Image by Holly Bell
One of the best Christmas presents we receive each year is a hamper. It's handmade by the Godparents of our sons and usually contains some biscuits, truffles, chutney and crackers. I look forward to seeing what's in this hamper weeks before Christmas.
Now I know it's not an easy option, especially given that a lot of hamper contents have a short shelf life, but it really is one of the those presents that makes the hair stand up on your arms. To think someone has gone to all that trouble... just for you. I don't want to come over all soppy, but it really is the spirit of Christmas.
With this in mind I thought I'd offer up a few ideas to include in a Christmas hamper for someone very special. (If you're into edible gifts there's a whole chapter in my book, Recipes from a Normal Mum, including Bell blend garam masala, dukkah, Lady Grey gin and strawberry rose jam).
Oh and I am also teaching a class at Leiths all about edible gifts. It's next Saturday in London and promises to be great fun. If you fancy coming along to bake, gossip and put the world to rights, take a look here for details of how to book.
1) A Christmas pudding
Now, I know many people will have made provision for Christmas pud either by buying or some folks making them ahead, but the lovely thing about an extra Christmas pudding is that, well, you have plenty more. And also you can stow one away under the bed for next Christmas. It's paying it forward in the ultimate way. My traditional one is here. Or there's a pecan and cherry one for those who aren't so into peel.
They're incredibly easy to make (kids can and will make them - if you have some, scrub their hands and set them to work) and are almost universally liked. Plus you can make a large batch of truffle mixture and then portion it off for mixing in different booze. My homemade Ferrero Rocher are something a bit different. If you want a traditional truffle then try my chocolate orange ones (ignore the eye ball detail, just leave it out), or my Baileys fridge cake ones or my Christmas ones.
3) A mini Christmas cake
Last year I went a bit mad and made a small Christmas cake for anyone I could think of who didn't live in a large family type arrangement. I'm not sure if this is offensive or welcome to most, but my almost 90 year old Nanna told me it was just the ticket, as she can never face finishing off a whole Christmas cake. If you are making the hamper for a larger family then just make a regular sized one instead. My recipe is easy and can be made up until a few days before. It doesn't need to mature though will do so happily if you're organised.
4) A baked treat
You could make some mince pies, either with melting moment topping or crumble topping or just regular old mince pies with no topping other than pastry. You could even make some with homemade drunken cherry brandy mincemeat. Or you could make some little Rudolf morsels, pastry cases filled with a little jam and some marzipan. Or some Christmas flapjacks... Or Christmas spiced scones... Or lemon button biscuits... Or rocky road florentines... Or if you're a sadist then perhaps macarons.
5) Stir up vodka/gin
Imagine Christmas pudding with less calories, in a drink format and very, very alcoholic. Here she is. Add a bottle of something fizzy and you're half way to hamper heaven. You're welcome.
For some reason I seem to always have lots of rhubarb in my freezer, in chunks, ready for stewing or making into this rhubarb and ginger chutney. You could substitute the fruit for apples or plums instead if rhubarb isn't your thing or you can't get your mitts on it. Or beetroot and onion relish is earthy and perfect for winter sandwiches. Do ensure you include a small cheese in the hamper. A chutney without cheese is a sad thing.
A granola is almost always a welcome gift at Christmas time. The season of excess feels ever so slightly less likely to induce gout when every day starts with some seeds, fruit and nuts. Pecan and hazelnut is a great combo. Almond and fig equally so. Pop it in a pretty jar with a ribbon for extra Kirstie Allsop points.
8) Cut out iced biscuits
These biscuits are very good for making those pretty cut outs. You can ice them to look like baubles, Father Christmas, candy canes; really just use your imagination or steal some ideas from Pinterest. The dough is very useful and if you have too much simply freeze it.
Make some cheesy or sesame breadsticks. Pretty much the perfect festive snack for munching on the sofa in front of old films. Perhaps provide some parma ham for the non veggies to wrap around theirs. Or if you're feeling in the mood to bake then this beery walnut bread is really lovely with yet more cheese.
10) Hot chocolate
Proper hot chocolate can only be made in one way, in my humble opinion, and that is with real chocolate. These hot chocolate sticks are very easy to make. Add whatever flavours you like - Aero for a mint chocolate stick or marshmallows or some ground hazelnuts.
Holly blogs at Recipes from a Normal Mum
Her first book is out now, also called Recipes from a Normal Mum