Christmas Edible Presents


Christmas is edging ever closer, the excitement and craziness mounts and we’re having lots of fun making edible presents. It’s become a tradition and let’s face it, something delicious to eat will be genuinely welcomed rather than yet another glittering bauble or scented candle destined for the re-gifting drawer.

This week I’m keeping my blurb to the minimum to allow for maximum space for recipes. There is no shortage of ideas for yummy edible presents. Of course sweet, cute little macaroons, marshmallows, mini muffins, chocolate truffles are fine and delicious but I’ve had even more delighted responses to less evocative but gleefully received cartons of homemade soups, pasta sauces, stews, tagines….add a tinsel bow and a sprig of holly or rosemary to give them a festive air.

Another busy young Mum with four little ones keeps dropping hints about a couple of dozen simple fish cakes and chicken pie with no yucky mushrooms or green flecky bits in the potato topping, to make the kids go ‘yuck’ (parsley). Deliver them fresh or frozen. They are super handy to have in a freezer as a standby at any time not to speak of over the crazy Christmas period – easy comforting food.

We make the pies in little enamel dishes with either a puff pastry lid or fluffy mashed potato. The dishes are useful for the rest of the year, so it doesn’t have to be an ‘all singing all dancing present’. Tubs of homemade soup are always received with delight, also great for older friends or those living alone not to speak of those in special need in our communities.

You’ll find all those recipes in my previous columns and books as well as a whole range of condiments. Buy lots of ribbon and luggage labels to add a festive look to your edible presents.

Here are some delicious frivolous recipes that we’ve been enjoying making.

Still racking your brain for a suitable present – a little hamper of some artisan foods will be joyously received:-
Mella’s Fudge, now in seven flavours including Salted Caramel,

A basket of Irish oysters, flat or gigas, the ultimate briny treat for a Christmas Day starter.

A hamper of Gubbeen cured meats – salami, chorizo, chistora, smoked rashers….
A Fingal Ferguson handmade knife – the ultimate treasured kitchen utensil for cool chefs. www.gubbeencom.

A basket of Arbutus Artisan Breads, check out medieval sourdough, rye/spelt sourdough with carrot, Irish craft beer…..

A juicy, fruity Christmas puddings from Country Choice in Nenagh.

Shana Wilkies, handmade choccie bars –she’s got a gorgeous festive Christmas cracker with chocolate bars, luxurious chocolates and bean to cup chocolate powder.

Check out the Chocolate Shop in the English Market, maybe the best selection of superb chocolate in Ireland.

Give a gift token for your local Farmers Market

A few pots of Nourishing Broth from Sonny’s Merchants of Broth at Mahon Farmers Market.

Some of my favourite smoked fish comes from Bill Casey’s Shanagarry Smoke House, tel: 021 4646955, artisan smoker Frank Hederman of Belvelly smoke house, Sally Barnes of Woodcock smoker and Burren smokehouse
Anthony Cresswell of Ummera also does superb smoked chicken and duck as well as nitrate free rashers.

How about some Irish snails from The Irish Snail Farm in County Carlow.

A few pouches of award winning Irish Mozzarella from Macroom Dairy or Toonsbridge Dairy are also making a range of pecorino vincenzo and cacio cavallos

A basket of Green Saffron Spices and a packet of aged Basmati rice with flavour like you’ve never tasted before.

A couple of litres of raw milk from Dan Ahern of Ballysimon, Midleton, 086 1659258 or couple of pints of Glen Ilen pasteurized milk straight from the farm to the farmers market.

A bag of Golden Wonders from John Kennefick, Churchtown South, 086 2246102.

A gift token for a cooking class at Good Things Cafe in Skibbereen or of course the Ballymaloe Cookery School and the Dublin Cookery School.

Don’t forget the beverages. Those of you who can no longer drink wine without suffering adverse consequences, not just headaches but exaggerated reactions – rashes and nausea, contact Colm McCan and Pascal Rossignol of Le Caveau wines in Kilkenny for a selection of natural wines. This present could and will change your life..

If you feel like making a pilgrimage out to East Cork there are of course many temptations in Midleton and Youghal but venture a little further to Shanagarry and you’ll find a cluster of good things.
Stephen Pearce Pottery, Kilkenny Design Centre, both in Shanagarry and Ballymaloe Shop…..All the above also have café where you can relax and enjoy lunch or revive with just a cup of tea or Golden Bean coffee.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Shop, just ¼ a mile up the road from the Shanagarry village has a range of frivolous and practical gifts plus freshly picked organic produce from the farm and garden, thick unctuous Jersey yoghurt and rich homemade butter, totally natural sourdough bread and of course raw milk from our tiny herd of seven Jersey cows. Telephone 021 4646785 before you come to reserve) and then have relaxing walk along Shanagarry strand before you return to the fray.

A hamper from Woodside Farm, beautiful free range pork and bacon products, rashers, sausages, hocks, bacon…all the hams are gone but there may still be delicious loin or streaky or collar bacon, hocks, pigs tails… or 087 276 7206

NASH 19 Christmas Bespoke Hampers
for your foodie friend stocked with lots of delicious artisan produce…Spiced Beef, Mince Pies, Gluten Free Plum Puddings….. Pop into NASH 19 Food Shop to create your own hamper, packaged and wrapped in store. Deliveries nationwide too. Tel 021 427 0880

Ardmore Pottery Christmas Craft Fair
runs daily from 26th November to 24th December. Beautiful willow baskets, jewellery, knitwear, pottery plus Lismore Biscuits, Mella’s Fudge, Crinnaughtan Apple juice, jams and preserves…….
Contact Mary Lincoln at 024 94152 or

Best Ever Tomato Sauce

A good tomato sauce is invaluable to have in the fridge or freezer as a standby, another marvellous accompaniment to all sorts of dishes. Use it on pizza or of course you can have a pasta sauce in seconds. Add a pinch of chilli flakes if your friends would like some extra oomph!

Makes 16 fl ozs (475ml)

1 oz (25g) butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-4 cloves garlic, depending on taste, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 lbs (900g) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 2 x 14 oz (400g) tins Italian tomatoes, chopped
salt, freshly ground pepper and a little honey to taste
a pinch of chilli flakes, optional

Melt the butter, add the olive oil and toss in the chopped garlic and optional pinch of chilli flakes. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until pale golden, then add the onion, cook for a minute or two before adding the tomatoes, then season with salt, pepper and a little honey to taste. Cook fast for 15-20 minutes if you want a fresh tasting sauce, or more slowly Рfor up to 1 hour Рif you prefer it more concentrated. Pur̩e through a mouli legumes. Taste and correct seasoning. Pour into sterilized glass kilner or little jam jars. Cover, label and decorate.

Black or Green Olive Tapenade

The strong gutsy flavour of Tapenade can be an acquired taste but soon becomes addictive – and has become a”new basic”.

Serve with Cruditées, Bruschetta, Crostini with Lamb, Pasta, Goat cheese…..

2 ozs (50g) anchovy fillets
3 1/2 ozs (100g) stoned black or green or a mixture of olives
1 tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
freshly ground pepper
2-3 tablespoons olive oil

Whizz up the anchovy fillets (preferably in a food processor) with the stoned black olives, capers, mustard, lemon juice, and pepper.

Alternatively, use a pestle and mortar. Add the olive oil as you whisk and process to a coarse or smooth puree as you prefer.

Tapenade Oil

Add lots of Extra virgin olive oil and store in a sterilized jam – jar use to drizzle over goat cheese etc.

Banana and Date Chutney

This unusual chutney is quite a departure from the ordinary but your friends will love it to serve with cold meats and the cheese board during the Christmas season.

Makes 6 x 200g (7oz) jars

250g (9oz) Bramley cooking apples, peeled and roughly chopped
200g (7oz) onions, peeled and roughly chopped
225ml (8fl oz) malt vinegar
8 ripe bananas (approximately 750g/1 10oz) peeled and roughly chopped into 1cm (1/2 inch) rounds
100g (3 1/2oz) stem ginger, drained and finely chopped
200g (7oz) soft dark brown sugar
250g (9oz) stoned dates, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
100ml (3 1/2fl oz) water

Spice Bag
4 allspice berries
1 small (5cm/2 inch) cinnamon stick
4 cloves
2 pieces of orange peel

Put the apples and onions into a large, heavy based saucepan, pour in the vinegar and cook over a low heat until soft, approximately 20 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to a simmer and bubble away gently for 45 minutes approximately or until the chutney thickens and reduces by about 1/3 – 1/2. Spoon into warm, sterilised jars and cover and store in a cool, dark place for up 6 months. Once opened, keep in the fridge and try to use up within a month.

Note: The onion can be omitted if desired.

JR’s Handmade Rose Water Marshmallows

Once you taste handmade marshmallow you will never go back to the mass produced version. JR Ryall, the Pastry Chef at Ballymaloe House, makes these delicately flavoured and lighter than air marshmallow that are best enjoyed within a few days of making.

Makes approximately 100

455g (1lb) granulated or caster sugar
1 tablespoon liquid glucose
9 gelatine leaves or 5 1/2 rounded teaspoons of powdered gelatine
2 large egg whites
1 tablespoon good quality rose water
red food colour paste
4 tablespoons icing sugar and 4 tablespoons corn flour sieved together

For Raspberry Marshmallow – fresh raspberries and pistachio nuts (optional).

Line the bottom of a 30 x 20cm (11 x 8 inch) baking tray with parchment paper. Dust with sieved icing sugar and cornflour.

Place sugar, glucose and 200ml (7fl oz/scant 1 cup) of water in a heavy bottom saucepan. Stir to ensure all of the sugar is wet. Using a pastry brush dipped water, remove any sugar crystals from the side of the saucepan. Place the saucepan on a medium heat and bring to the boil. Once boiling do not stir, simply tilt the pot from side to side to ensure the solution heats evenly until it reaches 127°C/260°F. It is important to keep an eye on the temperature using a sugar thermometer.

Meanwhile, rehydrate the gelatine in 140ml (4 3/4fl oz/generous 1/2 cup) water.

When the boiling syrup reaches 110°C/230°F start whipping the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.

Add the rehydrated gelatine and water into the syrup when it reaches 127°C/260°F and stir with a wooden spoon. The mixture will foam slightly, this is normal. Pour the hot syrup onto the egg whites and whip on full speed for 5-10 minutes until the marshmallow thickens and the bowl of the mixer is warm to the touch. Turn the speed of the mixer to low and whisk in the rosewater and enough food colour paste to turn the marshmallow baby pink.

Spoon the thick marshmallow mix onto the lined baking tray and smooth with a palette knife. Allow to set (usually takes 2 hours).

Dust the top of the marshmallow with the icing sugar and cornflour mix. Turn out onto a work surface, peel off the paper and cut into cubes. Roll each marshmallow in the cornflour and icing sugar mix to finish.

Raspberry Marshmallow

JR also makes divine fresh raspberry marshmallows. Pour half the mixture into the prepared tin, sprinkle the surface with fresh raspberries. I love to add some pistachio nuts as well. Pour the remainder on top, allow to set, proceed and serve as above.

Agen Chocolate Prunes

Delicious and super quick to make and a real surprise guaranteed to convert even the most ardent prune hater.

Makes 22

225g (8oz) best quality dark chocolate
32 Agen prunes, stoned

Melt the chocolate gently in a Pyrex bowl over barely simmering water. Turn off the heat just as soon as the water comes to the boil, the chocolate will gradually melt in the hot bowl.

Dip the prunes one at a time into the chocolate. Shake off excess chocolate and allow to set on a baking tray covered with silicone paper.

Serve as a petit four. Pop into pretty gold paper cases arrange in a pretty box and decorate.

Rachel’s Salted Caramel Sauce

I’ll be forever grateful to the French genius who first put salt in caramel. The ultimate expression of salty and sweet. This sauce works brilliantly with chocolate mousse or of course on crepes or ice cream.

225g (8oz) sugar, caster or granulated
75ml (3fl oz) water
110g (4oz) butter
175ml (6fl oz) regular or double cream
a good pinch of salt (I love to use salt flakes such as Maldon or Atlantic sea salt)

Place the sugar and the water in a saucepan over a medium heat and stir as it heats up to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved stir in the butter, turn the heat up to high and cook for about 10 minutes until it turns a toffee colour. Do not stir the pan though you might need to swirl the pan occasionally if you see it turning golden on one side of the pan before the other. Once it is a rich golden toffee colour tale it off the heat for a moment and stir in half the cream. When the bubbles die down, stir in the rest of the cream and the salt to taste (it will depend on the type of salt used and of course your taste how much you’ll need. Serve with the chocolate mousse and shortbread biscuits.

Chocolate and Hazelnut Spread

You’ll never go back to the well-known brand…..

Makes 2 small jars

250 g (9 oz) best quality hazelnuts
150 g (5 oz) icing sugar
45 g (1.5 oz) cocoa powder (we use Valrhona)
4 tablespoons hazelnut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Salt, between 1/8 and ¼ teaspoon

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5.

Spread the hazelnuts out in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 12-15 minutes or until the skin start to loosen and the nuts are golden and evenly roasted. Rub the skins off the hazelnuts and discard.

Cool and transfer to a food processor. Whizz the hazelnuts for 2-5 minutes or until the oil begins to separate from the soft paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the icing sugar, cocoa powder, hazelnut oil, vanilla extract and salt to taste. Keep whizzing until the spread is loose, glossy and a spreadable texture. Taste, it may need another pinch of salt or another tablespoon of hazelnut oil.
Spoon into little jars, cover and use within a month but usually it doesn’t last that long!

Christmas Mincemeat Swirls with Brandy Butter

Just love these mincemeat swirls – a super way to use up leftover mincemeat and brandy butter. Most delicious served warm.

Makes 18-20 scones

900g (2lb/8 cups) plain white flour
175g (6oz) butter
3 free-range eggs
pinch of salt
50g (2 oz) castor sugar
3 heaped teaspoons baking powder
450ml (15floz) approx. milk to mix
400-450 g (14 oz-16 oz) Ballymaloe mincemeat or vegetarian and gluten free mincemeat

Egg Wash (see below)

110 g (4 oz) flaked almonds
110 g (4 oz) demerara sugar for sprinkling on top of the scones

Brandy Butter, see recipe

1-2 baking trays lined with parchment

First preheat the oven to 250°C/475°F/Gas Mark 9.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board. Don’t knead but roll gently into a rectangle about ¾ inch (2 cm) thick. Spread the mincemeat over the surface to within a half inch of the edge. Roll from the long side. Cut into 1½ inch (3cm) pieces. Arrange on a baking tray, allowing a little space for the swirls to spread. Brush the cut side with egg wash. Sprinkle each one with flaked almonds and dip in granulated sugar. Bake in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.
Serve warm with a dollop of homemade brandy butter on top.

Egg Wash

Whisk 1 egg with a pinch of salt. This is brushed over the scones and pastry to help them to brown in the oven.

Brandy Butter

3ozs (75g) butter
3ozs (75g) icing sugar
2-6 tablespoons brandy

Cream the butter until very light, add the icing sugar and beat again. Then beat in the brandy, drop by drop. If you have a food processor, use it: you will get a wonderfully light and fluffy Brandy Butter.

A Brandy Mincemeat, vegetarian and gluten free

Makes approximately 7 x 375g (13oz) jars

125g (4 1/2oz) almonds
500g (18oz) candied citrus peel (see recipe)
4 apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
60g (2 1/2oz) real glacé cherries
375g (12oz) seedless raisins
500g (18oz) sultanas
500g (18oz) currants
450g (16oz/2 cups) soft dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
grated zest of juice of one lemon
grated zest of one orange
110ml (4fl oz) Brandy or Armagnac
125g (4 1/2oz) melted butter

Blanch, peel and chop the almonds. Put in a bowl with the chopped candied peel, apple and glacé cherries. Add the raisins, sultanas and currants. Stir in the brown sugar, mixed spice, freshly grated nutmeg, lemon and orange zest, lemon juice, brandy and butter. Mix well.

Fill into sterilised jars, cover and store in a cool, dry place. This mincemeat will keep for up to 6 months if kept in a cool larder.

Kumquat and Irish Whiskey Marmalade

Kumquat Marmalade – my special breakfast treat, not as tart as Seville Orange Marmalade, rather more bitter-sweet – just gorgeous. A present that your friends will really treasure and you ‘ll find that they’ll be dropping hints, hoping for another pot. It’ll also sell like hot cakes at a Christmas Bring and Buy or Farmers’ Market.

Makes 6 approx. little pots (200ml/7fl.oz)

1 kg (2¼lb) kumquats
1 3/4 litres (2½ pints) water
1 3/4 kgs (3 1/2 lbs) sugar
2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Slice kumquats thinly crossways. Collect the seeds, put in a small bowl with 250ml
(8 fl oz) of the water, allow to stand overnight. Put the kumquats in a larger bowl with the remaining water, cover and allow to stand overnight.

Next day, strain the seeds, save the liquid (this now contains the precious pectin, which contributes to the setting of the jam); discard the seeds.

Put the kumquat mixture into a large saucepan with the reserved liquid from the seeds. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, simmer, covered for 30 minutes or until the kumquats are very tender, Remove the lid and boil fast to reduce the liquid to less than original volume.

Warm the sugar in a moderate oven for about 8-10 minutes. Add the sugar. Stir until fully dissolved (the mixture should not be more than 5 cm /2 inch deep). Bring to the boil and cook rapidly with the lid off for about 15 minutes or until a teaspoon of mixture will wrinkle when tested on a cold saucer – remove the pan from the heat while testing. Stir in the whiskey.

Pot in hot sterilised jars. Seal and store in a cool dry place.

Homemade Crackers with Irish Farmhouse Cheese

Include a beautiful Irish Farmhouse cheese in perfect condition. This recipe makes a huge number of light biscuits, which taste delicious with butter alone, or with butter and a soft cheese.

Makes 45-50 biscuits

1/2 lb (225g) plain flour
1 oz (25g) butter
pinch of salt
5-6 fl ozs (150-175ml) hot milk

Preheat the oven to 220°C\425°F\regulo 7

Rub the first three ingredients together. Then mix to a dough with hot milk, it should be firm but soft. Knead it well. Roll out small bits of the dough to paper thinness, it will look and feel like a piece of cloth. Prick with a fork….

Cut into approx. 3 inch (7.5cm) rounds with a plain or fluted scone cutter and bake in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes, until they are slightly browned and puffed up. Cool and store in an air-tight box.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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