Sunday, December 26, 2010

Edible Christmas Gifts

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been trying to be good, and have a totally hand-made, hand-baked, thrifted Christmas. I managed this, with only two little exceptions (more about that in another post). 

For some people, this meant they received thrifted gifts. For others, it meant receiving things I had sewn or crafter. And, for others (those that are the subject of this blog), they received things I had baked.

The first round of baking was cookies and biscuits from the CWA (Country Women's Association) cookbook. These were given to twelve of my friends, each with three or four cookies in a packet. I sadly forgot to take any photos, or, for that matter, write down which recipes I used for these gifts, so that's about all I can say on the matter.

The second round of baking was brownies for my secret santa at work, my team mates, and the people from my dance class. So, 18 gifts all up this time. My brownie recipe makes a LOT of browines, but because I was giving so many gifts, I decided to try a variation of it.

My original Brownies:
I adapted the brownie recipe from a friend’s cookbook, which I think was called home food. 

250g butter (I use unsalted)
500g - 600g eating chocolate (I prefer using dark chocolate) (eating chocolate is better quality that cooking chocolate, for about the same price. I figure, why use lesser quality ingredients?)
1 Cup cocoa powder
2 Cups sugar
1 1/2 Cups Plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
6 eggs
1 packet chocolate chips (again, I usually use dark chocolate chips)
*Melt butter and chocolate. 
*Stir in cocoa and sugar. 
*Stir in plain flour and baking powder. 
*Mix in eggs.
*Mix in chocolate chips. 
*Divide mixture into two dishes, if not silicon, line with aluminium foil or baking paper. 
*Bake at 180C / 350C until knife comes out clean. Remember that there are chocolate chips, so this might be a bit tricky, but I have served these slightly undercooked, and because of how much chocolate is in them, they solidify a little as they cool.

My White Chocolate and Macadamia Brownies:

250g butter (I use unsalted)
500g - 600g white eating chocolate 
2 Cups sugar
1 1/2 Cups Plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
6 eggs
1 packet white chocolate chips
1 packet macadamia nuts.
*Melt butter and chocolate. 
*Stir in sugar. 
*Stir in plain flour and baking powder. 
*Mix in eggs.
*Mix in macadamia nuts and chocolate chips. 
*Divide mixture into two dishes, if not silicon, line with aluminium foil or baking paper. 
*Bake at 180C / 350C until knife comes out clean. 

Because I was giving these as gifts, rather than baking in the usual square silicon containers, I used the fairly sizeable collection of silicon cup cake shapes we have. This gave me brownie bites, which hold together better than if I had just cut up a larger portion.

I had found six huge huge wine glasses at an opshop, so I decided to use two of them as presentation of the brownies for my secret santa. I figured that even if he didn't like brownies, he would like large wine glasses what 21 year old male doesn't?)

To present, I filled both glasses with brownie bites, then cut slits in the middle of sheets of cellophane. I slipped the stem of the wine glass through the slit, so that the glass was covered with cellophane when I tied a ribbon around it.

They ended up looking like this:

It wasn't until after I had given them away that I realised that taking photos of green things against a green leafy background is perhaps not the most sensible idea. Ah well, I know for next time.

Next I wrapped up the brownies bites for everyone else. This was a bit easier, because I wasn't wrapping wine glasses, but the fact that I was wrapping 18 of them made it a bit tricky. Partly because I didn't know how many each person was going to end up getting.

So, what I did was lay the cellophane out in rows on the kitchen table. That way, I could just go along the rows adding a brownie to each pile until I was done. I ended up giving each person four brownie bites.

Next, I simply gathered the cellophane up and tied it with curling ribbon. Which I didn't curl.

They looked pretty awesome when they were all together in the boxes.

And, they went down really well :). I was very pleased with the response to them. I hadn't made the which chocolate versions before, but the general consensus was that they were totally edible, and that people would happily eat them again.

The other thing I made as Christmas gifts were fruit mince pies. I normally make about 12 dozen in any given year, and so far this year, I have made 12 1/2 dozen. So, right on target. I might end up making another dozen or two, to take on holidays with me.

The recipe I use isn't mine, it's my mother's. I took over making them when I was about 15, and now they are part of my Christmas routine (the other is making mushroom filled pierogi, an integral part of our Christmas celebrations).

I went overseas a few years back, and wasn't around for Christmas, so mum sent me her recipe. I have simply copied exactly what she sent to me:

My mother always says, when offering guests fruit mince pies, that that you get a lucky month every time you eat a mince pie at a different person’s house ie if you visit 12 houses and have a mince pie at each, you will be lucky for the entire year.
1 cup plain flour
1 cup self-raising flour
½ cup cornflour (proper corn cornflour, not wheat cornflour)
¼ cup icing sugar
¼ cup custard powder
250 gram butter
¼ cup iced water, approximately

  1. sift dry ingredients into basin
  2. rub butter in evenly (I use a pastry cutter to cut the butter into the dry ingredients, then finish off with my hands)
  3. add enough water to make ingredients just cling together
  4. knead lightly until smooth (recipe says to do this on a floured surface, but I don’t use flour)
  5. divide pastry into 4 balls
  6. wrap in plastic food wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes or more
  7. roll pastry – if it has been in the fridge for a while, it will be solid, but it will gradually roll out, and it is actually more workable this way than if it is sticky and soft because it is too warm. 
125 gram beef suet
250 g (1 1/3 cups) seedless raisins, chopped
125g (2/3 cup) currants
60g (1/2 cup) chopped almonds
30g (1/3 cup) chopped mixed peel
45g (1/4 cup) chopped dried figs
30g (1/4 cup) chopped dried apricots
30g (1/4 cup) chopped dates
2 medium apples, peeled, cored and grated
125g (1/2 cup) sugar
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground mixed spice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
300 mls (1 ¼ cups) brandy
125 mls (1/2 cup) medium sherry
separate beef suet from tissues and chop finely in a food processor or with a French knife dipped in flour (butcher may do this).  Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir together with a wooden spoon until all are moist.  Cover bowl with a plate or tea towel (not plastic wrap) and store in a cool dry place for 2 weeks, checking every five days and add 3 tablespoons extra brandy or sherry if fruit has absorbed all liquid.   Pack into clean stoneware or glass jars, cover surface with a circle of waxed paper, then cover securely with cellophane paper or tops of jars.
Start out with double quantities:
1 kilo pack of mixed fruit (avoiding the type with glace cherries because I hate glace fruit)
4 medium apples, peeled, cored and grated
Add (quatity varies according to what is available and how much gets eaten whilst making fruit mince):
1 or 2 packets of almonds (could be 125g packet but who reads labels)
Wheel of dried figs
Packet of dried apricots (again, who reads labels)
Dates optional because they’re not my favourite commodity
Mince all of the above in a mincer (I have never tried a food processor, but suspect it would have to be watched carefully to ensure that the fruit mince remains in small bits rather than homogenous mush)
Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add the following:
250g (1 cup) sugar
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
Add some brandy and sherry while restraining Chris (my father) from going overboard on soaking the mince in grog. Use mince immediately for the first batch of pies (because everything has been left until the last minute as usual).  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and store remainder in fridge, using as needed for more mince pies.
The fruit mince pie tins I use have a fairly shallow, round mould, so that the pies have a round base without sides, and I like a pastry star on top, rather than a lid.  
We usually make two types of pies: the ones with fruit mince we made that year, and stronger ones with fruit mince we made the year before. Now, before you freak out, remember that our version has NO MEAT in it. None. It's mostly dried fruit and alcohol. So, we put a decent amount in a sealable jar, add a few inches of brandy or sherry on top, and put it in the back of the fridge for a year. These pies really are quite alcoholic - I'm pretty sure that there is too much alcohol to disappear totally when they are baked.
This year, my great-aunt was coming to our Christmas celebrations, and she is gluten-intollerant. So, in addition to the normal pastry, I also made gluten free pastry. I used a pizza and pastry gluten free mix, and followed the recipe on the packet for short crust pastry. They turned out very well, if I do say so myself.
My gluten-free-great-aunt was given some fruit mince pies for Christmas, as was my secret santa. (My extended family is quite large, and we instigated a secret santa for part of the family this year. It worked quite well, amazingly).