Easy to make, simple to bottle or box, trim with ribbon and a tag. Ant Ellis shares six delicious festive gifts that will bring joy in every mouthful.
A delightful cure for any all-too-silent night is an ice-cold, sharp and citrussy drinkie-poo. It’s hard to say whether traditional limoncello includes the juice of lemons as well as the beautifully aromatic skin, but I like it. Give yourself a couple of weeks to infuse as much lemony flavour as possible.
- 8 large lemons, preferably unwaxed
- 750ml vodka
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1½ cups water
Peel skin off lemons with a peeler avoiding any pith, and add to a closable glass jar or bottle with the juice of half the lemons – no seeds. Add vodka and close the jar, now store in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks (the longer the better). Very important is that each and every day, you shake or agitate the bottle to really get all the flavour from the lemon peel. After at least two weeks, prepare a simple syrup by bringing the sugar and water to the boil, simmer until the sugar has dissolved, then allow to cool. Fine-strain your lemon-vodka mix into another container and add syrup, and stir thoroughly. Now bottle and refrigerate, although for my money, this is always best coming out of the freezer on a hot summer night.
Infused Olive Oils
These work great as a drizzle, a dip for warm, crusty bread, and in making pasta sauces and even baking bread – maximum flavour, very little hard work. An important note here is that as we’re not using a preservative, these oils should be used within a couple of weeks – make sure to pass that fact on with your gift.
- 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
- Your choice of infusions: Rosemary sprigs, lemon peel, chillies sliced lengthways, whole garlic cloves, sundried tomatoes or dried herbs of your choice – in any combination you like.
Add oil to a medium pot with infusion ingredients. Warm over low heat for 15-20 minutes. Do not bring to full heat, boiling or smoking point – it will instantly turn bitter – just keep it low, you’ll smell the amazing aromas as the infusion happens. Cool completely and then strain into bottles with a funnel. Add your sprig of rosemary/sliced chilli/sundried tomatoes back, but if you’re making garlic oil, don’t add the garlic back – discard it.
Pro tips: Store in the fridge. At low temperatures, your oil may solidify and turn opaque – just leave it at room temperature for an hour to loosen up.
Not only is pickling the most delicious way to preserve almost any vegetable, it’s much easier to do than you think. Home-made pickles should be brighter, more tangy and acidic than bought ones, and should be fresh and really punchy. Package in a nice jar and give ’em away with strict instructions to eat with everything.
Basic pickling brine
- 1½ cups of vinegar: Distilled white, apple cider or white wine are your best place to start
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Vegetables: I love carrots or red and yellow peppers cut into spears, sliced red onion, jalapeno peppers sliced into rounds – but also try baby cucumbers, green beans or any other veg or fruit you like.
- Aromatics: Whole peppercorns, red chilli flakes, mustard seed, coriander seed, peeled garlic cloves, bay-leaf. You need only smallish quantities of these. For example, for one batch of pickling brine (above), use only 12-15 peppercorns, 1 teaspoon of mustard/coriander seeds, cloves of garlic.
- Fresh herbs: Dill, parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage.
Prep clean jars and fill with your choice of vegetables cut into snackable slices, leaving a gap at the top for liquid. In a small to medium pot, add brine ingredients and your choice of aromatics. Bring to the boil. Simmer for about 1 minute, stirring to ensure salt is dissolved, then take off the heat and pour into jars over your veggies. Cool to room temperature, screw on the lids and refrigerate. They’ll be at their very best after a couple of weeks, and will keep for months.
Pro tips: Stick to one veggie per jar. Also, to keep the veggies submerged in the brine before refrigerating, add a folded piece of paper towel in the top of the jar, remove when cooled and then screw the lid on.
They’re delicate and decadent, and when you make them yourself, you can flavour them however you like, inside and out. Roll the little blighters in just about anything and scoff them after lunch with a coffee and my Boozy Cream Liqueur (recipe follows). Then take a nap.
- 250g chocolate, 50-60% cocoa
- ½ cup fresh cream or full cream coconut milk
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- Toppings: Crushed walnuts, pistachios, almonds or peanuts, chocolate sprinkles, hundreds and thousands, chocolate or cocoa powder, desiccated coconut, icing sugar.
Chop chocolate quite finely for more even melting, and add to a mixing bowl. Heat cream or coconut milk until it just begins to boil. Pour over chocolate, add vanilla extract and stir until creamy and the chocolate has melted, then smooth out on a shallow flat dish. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm enough to scoop, then roll gently into balls with your hands. They should be a maximum of 2 bites, so no bigger than 30mm in diameter. Once round, roll the truffles in your toppings – cocoa powder, sprinkles, nuts, coconut, powdered sugar, or do a few of each. Set on a baking paper-lined plate, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
For super-charged truffles:
Stir 1 teaspoon of instant coffee, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, 5ml of orange essence, rum, amaretto, bourbon or Kahlua into the chocolate mix before cooling.
Pro tip: Slightly dampen your hands with cold water before rolling the balls. If it’s melting, keep your hands cold and roll them in small batches, keeping the tray in the fridge between batches.
Boozy Cream Liqueur
In the spirit of the Irish, this easy-to-make recipe is a creamy, dreamy delight and works with a variety of your favourite liquors. Serve it for sipping, as shots, over ice, or just stick a straw in the bottle and go for it.
- 250ml fresh cream
- 1 x 385g can sweetened condensed milk
- 3 tablespoons melted chocolate, chocolate sauce or syrup (optional)
- 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 400ml booze – whiskey, spiced rum, bourbon or whatever your favourite tipple
To your mixer or blender, add cream, condensed milk, instant coffee granules, chocolate in whichever form, and vanilla, and mix on low speed for 30 seconds – don’t overmix or the cream may split. With the mixer going at a very slow speed, add booze and let it mix in thoroughly. Transfer to glass bottles with tight-fitting lids and refrigerate for up to 2 months. Shake well before using.
Traditional Scottish Shortbread
O come all ye faithful gobblers, you’re getting shortbread in your Christmas stocking. Yes please. But it’s not just your grandma’s favourite cookie, it’s beloved worldwide and for good reason. Shortbread is delicious, easy, reliable and also pretty versatile, and actually super cost-effective. Make double, keep half for yourself.
- 240g cake wheat flour
- 230g salted butter, cubed and softened at room temperature
- 120g castor sugar plus extra for dusting (icing sugar is also good for dusting)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 180ºC and grease a baking sheet with soft butter or cooking spray. In a mixing bowl or food processor, add flour, castor sugar, butter and vanilla extract and pulse until combined, and the texture resembles coarse breadcrumbs that form a dough when pressed together. If it’s too dry and crumbly, pulse a bit longer – too wet, add a touch more flour and pulse.
Turn the mixture out on to greased baking pan, and using lightly floured fingers and hands, firmly press and push out the mixture to a firm, even layer, ideally about 1cm thick. Very important: Before baking, use a fork or docking tool to prick or dock the mixture evenly and plentifully. Bake for about 25 minutes, until firm, golden and slightly browned at the edges, then remove tray and cool. I like to cut it while it’s still warm so it doesn’t crumble too much.
Dust with icing or castor sugar and when fully cooled, wrap into gifting parcels and store in a sealed container.
Pro tips: Add chopped almonds, walnuts or peanuts, dried cranberries, finely chopped apricots or chocolate chips to the mixture before pressing into the baking pan.
“Merry Christmas to one and all. I hope this festive holiday season is one to remember with your loved ones. May we meet again next year feeling safe, happy and full, and slightly hungover” – Ant Ellis.