How to make edible gifts for the festive season


Edible gifts are a holiday essential, but a homemade batch of baked goods or candies will appeal to the foodie in everyone any time of the year. From expressing gratitude to a favourite teacher or the security guards in your housing area to welcoming the new neighbour, it’s hard to go wrong with something delicious and made with care.

We feature four edible gifts here. Choose each item with the recipient in mind. Someone who prefers savoury snacks, for example, will like cheese and Marmite crackers, while those with a sweet tooth will go crazy for the coconut dulce de leche – although this salty, sweet confection will probably have broader appeal. For the hot and spicy food lover, a jar of chilli oil is bound to make their day, and the coffee spice rub will be an ideal gift for the cook.

As with most gifts, presentation is important. With the environment in mind, let’s stay away from plastics and use eco-friendly and recycled materials instead.

This means that you’ll have to plan ahead and keep all those glass jars that used to hold your sauces, jams and pickles.

Got yourself a new smartphone? That box it came in will come in handy for packaging gifts.

The cardboard tube from a roll of kitchen paper (or toilet paper) can be turned into simple but sturdy gift boxes for small items, such as sachets of powdered or ground items.

Use baking or wax paper to wrap your gifts and get crafty with scissors, glue and the odd bit of string or ribbon. If you can sew, put together little drawstring bags.

Look up videos online on how to make origami sacks and boxes to hold your gifts. Instead of buying paper or cardboard, use pages from old glossy magazines and recycled cereal boxes.

Your edible gifts will not only come from the heart, they’ll also be unique and memorable.



CHILLI OIL

Makes 11/4 cups

2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns

4 tbsp red chilli flakes*

2 tbsp white sesame seeds

1-2 star anise

1/2 tsp five-spice powder

1 cup neutral oil

1 thin slice fresh ginger

1 tsp sesame oil

11/2 tsp salt, or to taste

Crush the peppercorns in a pestle and mortar. Combine the crushed peppercorns, red chilli flakes, sesame seeds, star anise and five-spice powder in a heatproof dish.

Pour the cold neutral oil into a small sauce pot and drop in the ginger slice. Bring the oil up to medium high heat. When the ginger turns golden brown (5-8 minutes), take the pot off the heat.

Remove the ginger and carefully pour the hot oil over the chilli mixture. Stir in the sesame oil and salt. Allow to cool.

Divide the chilli oil among jars. Make sure each jar has an equal amount of the solids.

* Make your own red chilli flakes: Deseed 2 cups of dried chillies. Rinse and dry the chillies well before grinding into a coarse powder.

Packaging idea: Tie a whole star anise or dried chilli around the glass jar.



CHEESE & MARMITE CRACKERS

Makes 4-5 cups

100g strong Cheddar (or another hard cheese)

100g plain flour

a generous grinding of black pepper

1 tbsp Marmite, or to taste

2-3 tbsp water

Cut Cheddar into cubes and place in a food processor. Pulse until fine. Add flour, black pepper and Marmite and process to combine. On a pulse setting, add just enough water so that the mixture forms clumps. Remove from the food processor and knead the clumps together into a smooth ball. Wrap in cling film and set aside for 30 minutes.

If mixing the dough by hand, finely grate the Cheddar and place in a bowl with the flour, black pepper and Marmite. Stir together until well combined. Stir in just enough water that the mixture comes together into a ball. Wrap in cling film and set aside for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven at 170ºC. Cut non-stick baking paper to fit your oven tray.

Divide the dough into two or three portions. Roll out one portion until very thin (see note below) and lay it on the baking paper. Using a sharp knife, score the dough into 2cm by 5cm strips (or as desired; the pieces don’t have to be even). The crackers do not need to be separated.

Carefully lift the paper onto the baking tray. Bake 7-8 minutes or until crisp. The crackers will shrink and blister slightly. Separate the crackers along the score line.

Repeat with the rest of the dough. Cool before storing in an air-tight container.

Note: To get a really thin dough, use a pasta machine. Roll out the sheets to a setting of 6 or 7. The crackers will cook much quicker, about 6 minutes.

Packaging idea: Keep the crackers crisp in air-tight jars. However, if you expect them to be eaten as soon as you present them to your recipients, wrap them tightly in wax paper and place the bundle in an attractive cardboard box or origami paper sack.



COCONUT DULCE DE LECHE

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

This is a local twist on the Latin American confection, dulce de leche (Spanish for “candy of milk”). Look online for recipes on how to make this sweetened caramelised milk with tinned condensed milk.

Here are just a few suggestions on how to use coconut dulce de leche: On ice cream or toast; as a dipping sauce for fruit; drizzled over cake or added to frosting; stirred into coffee; swirled through a brownie or cheesecake batter; and – probably the best way – scooped straight out of the jar and into your mouth!

The dulce de leche keeps for up to a month in an air-tight container in the fridge.

500ml coconut milk (fresh, box or can)

150g palm sugar, grated

1 tsp salt

There are three ways to make the coconut dulce de leche.

Stove-top method: Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Turn down the heat to medium low and gently simmer the mixture. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the mixture has thickened but is still pourable, 30-40 minutes. Take off the heat. It will thicken further as it cools. When completely cool, store in an air-tight jar in the refrigerator. If it becomes too firm, microwave the jar or place it in a bowl of hot water to loosen.

Slow-cooker method: Place all the ingredients into a slow-cooker. Cover and turn on the cooker to high. When beads of steam start to form on the lid, remove the lid and leave the pot open. Continue cooking the mixture, stirring occasionally until thickened, 40-50 minutes.

Microwave method: This method cuts the cooking time down to about 18 minutes but you need to keep an eye on the mixture and as it tends to bubble up. Use a large microwaveable bowl. The mixture should not come more than halfway up the sides of the bowl.

Put all the ingredients in the bowl and cook on Medium on 2-minute intervals, whisking in between. Towards the end of cooking, the mixture may get lumpy, but keep on whisking and it will smooth out.

Packaging idea: Spoon into glass jars with air-tight lids. Tie a small spoon to the jar if you like. Add a label and include a ”best by” date.



COFFEE SPICE RUB

Makes 6 (2 tbsp) sachets

2 tbsp garlic powder

2 tbsp medium-grind ground coffee

2 tbsp paprika

2 tbsp onion powder

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp cayenne pepper

2 tsp corn starch

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until well-combined. If not packing the gifts immediately, store the rub in a well-sealed container in the fridge.

Packaging idea: Cut the cardboard tube from a kitchen paper roll into 9-10cm lengths (or use a whole toilet paper tube). Decorate with wrapping paper (or leave it bare for a rustic look). Flatten the roll and fold in the ends of both sides to form a pillow-shaped gift box.

Scoop 2 tablespoons of the spice rub onto a small piece of wax paper and fold to secure. Place the sachet into the gift box. Alternatively, use small skinny bottles or test tubes.

Tie string or ribbon around the box with a recipe card and instructions (example):

Coffee-Rubbed Roast Chicken Thighs

Clean and dry 500g of bone-in chicken thighs. Apply the rub all over the chicken, including under the skin. Place the thighs on a baking tray and roast at 230ºC until cooked, 20-25 minutes.

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