Gifts with taste

JAN BILTON
Last updated 16:45 06/12/2012
Truffles
Jan Bilton
TREAT: Homemade gifts show you care enough about someone to make something.

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My grandmother was a frugal lady, but always ready to help others.

Every Christmas her grandchildren and the neighbour's children received an orange and a brown paper bag of homemade Russian fudge. It was a tradition that lasted for years and we all looked forward to the small gift as we knew that it had been made with love.

Gifts from the kitchen are always considered special and a day spent creating Yuletide yummies can provide personal pleasures for many lucky people.

I have a couple of men in my life that really enjoy five-spice walnuts. Like my grandmother's fudge - it's become almost a tradition. I've made them a jar each for the past three Christmases. Here's the recipe:

Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and add two cups of walnut halves and pieces. (I use New Zealand-grown walnuts.) Simmer for five minutes. Drain and place on paper towels.

Combine in a bowl, one tablespoon of soy sauce, half a teaspoon of chilli powder and one teaspoon each of five-spice and sugar.

Heat half a cup of canola oil in a wok. Fry the dried walnuts until dark golden and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add to the spice mix and toss to coat.

Drain the oil from the wok. Wipe the wok clean and return the nuts. Place over low heat for one to two minutes to dry. Stir constantly. Cool, then store in jars.

Remember, it's the thought behind the gift that is as precious as the gift itself.

CHRISTMAS PUDDING TRUFFLES

Truffles:

300g pitted prunes

2 Tbsp brandy

100g dark chocolate, melted

100g walnuts, chopped

Garnish:

6 each red and green cherries, cut into quarters or eighths

100g white chocolate, melted

2 Tbsp oil

Chop the prunes in the food processor and mix with the brandy. Stand for 30 minutes.

Combine with the melted dark chocolate and chopped walnuts. Cool for a few minutes. Take tablespoons of the mixture and roll into smooth balls. Place on a wax paper-lined tray. Chill.

Meanwhile, prepare the cherries and pat dry with a paper towel. Melt the white chocolate and combine with the oil.

Place the melted white chocolate in a small plastic bag. Snip off a little plastic from one corner to make a piping bag. Drizzle the white chocolate over a few of the truffles to look like custard on a Christmas pudding. Top each with a sliver of red and green cherry. Repeat until all the truffles are decorated. Chill. Makes about 22.

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SPICED CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

250g butter

cup caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla essence

2 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk

3 cups plain flour

2 tsp each: mixed spice, baking powder

500g dark chocolate buttons

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Cream the butter, caster sugar, vanilla essence and sweetened condensed milk until well combined. Sift in the flour, mixed spice and baking powder and mix well. Stir in the chocolate buttons.

Roll into balls weighing about 30g each pressing the buttons in firmly. Place on the prepared baking trays. Flatten slightly with a fork.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden, turning the trays around half-way through cooking. Cool the cookies on a wire rack. Store in airtight containers. Makes about 40.

TURKISH DELIGHT ROCKY ROAD

Use a dark chocolate that is not too sweet. Make your own Turkish Delight or purchase some from a kebab shop or your deli.

2 x 70g packets shelled pistachio nuts

250g dark chocolate, like Whittaker's Dark Ghana or similar

250g x 3cm cubes Turkish Delight Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 16cm x 20cm dish and line with baking paper.

Place the pistachios on a baking tray. Bake for 5 minutes or until lightly toasted. Cool.

Coarsely chop the chocolate and place in a microwave-proof bowl. Cook on medium-low (50 per cent), until just melted, about 5 minutes. Stir well until shiny. Leave to cool slightly.

Cut the cubes of Turkish Delight in half. Combine with the nuts and chocolate. Spoon into the greased dish. Refrigerate until firm.

Cut into pieces and wrap in cellophane. Makes 10 large pieces.

GLUTEN-FREE CHRISTMAS MINCE TARTS

Not all Christmas fruit mincemeat is gluten-free as it may be prepared in the same factory as products containing gluten. However, Barkers has just launched a gluten-free Classic Fruit Mince, perfect for combining with whipped cream as a filling for rolled pavlovas; as a topping for icecream; or in traditional Christmas mince pies.

200g gluten free flour (I used Simple Wheat & Gluten-free Baking Mix)

125g chilled butter, diced

1 Tbsp icing sugar

1 egg

extra butter for greasing

400g packet Barker's Gluten-free Classic Fruit Mince

Place the flour, butter and icing sugar in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture resembles fresh breadcrumbs.

Add the egg and mix until just combined.

Roll into a ball, flatten then wrap in plastic film. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 190C. Lightly grease 2 x 12-hole mini muffin pans.

Roll the pastry out between 2 sheets of waxed paper or plastic film until 3mm thick. Using a 5cm-6cm diameter biscuit cutter, stamp out 24 discs. The trimmings can be rerolled and used. Gently place in the muffin holes.

Pipe the fruit mince into the unbaked shells. Bake for 15 minutes, until the pastry is light brown. Cool the tarts on a wire rack.

Can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.

Great served dusted with icing sugar. Makes 24.

Copyright Jan Bilton

- The Marlborough Express

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