With Christmas fast approaching, I thought it would be nice to look at ideas for making some special decorations for the tree as well as some edible goodies which will provide wonderful Christmas presents for friends and family.
I made these treats last year and they were a big hit with children and grown-ups alike. Our Christmas tree was surrounded by people admiring, touching and commenting on our eye-catching and original decorations. Children can be involved with making most of them - and they provide a refreshing break from the same old boring tinsel and baubles!
I hope these decorations and treats sound enticing enough for you to get in the kitchen and make them with the children. They are really simple, but a little planning beforehand is a good idea. Please take special care when using sharp knives and scissors and the spray paint, as there is always a risk of accidents.
I will start with the non-edible Christmas decorations for the tree. For these you need some fresh fruit and vegetables. To make a variety of decorations, choose a few different ingredients, lots of rich colours and a wide range of shapes.
You will need:
* Suggested fruits: Oranges, lemons, limes, pomegranates, cranberries, kumquats, kiwi fruit; the shells of passion fruit, and/or lychees * Vegetables: Chillies in a variety of colours, or tiny baby peppers in mixed colours, miniature globe artichokes or okra * Bakewell paper or greaseproof paper to line a baking tray * Metallic ribbon, gold, silver, or any bright festive colours * Spray paint: any colour, but the metallic gold and silver and a bright red work very well against the green foliage. Children's non-toxic paints or glitter paint or glue also work well.
Pre-set your oven to 150xC/gas mark 3. Once you have selected the fruits you want, take a sharp knife and slice the whole fruit of orange, lemon, lime, kiwi fruit and kumquat into 1cm thin slices with the skin left on. Do not make them too thin or too thick - you might need to experiment with each fruit until you are happy with the thickness. For example, the oranges can also be sliced in half again to make a semicircle. Once they have been sliced, place the fruit on a piece of Bakewell or greaseproof paper which you put on a baking tray. This is important - if you don't, the baking tray will discolour from the acidity of the fruit.
Put the fruit into the oven and allow it to dry out slowly. This will take approximately one to two hours depending on the thickness of the fruit and the heat of the oven. Once the fruit is partially dried out, remove it from the oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack. The fruits need to cool right down before children can paint or decorate them further.
Still not feeling festive yet? Well, now comes the creative part! This is the bit the children love and where the Christmas spirit starts. It's up to you whether you use spray paint, glitter stick or bright coloured paints. Decorate the fruit as the child likes, and thread some metallic ribbon in gold, silver or any bright Christmasy colours on to hang it with. The ribbon can be threaded through the flesh or peel of the fruit, or take a knife and make a small incision for a firm loop. Make sure that the ribbon is tied firmly through the fruit and is long enough to hang off the branches of the Christmas tree.
Grown-ups must do the cutting and spray painting, and paint in a well-ventilated room or outdoors for safety reasons. These decorations should last for several weeks, but if they start looking tired or not so fresh, you can always make some new ones.
For the vegetables, the same process applies, but it is not absolutely necessary to dry the vegetables out in the oven. The chillies, okra, and miniature globe artichokes can remain whole, and peppers can be cut in half or into quarters with the seeds removed but the stalk left on. You will need the stalk for threading up the ribbon to hang the decoration on the tree. The shiny skins of the chillies and peppers are often enough. They don't need the extra spray paint, just the glitter.
There are many different types of petits four, and this fudge is really popular with children of all ages. I have given some alternatives so that you can make fudge delights with white, milk or plain chocolate. To finish them, roll each delight in either hundreds-and-thousands, chocolate mini-flakes, or sugar or chocolate strands. This gives them an added sparkle and festivity.
Christmas fudge delights
Makes approximately 40 small balls
* 150g chocolate (white, milk or plain) l 50g butterl 1 teaspoon vanilla essencel 450g icing sugarl 4 dessertspoons full fat milk (approx) l 1 tub of hundreds-and-thousands, chocolate mini flakes, sugar or chocolate strandsl 40-50 decorative Christmas petits four cases 1 Take 150g of chocolate and break it up into squares. Place in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Do not allow the water to splash into the chocolate. Add 50g of butter to the chocolate and allow it to melt slowly, stirring occasionally.
2 Measure out 450g of icing sugar and siftit into a large mixing bowl.
3 Once the chocolate and butter has melted, remove from the heat and add one teaspoon of vanilla essence and stir well.
4 Pour the chocolate mixture into the sifted icing sugar and mix well. The mixture will start to come together slowly. Add one dessertspoon of milk at a time until the mixture comes together to form a stiff dough.
5 Using your hands, pick up a small amount of the mixture and roll into small, evenly sized balls. Take the hundreds-and-thousands and sprinkle them on to a plate. Roll each fudge ball around in the hundreds-and-thousands until they are completely covered. Place each finished ball into a small Christmas petit four case, and chill in the fridge to allow them to set.
To create more variety, the recipe can be halved and different chocolates used so that there is colour and variety for each person's present.
Leave the fudge in the fridge until you are ready for it to be packaged, wrapped, and given away. These sweets will last for at least two weeks if they are kept in the fridge. Finally, a small box or container decorated with Christmas paper, tin foil, and ribbon can make all the difference to the overall appearance and 'specialness' of this seasonal gift.
Have fun making your Christmas delights, and most importantly, have a wonderful festive season and a peaceful New Year!
Fiona Hamilton-Fairley is the principal of the Kids' Cookery School in London W3