Ask Peter: Edible gifts
Please can you help us with some ideas for edible Christmas gifts?
Yours gratefully, the Bite community at large
Edible Christmas gifts — what’s not to like or appreciate about them? To be honest, I haven’t made many myself over recent years because by the time Christmas Day comes I am almost “over” cooking and I’m also not quite so organised that I have planned much in advance. In fact, truth be known, I’m often struggling to find wrapping paper and blank cards that vaguely look like they were, in fact, bought for Christmas and not a wedding or Mother’s Day.
However, what I really appreciate is a gift of food, homemade, from friends, staff and family. In London it might be a pot of marmalade, quince chutney or preserves, a flask of sloe gin or a ceramic dish packed full of punchy and boozy brandy butter. I like the fact that old friends and my family are happy to give me things they’ve made, as they know I’m not particularly fussy and they don’t think I’ll be judgmental — because I’m not. One year a friend came around for Christmas lunch and was adamant I must open the gift before the meal — which was just as well, as it was a lovely earthenware dish of the most gorgeous baby heritage carrots roasted with garlic and fennel seeds. My friend had obviously just finished it at home before jumping in a cab — all it needed to finish was mixing in shredded dill and toasted almonds. It was a great gift, but also a very practical one, and I got to keep the dish — which was, in fact, the gift!
I’ve also received a tasty cranberry whiskey parfait, based on a recipe from my book, Everyday, which came in a lovely antique metal terrine tin and that we ate with the Christmas pudding. Clove, clementine and vanilla custard came one year in a gorgeous Dinosaur Designs resin jug, tightly wrapped so it didn’t spill on the drive over.
However, assuming I might actually find the time to cook up some treats, I’d likely make fruit mince tarts. But when I make mine I like to add tamarind paste (to enliven these rich things) and toasted, chopped, pecans and almonds to the mixture. You can do this yourself even if you’re using a commercial mince tart filling, simply by adding whatever takes your fancy and using it to fill your tarts. At The Providores we make large, individual tarts, about 10cm in diameter, with a filling such as this and serve it with a scoop of icecream and a salted caramel sauce — our Christmas party people like the fact it’s a nod to Christmas without feeling too generic.
Shortbread with lots of ground cloves and lime zest added to the mixture evokes a sense of Christmas as well, especially when sandwiched together with mascarpone whipped gently with a little cream, golden rum and chopped pecans. These won’t keep of course, so they’re really to be eaten on the day they are made, but the biscuits without the filling look gorgeous in a fancy jar, especially if you pack them with a small bottle of rum, Armagnac or whiskey, with a recipe card for the filling.
If you think about it early enough, make some black doris plum gin, in homage to our sloe gin in the UK. Remove the stones from 3 large plums and slice them thinly. Place in a pan with 1⁄4 cup caster sugar and bring slowly to the boil, then cook until nice and syrupy. Pack the compote into a clean 750ml glass bottle and, when cool, top with enough gin to come near the top — around 650ml. Seal and leave for a few weeks, gently shaking from time to time. Lovely with vermouth, lots of ice and sparkling water for a summer negroni!