Hand-made for Christmas


More edible presents this week as promised. Several readers gave me a blow by blow account of making their Christmas cake; one complained that the top of her cake had got burnt, even though she had followed the recipe exactly – so upsetting. She hadn’t realised that if one is using a fan-assisted oven the heat is more intense. Consequently it is necessary to reduce the temperature by 10 % or 20 % depending on the brand of oven. Try to find the instruction manual or ask the suppliers. If you have a choice, cook all the cakes and biscuits in a conventional oven which is a less ‘drying heat’. However a fan oven is particularly good for meringues. We’ve been experimenting with lots of flavours of meringues – the super-size ones that our friends at Ottolegnhi in London made famous. A cellophane bag of these with a big bow would be very impressive. Pop a jar of Glenilen clotted cream in too, to complete the delicious gift. Panforte di Siena is a dense Italian cake, solid with nuts and toasted fruit, a gorgeous gift and a terrific standby for when you feel like a little nibble of something rich and fruity. It keeps for months in a tin so even if you forget about it, it will still be surprisingly delicious.

Nougat is also surprisingly easy to make, wrap the homemade bars in cellophane and embellish with hand written labels.

Homemade marshmallow and honeycomb are fantastic fun to make; they fluff up and give you lots of ‘bang for your buck’! A jar of Green & Black organic chocolate powder with a bag of marshmallows makes an inexpensive yet indulgent pressie. Dip some of the honeycomb in chocolate – oh so good, you may have to resist nibbling it yourself. Maybe you could include a recipe for honeycomb ice-cream.

You’ll have egg yolks left over from meringues so how about a few little pots of white chocolate mousse. These need to be made closer to Christmas but will keep covered in the fridge for 5 or 6 days. In Summer I love them with raspberry coulis but a bitter dark chocolate sauce and a kumquat compote is a delicious accompaniment.

Making homemade mustard is serious one-upmanship but in fact it’s much easier to make than biscuits cakes or cookies. Add it to a little hamper with a few jars of relish, pickles and chutney. The perfect gift to accompany and liven up cold meats after Christmas.

Goats cheese preserved in oil and honey with walnuts are a complete doddle to make, add a packet of Gubbeen or Sheridans homemade biscuits and a bottle of Albert i Noya organic wine to the hamper for extra wow factor. The honey would be delicious drizzled over some Blue Cheese – Fermoy Farmhouse Cheese have just started to make a feisty blue – be the first to serve it at your Christmas dinner party– time to get busy – more next week

All recipes taken from ‘Gifts from the Kitchen’ by Annie Rigg published by Kyle Cathie

Pink Raspberry Swirl Meringues

These meringues are big, pillowy sugary treats. Package these large clouds of raspberry swirled meringues in individual boxes lined with paper or in cellophane bags. They are delicious eaten on their own or with a generous spoonful of softly whipped double cream and a handful of fresh raspberries.

Makes 4 – 6 large meringues


300g caster sugar

4–5 large egg whites, weighing 150g

pinch of salt

½ teaspoon red food-colouring paste

2 tablespoons raspberry flavouring, optional

3–4 tablespoons (25g) freeze-dried raspberry crispies


Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6 and line a solid baking sheet with non-stick baking parchment.

Put the sugar into a small roasting tin and heat in the preheated oven for about 7 minutes, or until hot to the touch.

Place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of a free-standing electric mixer and whisk until light and foamy. Remove the hot sugar from the oven and turn the temperature down to 110°C/225°F/gas mark 1/4. Quickly tip the sugar on to the egg whites and whisk on medium speed for 8–10 minutes, until the meringue is very stiff, white and cold.

Using a wooden skewer, dot the food colouring and drizzle the raspberry flavouring over the meringue mixture, then scatter over the raspberry crispies. Using a large metal spoon, very lightly fold in, using 3 or 4 strokes of the spoon, so that the meringue is marbled with pink.

Spoon the mixture on to the prepared baking sheet in 4–6 large peaky meringue shapes, and bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 11/2–13/4hours, or until crisp. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the baking sheet.

*Package in pretty boxes or cellophane bags. They will keep for 3 days in an airtight box.


Chock full of nuts, dried fruit and spices – panforte is delicious dusted with icing sugar, cut into small wedges or squares and served after dinner with coffee. Originally from Sienna and although not specifically a festive treat it would certainly make an ideal Christmas present. Annie has suggested making it into two smaller cakes so that you can make two gifts at once.

Makes 2 Cakes

sunflower oil, for greasing

100g (3 ½ oz)blanched almonds

100g (3 ½ oz) blanched hazelnuts

75g (3oz) unsalted shelled pistachios

300g (10 ½ oz) mixed dried fruits, including apricots, candied peel, raisins, figs and medjool dates, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cloves

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

90g (3 ¾ oz) plain flour

1 rounded tablespoon cocoa

pinch of salt

175g (6oz) clear honey

175g (6oz) caster sugar

icing sugar, to serve


Grease 2 x 18cm round tins and line the base of each with a disc of rice paper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Spread the almonds and hazelnuts on a baking tray and toast in the preheated oven for about 5–7minutes until lightly golden. Cool slightly, then roughly chop with the pistachios and tip into a large bowl. Add the chopped dried fruit and mix well. In another small bowl, mix together the spices, flour, cocoa and salt. Add to the dried fruit and nuts and mix until thoroughly combined. Lower the oven temperature to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2.

Combine the honey and sugar in a medium-sized pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 115°C/240°F on a sugar thermometer.

Remove from the heat, pour into the fruit and nut mixture and mix well. Spoon into the prepared tin and spread level.

Bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 45–60 minutes, until firm. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin. Run a palette knife around the edge of the tin and carefully ease out the panforte. Dust with icing sugar to serve.

*Stored in an airtight container, panforte will keep for weeks.

Nougat with Cherries and Toasted Marcona Almonds

You could swap the almonds for blanched, toasted hazelnuts and dried figs and cranberries for the cherries and apricots. Make the nougat the day before you plan on eating it so that it has plenty of time to harden and set.

Makes about 20 squares


2 large sheets of rice paper

100g (3 ½ oz) blanched Marcona almonds

50g (2oz) shelled, unsalted pistachios

100g (3 ½ oz) natural coloured glacé cherries

50g (2oz) dried apricots

175g (6oz) clear orange blossom honey

300g (10 ½ oz) caster sugar

2 tablespoons water

1 large egg white

pinch of salt


Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Lightly grease a 15cm square tin with a depth of 5cm, and line the base and sides with a sheet of rice paper.

Lightly toast the almonds and pistachios in a baking tray in the oven until pale golden brown. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then roughly chop. Cut the cherries in half, tip them into a sieve and rinse under cold running water. Dry well on kitchen paper. Roughly chop the dried apricots.

Place the honey, caster sugar and water in a medium pan. Set the pan over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat, bring the mixture to the boil, and continue to cook for about 10 minutes, until it reaches 164°C/327°F on a sugar thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk the egg white with a pinch of salt in a large heatproof bowl until it holds soft peaks – I recommend a free-standing mixer as it will make the process a lot easier. Continue to whisk while adding the hot honey caramel mixture in a steady stream. Keep whisking until the mixture stiffens, thickens and turns pale cream-coloured. Add the nuts and dried fruit and stir to combine. Spoon into the prepared tin and spread level. Press another sheet of rice paper on top and set aside to cool.

Once cold, tip the nougat out on to a board and cut into pieces.

*Package in small quantities in transparent cellophane bags. Stored in an airtight container, the nougat will keep for 4–5 days.

Pink and White Vanilla Marshmallows

Homemade marshmallows are the stuff of dreams! They are light as pink fluffy clouds, oh-so-sweet and with just a hint of pure vanilla extract. Cut into squares and package into pink- and white-striped bags for a pretty present.

Makes about 30

1 tablespoon icing sugar

1 tablespoon cornflour

2 tablespoons powdered gelatin

400g (14oz) granulated sugar

50g (2oz) golden syrup

2 large egg whites

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

pink food colouring paste


Mix the icing sugar and cornflour in a small bowl. Lightly grease a 23cm square tin with a depth of about 5cmwith a little sunflower oil and dust with the icing sugar and cornflour mix, tipping out and reserving the excess.

Measure 6 tablespoons of cold water into another small bowl, sprinkle over the gelatin and set aside.

Tip the sugar into a medium-sized pan, add 250mlwater and the golden syrup and place the pan over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Bring the mixture to the boil and continue to cook steadily until the syrup reaches 120°C/250°F on a sugar thermometer. Remove from the heat, add the sponged gelatin and stir until thoroughly combined and the gelatin has melted.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Add a pinch of salt and whisk until the whites hold a stiff peak. Add the vanilla and the hot gelatin syrup in a steady stream and continue to whisk for a further 3–4 minutes, until the mixture will hold a ribbon trail when the beaters are lifted from the bowl.

Pour half the mixture into the prepared tin in an even layer. Add a tiny amount of pink food colouring paste to the remaining mixture and stir until evenly coloured. Pour the pink marshmallow over the white and leave to set (at least 2 hours).

Once the marshmallow has completely set, dust the work surface or a board with the remaining icing sugar and corn-flour mixture. Carefully tip the marshmallow out on to the prepared board and cut into squares, using a sharp knife. Dust the individual marshmallows before packaging.

* Package in striped paper bags. Stored in an airtight box, the marshmallow will keep for 3 days.


Honeycomb and chocolate – the perfect little stocking filler!

Makes about 20 pieces

300g (10 ½ oz) caster sugar

150g (5oz) golden syrup

pinch of cream of tartar

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

11/2teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

150g (5oz) dark or milk chocolate

Line a 20cm square baking tin with lightly oiled foil. Half fill the sink with cold water and have ready a whisk and the bicarbonate of soda.

Tip the sugar, syrup, cream of tartar and vinegar into a medium-sized, solid-based pan. Add 5 tablespoons water and set the pan over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then bring the mixture to the boil. Continue to cook until the mixture turns amber-coloured and reaches ‘hard crack’ stage, or 154°C/300°F on a sugar thermometer.

As soon as the caramel reaches the right temperature, remove the pan from the heat and plunge into the sink of cold water to speed up the cooling process. Working quickly, tip the bicarbonate into the caramel and whisk to combine evenly; the mixture will foam up like a mini volcano. Pour into the prepared tin in an even layer and leave to cool.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water and stir until smooth. Remove from the heat and cool slightly. Turn the honeycomb out of the tin, peel off the foil and break into chunks. Half dip each piece into the melted chocolate. Leave to harden before packaging.

*Stored in an airtight container, it will keep for 2–3 days.

Wholegrain Honey Mustard

Makes 3 Jars

225g (8oz) mixed yellow and brown mustard seeds

1 teaspoon crushed dried chilli flakes

275ml (9fl oz) white wine vinegar or cider vinegar

1 cinnamon stick

4 tablespoons clear honey

1 teaspoon sea salt


Mix the mustard seeds, chilli flakes, vinegar and cinnamon together in a bowl. Cover and set aside for at least 12 hours and up to 24.

Remove and discard the cinnamon stick from the mustard seeds, add the honey and mix well. Transfer three-quarters of the mixture to either a food processor and blend until lightly crushed or pound the mustard using a pestle and mortar.

Combine with the remaining soaked mustard seeds and season with salt. Spoon into sterilised jars cover and seal before labeling.

*Store for months unopened in a cool, dry cupboard or larder.

Once opened, it will keep for 2–3 months at least in the fridge.



So brilliant to see so many schools pushing out the posts to reconnect children with how food is produced teaching them how to grow and cook – valuable skills for life. Midleton College is a shining example; they have 30 free-range hens, 5 Gloucester Old Spot pigs, a new home economics room and a chef who really cares about cooking food that nourishes the children and a headmaster – Simon Thompson – who inspires them all.Recently they self-published the Midleton College Cookbook with contributions from students and parents past and present. For €15.00 it’s really worth seeking out, there are quite a few gems in it.

Wild Spanish Figs – we got a box of gorgeous wild Spanish figs from Peter Wards Country Choice Shop in Nenagh. What other delicious surprises does he and Mary have in their shop in Nenagh and at the Milk Market in Limerick on Saturday mornings? 25 Kenyon Street, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary 067 32596
Santa arrives at 11.30am at Bandon Farmers Market on the Main Street on Saturday 17th December. The market will be back in it’s usual place in the post office car park for Christmas markets on the 23rd and 24th December from 9:30am to 1:30pm. www.bandonfarmersmarket.com

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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