The second lockdown is easing as I write, but we’ve a long way to go. It’s so tempting to compare this Christmas to all the others in the past, but that would only make me sad: I’ve decided to treat this as a one-off, slightly muted event that will have its own quiet charm and be a lot less flashy, noisy and generally jolly than the ones we are used to.
Hopefully, by next Christmas things will be back to normal, although I’ve no doubt we will always be aware of just how much the world has been through in 2020, and hopefully count our blessings with a little more appreciation in the future. Mind you, I expect we’ll revert very quickly into taking things for granted, complaining about the traffic, or the weather - forgetting just how horrible its been not being able to hug our loved ones, or pop out to a café or cinema to be surrounded by strangers all enjoying themselves.
But we still have Christmas of a sort, and I’ve put together three little recipes which are fun to make, taste delicious and look pretty on the festive table. As usual, they all incorporate something from my range at Home Bargains, but nothing obscure that you couldn’t find somewhere else if necessary. Like so many people, I’ve continued to find baking a comfort during the past few months, and even the fiddle of turning out the jelly gave me something else to be irritated by instead of the news… You’ll find plenty of great ingredients at Home Bargains to make your Christmas cake, mince pies or other goodies, and mixes that can save time and trouble and make baking easy and fool-proof.
I do hope you have as enjoyable a time as possible and that you are treated by a loved one to a present, an afternoon film with your feet up or a glass of champagne - if not, be sure to try to treat yourself.
Love as ever
There are 3 recipes for you to enjoy this festive season.
Christmas Lemon and Lime Jelly
I’m not saying this is easy: all shaped jellies can be annoyingly tricky to get out of the moulds, but the pliable silicon does make it easier that the metal ones, although you will need to dip it a little longer in the hot water to free it. Finally, if it collapses in a quivery heap, at least it will taste good. The fresh fruit juice of course makes it far tastier than the shop bought packets, and I’ve used much less sugar than most jelly recipes will suggest: I like the slightly tart taste and it’s definitely healthier for all of us - especially the young
You will need a JA silicone Christmas Tree mould, a cake board (or large flat plate) and a baking tray that will fit in the fridge.
- 12 sheets leaf gelatine
- 3 limes
- 2 lemons
- 125g castor sugar
- Green food colouring
To decorate: 75ml double cream, icing, sweets, sprinkles or frosted cranberries: see Cranberry Red Velvet Cupcakes recipe.
Zest the limes and lemons (before you halve them to make the juice!) into a heatproof measuring jug. Add their juice and the sugar.
Put the gelatine sheets into a bowl and cover with cold water, leaving them for 5 minutes or so to soak. Boil the kettle and pour the hot water into the juice in the measuring jug up to the 800ml mark. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Leave to cool a little. Squeeze the surplus water out of the soaked gelatine and add to the warm juicy water. Stir until dissolved. Add a little green colouring, little by little.
Rinse out the silicone mould with cold water and put onto a baking tray (checking that you have room for it in the fridge). Fill about halfway up with the liquid jelly, then carry it carefully to the fridge and put it in. Add more of the liquid until it is up to the top, then leave for 6-8 hours or so to set.
Once the jelly is set firmly, fill the sink or a large basin with very hot water and dip the mould into it up to its top edge, holding it there for a few seconds. Take it out and test as to whether the jelly will come away easily from the mould by bending the edge away carefully with your hand. If not, dip it in the hot water for a few more seconds and try again.
Once you are happy that it is loose, place the board or plate, together with the baking tray, over the jelly and, holding them all together firmly , turn it upside down. Lift the mould carefully off the jelly… If some little bits get stuck in the mould, you’ll find you can carefully take them out and stick them quickly back onto the jelly tree.
Put the jelly back in the fridge until you are ready to decorate it with a little piped whipped cream, frosted cranberries, sweets or sprinkles (and I used some ready-to-use red icing to cover the tub)
Coconut Snowball Cookies
These are delicious little cookies and fun to make - if you can face the mess then the children will enjoy joining in - and they do look very cute on the Christmas table. If you have a set of measuring cups and spoons then you can use it for all the ingredients, and I made it all in a food processor, so it’s quick and easy to mix.
- 75g (1½ cups) Jane Asher desiccated coconut
- 8100g (1 cup) plain flour
- 125g (1¼) cups icing sugar
- 50g (heaped 1⁄3 cup) softened butter (I used spreadable)
- 1 tsp (5ml) vanilla extract
- 1-2 tbsps milk
Preheat the oven to 180 C/160C fan/gas mark 4. Put a generous third of the coconut into the processor and grind it for a few seconds until it’s a little finer. Add the flour and 25g (1⁄4 cup) of the icing sugar and pulse it to mix them together. Add the butter and vanilla and pulse again until the mix looks like crumbs.
Bring the mix together into a dough with your hands and roll into 10-12 little balls. Put them onto an ungreased baking tray and bake for about 15 minutes, when they will be firm on the outside but still a little chewy in the centres.
Let the cookies cool on a rack, while you make the icing. Mix the remaining icing sugar in a small bowl with the milk, being careful to add it little by little until the mixture is flowing but still thick. Sprinkle the remaining coconut on a piece of baking paper or foil. Using a cocktail stick stuck in the underneath, dip each cookie in the icing, letting the surplus drip off back into the bowl until there is a thin covering left on the cookie.
Roll it in the coconut until it is evenly covered. You may find you need to mould it a little with your fingers, and, although the bottom will be flat, you can shape the cookie into a rounder look by using the blade of a knife to tuck in the icing and coconut at the bottom edge. Leave the cookies for the icing to dry for half an hour or so. They will keep well in an airtight tin for a few days at least.
Cranberry Red Velvet Cupcakes
These are amazingly delicious: the red velvet cupcakes are wonderful to start with, but the tartness of the berries adds a fantastic new dimension, and they look so pretty with the frosted fruit topping.
- 1 packet JA Red Velvet Cupcake mix
- Eggs, oil, water and butter as on packet directions
- About 100g frozen cranberries (a generous cupful) plus 36 extra for decorating
- A few spoonfuls of caster sugar to frost the cranberries
First make the frosted cranberries: spread 36 onto a sheet of kitchen paper ad allow to thaw for fifteen minutes or so (replace the remaining cranberries in the freezer). Roll them around in the paper to dry them slightly. Sprinkle a couple of dessertspoonfuls of caster sugar onto a piece of foil or baking paper and tip the cranberries into it, then roll them around in the sugar. Put in a warm place to dry while you make the cakes.
Make up the cake mix as directed on the packet, then gently stir in the cranberries, straight from the freezer. Bake as directed.
Allow to cool completely on a rack, make up the icing and pipe swirls onto each cake, then top with the frosted cranberries.