How to save money with homemade Christmas gifts
Homemade edible presents are much cheaper than buying cornershop alternatives – and are infinitely lovelier to receive. From orangettes to fruit vinegars, Caroline Craig and Sophie Missing share five of their favourites
The lunches, the parties, the hangovers … Christmas is wonderful, but the cost can add up. If, on the way to a festive drinks party, you’ve ever ducked into a corner shop and found yourself scouring the shelves for a generouslooking but not too expensive gift (seriously, who buys those dusty £45 bottles of Bollinger?), you’ll know that while leaving things to the last minute does contain a notunenjoyable frisson of risk, you will pay for it. However, gift-giving doesn’t have to be so frenzied.
People are always happy to receive homemade presents. These gifts cost a fraction of their shop-bought equivalents – even more so if you stash away old glass jars throughout the year – but that’s not the only reason to make them. The trick is to take pleasure in the pace. Good things come to those who wait.
Candied peel costs next to nothing to make … and only takes an evening.
Makes about 300g
4 navel oranges 1kg sugar 150g chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa)
1 Quarter the oranges and remove the flesh so you are just left with the peel and some pith. Slice each peel quarter into 5mm strips. Put the strips in a pan and cover them with water. Bring the pan to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.
2 Drain away the water, and cover the peel slices again with fresh water – changing the water in this way gets rid of any bitterness. Bring to the boil again and simmer for 30 minutes, keeping an eye on the water level and popping a lid on the pan if it is evaporating too fast.
3 Drain the slices, but this time keep the water. Decant it into a measuring jug, then pour it back into the pan: for every 100ml of liquid, add 100g of sugar. Put the sugary water over a very gentle heat and once the sugar has dissolved (you can give it a helping hand by stirring) add the peel. Simmer for about 45 minutes or so, until the peel has gone translucent.
4 Allow the peel to cool in the pan while you heat the oven to its lowest setting. Lay the peel evenly on a tray lined with baking parchment, and dry in the oven for 30 minutes.
5 Remove the peel from the oven, sprinkle over some more sugar and gently toss to coat.
6 Break the chocolate into chunks and melt in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool slightly, then dunk half of each orangette into the chocolate.
7 Leave to cool on baking parchment in the fridge. Keeps for a month in a sealed container.
Salted caramel florentines
Florentines make the perfect stocking filler, ticking all the festive boxes: fruity, nutty and chocolatey. These have the unnecessary but brilliant addition of salted caramel. As a postprandial pick-me-up, they’re hard to beat – we can always find room for one or three.
Makes 14-16 For the salted caramel 30g unsalted butter 50g soft light brown sugar 2 heaped tbsp golden syrup 1 tbsp double cream ½ tsp sea salt
For the florentines 60g flaked almonds 50g salted pistachios 50g dried or glacé cherries 1 tbsp plain flour 100-150g milk cooking chocolate, broken up into chunks
1 Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3 and line 2 baking trays with greaseproof paper.
2 Mix the nuts, cherries and flour together in a bowl.
3 Put the butter, sugar and syrup in a saucepan over a low heat for 4-5 minutes until everything melts, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture is bubbling gently, remove from the heat and stir in the cream, then return to the heat and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the salt and stir to combine. Mix in the dry ingredients.
4 Put 4 heaped teaspoonfuls of the mixture on each lined baking tray, allowing them as much space as you can – they will spread a lot. Flatten slightly and make sure each teaspoonful has an equalish amount of nuts and caramel to bind it together.
4 Set a timer and bake for around 12 minutes, keeping a close eye on them. They will start to spread out quickly – if this looks like it’s happening too much, take them out, allow them to cool for a moment, then gently poke back into a rough circle, before popping back in the oven. Depending on your oven and where it’s hottest, you may also need to turn or switch the trays round during cooking.
5 Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly then poke back into shape. Once they are firm, transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely. Repeat until all the mixture is used up.
6 Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the base of the bowl.
7 Brush the undersides of the cooled and hardened florentines with the melted chocolate. Put in the fridge until set, then brush on another layer of chocolate: it’s Christmas, after all. They’ll keep for up to a week in a sealed container in the fridge.
These take a few days but require minimal exertion. You can use fresh chestnuts, but cooked are easier to find, and at a similar price to fresh ones, so this recipe skips the boiling and peeling stage.
Makes about 400g 500g sugar 400g peeled, cooked chestnuts
1 Put the sugar in a pan with 500ml water. Bring to the boil very gently, stirring often at the beginning to dissolve the sugar, then simmer for 10 minutes. Add the chestnuts and simmer gently for a further 10 minutes. Leave the chestnuts in the syrup in the pan to cool completely.
2 The next day, or a few hours later, very slowly bring the mixture to a simmer for no more than a minute. Allow the chestnuts to cool completely in the pan.
3 Repeat this process over the next few days until most of the syrup has been absorbed, then put on a wire rack to drain. If you still have a lot of liquid after the chestnuts have been simmered 4 or 5 times, remove them from the syrup with a slotted spoon.
4 Leave to dry overnight or for a few hours in the oven, at its lowest setting and with the door propped open. Store the chestnuts individually wrapped in recycled toffee wrappers or in little parcels of greaseproof paper.