Annabel Langbein's gifts from the kitchen
The season of excess has begun, wreaking its annual havoc on our credit cards, our stress levels and our livers.
When it comes to Christmas, we all love presents but increasingly we don’t want stuff, especially if it’s stuff we don’t need. By contrast, the idea of homemade, second-hand or re-gifted pressies has a lot of appeal, and it’s a great way to embrace a ‘less is more’ lifestyle without feeling like a scrooge.
With this in mind I’ve compiled a list of a few homemade gifts that will bring joy and pleasure to the lives of those you love.
For a gift that keeps on giving, layer the dry ingredients of your favourite biscuit, cake or slice into a jar and attach a pretty label that advises the ingredients that need to be added to make the recipe. With their mixes of flours, grains and seeds, the ingredients for lavosh and other savoury seed crackers create attractive layers in large jars.
If layering a sweet baking mix, choose a recipe where you melt the butter then mix in the jar of dry ingredients, rather than one where you beat the butter and eggs first, because for that method the sugar needs to be added separately from the rest of the dry ingredients.
Make a big batch of kombucha, sauerkraut or kimchi and stick the recipe on a label on the outside.
Homemade jams and preserves make a nice little gift, and are a perfect way to say thank-you to people who have helped you out over the year. Herb and berry vinegars are delicious and super simple to make – put a cup of chopped berries or a cup of herbs, such as tarragon or rosemary, into a clean wine bottle, top up with white wine vinegar and leave to infuse for 2-3 weeks (it will keep its flavour for a good year). This time of year is also a great time to make lemon curd, limoncello and preserved lemons.
Bottles of these jewel-like cherries bring the taste of summer to winter desserts.
Holiday fridge fixings
So often when you’re heading to the bush or the bach for the annual Christmas break, it’s hard to access supplies other than the basics from the corner dairy or camp store. If your friend is off on holiday this summer, fill a pretty bottle or jar with your favourite vinaigrette or another tasty dressing, or make fridge fixings, such as tapenade, chilli jam, peanut sauce, harissa or dukkah. (If they’re going off-grid, choose a recipe that doesn’t need to be kept in the fridge.)
Herb and salad planter boxes
It’s not too late to fill a little planter box with seed-raising mix and grow basil, rocket or mixed salad green seedlings to take on holiday. For a gift that keeps on giving, add in a packet of seeds to replant the box.
Wrap in cellophane as a yummy treat for the chocolate lovers in your life.
Butter cookie sampler
These are so much better than bought cookie sampler boxes. You can arrange them in old cake tins, tea tins or glass jars. This recipe makes about a dozen medium-sized cookies in each of seven different flavours, or you can make them half the size to get two dozen of each kind. Makes about 70 medium or 140 tiny cookies
1 cup sugar
4½ cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk
Flavourings of your choice (see below)
- Cream the butter and sugar. Stir in the flour, baking powder, vanilla and sweetened condensed milk until the mixture comes together into a ball. The raw dough can be made ahead to this stage and frozen until needed. Defrost before baking.
- To make Cookie Sampler, divide dough into 7 portions. Mix flavourings into each portion (see below). If not making all 7 variations, divide dough according to the number of variations you are making and increase the flavourings to match (taste a little raw dough as you go and adjust the flavourings to suit). Chill mixture for 15 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 160C fanbake. Line 4 oven trays with baking paper (or if you don’t have 4 trays you can bake them in batches).
- Roll each flavour into about 12 walnut-sized balls (or more if smaller), place on baking trays and flatten slightly. Decorate according to instructions for different flavourings below. Bake until lightly golden and set (about 15-20 minutes).
- Allow to cool for 10 minutes on the tray then transfer to a rack to cool completely before storing in an airtight container or jar. They will keep for several weeks – if they become a little stale simply refresh for 5 minutes in an oven preheated to 180C.
Cookie sampler flavours
Lavender cookies: Mix 3 tsp lavender petals into 1 portion of the dough. Decorate by pressing the tines of a fork into the cookies in a spoke pattern. Brush with water and sprinkle with lavender sugar made by whizzing 1 cup sugar and 2 Tbsp lavender petals in a food processor.
Hazelnut and chocolate cookies: Add 3 tsp dark cocoa, 3 Tbsp chopped dark chocolate and 2 Tbsp chopped hazelnuts to 1 portion of dough. Decorate with melted chocolate and ½ tsp toasted chopped hazelnuts.
Raisin and cornflake crisps: Add 3 Tbsp raisins and 6 Tbsp lightly crushed cornflakes to 1 portion of the cookie dough.
Carnival cookies: Roll 1 portion of dough into balls, dip each ball into hundreds and thousands then flatten onto tray.
Almond biscuits: Add ½ tsp almond extract to 1 portion of the cookie dough. Decorate by pressing a blanched almond into the top of each cookie.
Ginger crisps: Add 1 tsp ground ginger and 2 tbsp chopped crystallised ginger to 1 portion of the dough.
Cranberry cookies: Add ¼ cup coarsely chopped dried cranberries and ¼ cup coarsely chopped white chocolate to 1 portion of the cookie dough.
For more gift recipes, see Annabel’s new annual A Free Range Life: Together, written with her daughter Rose (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95). It’s available now at Paper Plus and all good bookstores and supermarkets nationwide. Find out more on her website or follow Annabel on Facebook and Instagram.