When I was younger, I used to visit all my aunties in the run-up to Christmas. They were fabulous strong women and their houses were always welcoming to go into. There would be a box of Quality Street on the go, a drink of something dark and syrupy (I never did find out what it was but it tasted delicious) and we would perhaps share one of the decidedly wonky homemade mince pies I had made with my mum beforehand and proudly offered.
I always left them feeling better for having shared some festive cheer, and cosy in the knowledge that Christmas really was on its way.
Remembering my childhood Christmases a sudden thought came to me; this year my children and I are going to make the vast majority of those Christmas presents we give, and we too will put time aside in the Christmas holidays to visit Godparents, aunts and uncles and deliver them personally.
So, yes it will take a bit more thought and a bit more planning – but surely that is better than buying things in mild panic as the big day approaches and also in these times of austerity it will be a much cheaper, as well as much more thoughtful, gift-giving exercise.
Money-saving to the last, I have also started doing what my mother did and I swore I never would – saving beautiful wrapping paper if it's still good enough to re-use. So my husband's birthday presents yesterday saw me lightly whipping the tissue paper from under his nose as he oohed and arrhed at his presents.
An additional beauty of food gifts at Christmas is that they can be delivered in advance, thereby saving you from all those last-minute late night frantic wrapping sessions, and also there is no harm to be had in encasing Uncle Peter's ginger cake in cellophane and secured with a piece of ribbon – a much more attractive, and frankly cheaper, alternative to Christmas gift wrap.
My youngest daughter is now busy rescuing jars from the recycling boxes in our neighbours' front gardens – we will use these for presenting the white chocolate fudge we intend to make (see recipe below).
I am also circling a few Saturday and Sunday afternoons when we can get busy in the kitchen, because of course whilst nothing beats a freshly baked cake, since we are all about saving stress as well as money, what better cheat than to make ahead and freeze. Come December we'll be putting our feet up.
Anyway, enjoy seeing the look of pure joy on your relatives' faces when you and your brood arrive with a home-made treat – something a bag of shop bought smellies just can't beat.
Get baking your Christmas presents!
Two fool-proof recipes which will keep your kids amused; one can be frozen and one can be kept in an airtight container up to two months before it's eaten.
Either will keep the recipients feeling very special indeed.
This recipe makes two cakes
150g unsalted butter
1 tsp dried cinnamon
1 tsp powdered ginger
1 tbsp black treacle
3 tbsp golden syrup
125 g soft dark sugar
1 dessertspoon grated ginger
250ml full-fat milk
2 large free-range eggs
300g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, dissolved in 2 tbsp warm water.
1. Preheat oven to 170C/325F/GM3.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the cinnamon and powdered ginger. Cook gently for a couple of minutes, then add the treacle, golden syrup, sugar and grated ginger.
3. Whilst these are melting, mix together the milk and eggs and put the flour in another separate bowl.
4. Mix together the bicarbonate of soda and warm water.
5. When the butter mixture has melted, mix in the flour and milk/eggs mix.
6. Then put all the wet ingredients (including the bicarbonate mixture) over the flour and mix well with a balloon whisk.
7. Divide between two non-stick 2lb cake tins and bake for 45 mins.
White chocolate chip fudge
500g golden caster sugar
500ml double cream
3 tbsp liquid glucose (available from most supermarkets and chemists)
140g white chocolate, cut into chunks but not too small).
1. Line a 22cm square non-stick tin with baking parchment.
2. Put the sugar, cream and glucose in a pan and slowly heat together, stirring continually, until the sugar melts and doesn't feel grainy on the bottom of the pan.
3. Then turn up the heat and boil until a small amount of the liquid dropped into a glass of cold water sets into a soft ball that you can pick up on a teaspoon. By this time the bubbles in the mixture should look small and even.
4. Now turn off the heat and keep stirring for five minutes or until the mix starts to thicken a little.
5. Sprinkle in the white chocolate and swirl it through the mixture once using a spatula or the handle of a wooden spoon.
6. Pour into the tin and leave the fudge to set overnight, then turn out and cut into squares.
This can be made up to two months in advance and keeps perfectly well in an airtight container. It may be quite hard not to eat it all before you give it away though.
Happy cooking Christmas!
We have lots more festive recipes including mince pies in our Christmas section.