Gone are the days when store-bought shortbread wrapped in red cellophane was the height of edible presents. LINDY ALEXANDER explores the DIY options to set you apart this festive season
For a truly personal present, give edible gifts this Christmas.
There’s nothing like the feeling of anticipation when opening a beautifully wrapped box at Christmas. These days, that package is just as likely to contain homemade chutney as it does a Tiffany pendant. The comeback of home crafts – think baking, pickling and preserving – provides a way to give a present that is a personal alternative to the hectic consumerist buzz of the festive season.
“Edible gifts are something I do every Christmas because people have got everything these days,” says delicious. contributor and cookbook author Silvia Colloca. “It becomes harder and harder to buy a thoughtful gift that isn’t just going to add to a collection of similar items. Edible gifts make Christmas so personal.”
Colloca starts cooking in November for gifts that will last at least until December 25. “I like to transform jams from everyday to special,” she says. “Think strawberry jam with a twist of ginger and white pepper, mango jam spiked with lime and mint, or orange marmalade with Christmas spices.”
Drawing on her Italian heritage, Colloca bakes biscotti or panforte with pistachio, cranberries and orange zest.
“It’s an Italian tradition to give people homemade edible gifts at Christmas,” she says. “One of the best is amaretti because they are easy, delicious and you can make them up to two weeks in advance. You can set aside time to have a massive baking day, listen to carols and indulge in the Christmas spirit,” she says.
Colloca’s favourite food to receive is a Christmas cake. “We have something similar in Italy, but the Australian version is incredible,” she says. “I love it because it’s completely infused with the scent of Christmas and it’s a gift that people make months in advance. You can smell it even before you open it. And that’s a beautiful, sensual experience.”
Not everyone loves to cook, but everyone loves to eat, and a bought gift can be just as special as homemade.
Panettone is always popular at Simon Johnson, but head of procurement Sara De Vecchi says this Christmas, one particular item is flying off the shelves. “We are working with a producer from France who creates salidou – a salt caramel cream made with local butter, cream and Sel Guerande salt,” she says. “We have been selling their caramels for years, but this year we have a new item in the line-up, which is dark and milk chocolate discs filled with the salidou. They are selling like hot cakes.”
Those in chef and delicious. contributor Matt Moran’s inner circle may be lucky enough to receive one of his phenomenal Christmas puddings, which he makes himself every year, starting them months in advance. This year there’s talk of selling them at his Sydney restaurant Chiswick.
Cookbook author and TV host Hayden Quinn regularly makes tomato sauces or pickles to give to friends and family, but at Christmas time, he says there is just one trick to giving a great edible present. “You want something you can eat as soon as you open it,” he says, laughing. “Like a great big stack of chocolate fudge brownies.”
The beauty of creating some magical, tasty gifts is that you don’t need to be a professional chef to do it. Things such as spiced nuts, rocky road, nougat, flavoured salts or white chocolate shards with freeze-dried berries are all easy to make and create an impression.
Gingerbread is another perennial Christmas gift favourite and there are endless options for decorating it, including riffing on traditional gingerbread men by making ninjabread men, adding some sparkle with edible glitter, or baking ginger reindeers.
“There are amazing gingerbread men cutters around now doing all kinds of actions,” says delicious. style editor Kirsten Jenkins. She says it’s the flavour profile of gingerbread that is so reminiscent of the festive season.
“Gingerbread is warm and spicy and you can use it as inspiration to make other Christmas gifts – chocolate and ginger cookies for example.”
Last year Jenkins made over 30 jars of green tomato chutney, thanks to an abundant backyard crop. She added a merry twist with festive spices.
“I played on the popular flavours of Christmas – think cinnamon and nutmeg, but I also added in Middle Eastern spices such as cumin and coriander to tone down the sweetness,” she says.
Jenkins made sure to give her beautiful jars of chutney to family and friends before Christmas. “We wanted people to have it at the dinner table for their Christmas meal,” she says.
While it’s what’s inside that counts, beautiful wrapping can create wow factor. Jenkins picks a colour scheme each year and sticks to that. “Then everyone knows which present is from you,” she says. “Last year I did a Scandi Christmas and wrapped everything in black and white.”
Jenkins nominates natural or organic colours with “standout ribbons” as being great for edible gifts. “Shops such as Kmart and even Officeworks have awesome glass bottles, jars and boxes that you can use for edible gifts like cookies,” she says. “It’s important to put thought into how you wrap your gift. That’s as much a part of the gift as the present itself.”
FESTIVE FLAVOUR ‘Tis the season for Silvia Colloca’s mini panettone (also on the cover) with Marsala cherries, almond jam drops, Italian hot chocolate and pomegranate and orange cocktail mixer. Recipes at delicious.com.au.