art stores and adds a hint of luxury to Christmas truffles.

Homemade Hot Chocolate Spoons

Makes: about 20

This is such a fun idea and for anyone who loves hot chocolate, they make a great Xmas gift. Simply bring a cup of milk to the boil, add a choc stick and stir until melted.

500 g dark chocolate, chopped

a few mini marshmallows

2-3 tbsp hundreds and thousands

3-4 pieces Turkish delight, chopped

20 small wooden spoons or ice lolly sticks

Melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave for 1 minute, stir well and continue to microwave in 10 seconds intervals, stirring each time, until the chocolate is melted. Or you can melt the chocolate in a bowl set of gently simmering water (do not allow the bowl to touch the water) stirring until melted.

Pour the melted chocolate into 20 mini muffin cases and leave to cool for about 30 minutes until the chocolate is starting to set.

Pop a spoon into the center of each one and then arrange marshmallows, hundreds and thousands and Turkish delight around the spoon, covering the top. Set in the fridge for 1 hour.

Carefully peel away the muffin cases from the chocolate and wrap in your choice of packaging.

Tip: These can be made a few days ahead and once set and sealed in packs will keep for 2-3 days in a cool, dark place.

Passion Fruit & Chocolate Shortbread Snowflakes

Makes: 48 (24 large/24 small)

6 large passion fruit

225 g unsalted butter, softened

115 g caster sugar, plus extra for dusting

225 g plain flour

125 g rice flour

a pinch of salt

100 g white chocolate, melted

Preheat the oven to 190c/170 c fan-forced/gas mark 5 and line two large baking sheets with baking paper. Remove the seeds from the passion fruit and pass through a sieve to extract as much juice as possible. Measure out 75 ml.

Place the butter and sugar in a food processor and process until pale and creamy. Sift in the flour and rice flour and work into the dough along with the passion fruit juice and salt and process briefly until the ingredients just come together.

Transfer to the work surface and knead gently to form a smooth dough. Divide into quarters and wrap each piece in cling film, chill for 30 minutes to firm it up.

Place one disc of dough on a lightly floured sheet of baking paper, top with a second sheet of paper and using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to about 2.5 mm thick. Stamp out snowflakes using cookie cutters and carefully transfer to the prepared trays. Bake for about 10 minutes until lightly golden. Cool for 5 minutes on trays and then transfer to a wire rack to go cold. Repeat to make 48 cookies.

Melt the chocolate and using a teaspoon drizzle back and forth over the snowflakes to give a frosted look. Allow to set for 1 hour and then wrap as gifts.

Passion Fruit & Chocolate Shortbread Snowflakes

Makes: Enough for 12 people

Home made crunchy bar crossed with toffee nut brittle – yum.

330 g granulated sugar

120 ml cold water

2 tbsp golden syrup

1 tsp melted butter

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp sea salt

topping

200 g dark chocolate

50 g flaked almonds, toasted

1/2 tsp chilli  sea salt

Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Place the sugar, water and golden syrup in a heavy-based saucepan and heat very gently, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for 8-10 minutes (do not stir) until the liquid turns a warm golden brown or until it reaches hard crack on a sugar thermometer (154c/309f). Add the butter and gently swirl in the pan.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the  bicarbonate of soda, ground ginger and salt until evenly blended. The mixture will foam up dramatically but this is perfect. Pour the foaming mixture directly onto the prepared baking paper tilting the pan. Tap the tray gently a few times on the work top to settle the mixture and leave until completely cold.

For the topping, melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir well and return to microwave and cook for 10 seconds at a time, stirring each time until the chocolate is melted. Or you can melt the chocolate in a bowl set of gently simmering water (do not allow the bowl to touch the water) stirring until melted. Pour the melted chocolate over the set toffee and spread smooth with a palette knife. Scatter with the nuts and sea salt and leave to set a second time.

Break the toffee into pieces and place in small individual gifts bags. Tie to seal. Eat with in 2-3 days.

Tip: If you don’t have a sugar thermometer you can test the toffee is ready by dripping a few drops from a teaspoon into a cup of cold water, when ready the toffee will form small hard balls as soon as it touches the cold water.

Duo of flavoured vodka

You can flavour vodka with any aromatic you like really from citrus fruits, nuts, coffee, vanilla, sliced fruit, ginger spices and even toffees! Just ensure the bottle you use is clean and seal well – strain the vodka after 4 weeks.

Pomegranate, orange and vanilla vodka

Makes 750 ml

1 large pomegranate

1 vanilla pod, split

grated zest 1 Orange

750 ml quality Vodka

Tap the pomegranate a few times all over on the counter top and cut in half. Pop the seeds and juices into a clean jar and add the vanilla and orange zest. Top up with the vodka, seal and store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks.  

Serve over ice with a dash or Cointreau.

Coffee, vanilla and roasted pecan vodka

2 tbsp pecan nuts

10 coffee beans

1/2 vanilla pod

750 ml quality vodka

50 ml Tia Maria

Preheat the oven to 190c/170c fan-forced/gas mark 5 and roast the pecans for 5-6 minutes until golden, then let cool.

Pop the nuts, coffee beans and vanilla pod in a bottle and top up with the vodka and Tia Maria. Leave to infuse for 2-3 weeks in a cool dark place.

Delicious served over ice.

© Photographs Ian Wallace

© Recipes Louise Pickford

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