why is it that we always insist on the old ‘let’s get together before christmas!’ routine? seriously, why? what’s wrong with january? with all the office parties to attend, shopping to get done and turkeys to stuff before the 25th, why do we add to the shambles by cramming in more social events that our date books can handle?
well, for some bewildering reason, it’s what we do. and my mother always taught me to never turn up at a friend’s front door with ‘one arm as long as the other’.
if someone has invited you over for a party, drinks, dinner or simply for tea, even a small gesture of thanks for their hospitality is always welcome. so when christmas rolls around, and the social chaos that comes with it, i like to take a day to prepare a bunch of little hostess gifts (usually edible) to have ready to snatch as i run out the door to one get-together or another.
this year i have whipped up three different sweets, some infused alcohol and a cute little beauty treat for the non-foodies i know.
the sweets required a few hours in the kitchen (and a lot of sugar) and the alcohol took mere minutes before being set aside for a week to infuse. so if you can spare a quiet afternoon, it’s not that hard to create a whole stash of treats to distribute among your friends and family over the holidays – you’ll be a gracious guest, and you’ll feel saintly, organised, and just a little smug.
first on my list was honeycomb. nigella lawson has a brilliant recipe which is ridiculously easy and fast. i make it all the time. you simply let the sugar bubble and darken to liquid gold, before adding baking soda, which creates a glorious cloud that you have to immediately pour onto a prepared tray. leave it alone to set for a few hours before smashing into beautiful golden shards. find the recipe here. (i save the honeycomb dust and smaller pieces to sprinkle over vanilla ice cream. divine.)
next up, peppermint marshmallows. making your own marshmallows is surprisingly easy as long as you have a decent freestanding mixer (it requires 15 minutes high-speed mixing) and remember to grease all your tools to prevent sticking. these are amazing dunked in hot chocolate, and the red swirls makes them look just like candy canes. i use this martha stewart recipe.
finally, my favourite – salted caramels. these are absolutely delicious. sweet, chewy, buttery mouthfuls of heaven. i follow this barefoot contessa recipe for the caramels, up until the point where she rolls the caramel up. instead, i simply cut it into small rectangles and wrap individually with baking parchment i’ve cut up, to make them look like old fashioned sweet shop candies.
with the sweets out of the way, it’s time to get infusing our vodka. it takes just a few minutes to prepare, then you tuck it away somewhere dark and cool for a week to get mingling. couldn’t be easier!
i didn’t use a recipe for this – i just heated 320g of cranberries together with a 3/4 cup of sugar in a pan. i let it bubble just until the sugar was dissolved into a bright red syrup, but most of the cranberries still held their shape. i allowed it to cool, then poured the mixture into the vodka. too easy. a week later, it had turned a bright, cheery red.
i strained and decanted the cranberry vodka into small glass bottles i bought online from here, decorated with gorgeous little mini baubles (from paperchase) and swing tags that i rubber stamped. for the sweets, i used white takeaway boxes (i got mine from here) stuffed with red tissue paper, and tied with red and green twine and golden jingle bells for decoration.
and i didn’t forget the non-foodies!
miniature red and green polish from mavala… too cute!
do you have any hostess gift ideas of your own? do share! tweet us at @peanut_buttered