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Baking gifts

Last night I attended the first of this years “Christmas” gatherings. It was an “end of year” dinner for a small group of friends. There are quite a few coming up in the next weeks and some of them have Kris Kringle arrangements, where you have to bring a wrapped $10 present, and it’s a lucky dip as to who gets what.  

This year my plan is to bake for the KKs. There’s not a lot you can get for $10 —often it’s just “stuff” you don’t really need or want, and in the past I’ve wasted a lot of time wandering through shops unable to find anything I like.  

My godmother (who came to us every year for Christmas and Easter) always used to bring a tin containing her home-made biscuits. They were yummy and we always looked forward to eating them. So this year I’m following her example and buying pretty tins or boxes and filling them with home-baked cookies (or biscuits as we call them here.) 

Yesterday my KK was a tin of acetani biscuits, which I blogged about a few weeks ago. I’m also planning to make either Melting Moments  (pictured above) or Yo-Yo biscuits. They’re small, melt-in-the-mouth biscuits sandwiched together with some kind of icing mix — my favorites are lemon and passionfruit. Yo-Yos and Melting Moments are very similar — the main difference is that the Yo-Yo ingredients  include custard powder. The photo above is from this site, which has the recipe.

I also made my first batch of Christmas Crack, which I make every year, and I took several small bags along to last night’s dinner — one for each person. Basically it’s a buttery toffee, baked over a layer of salted crackers, then topped with a layer of chocolate, and finally sprinkled with toasted flaked or slivered almonds. 

It’s delicious and quite easy to make and these days a lot of my friends expect it. There is no reason why it needs to be a Christmas recipe, but it’s now become one  of my annual traditions. 

There are recipes all over the web, but you can find mine here, along with a few other recipes for food I give at Christmas.

I also have a yen to make Garibaldi biscuits, which I’ve never made before.  They’re popular in the UK, Australia and NZ. They’re flat, with a thin layer of sweet pastry, a layer of currants and another layer of pastry. When I was a kid, we used to call them “squashed fly biscuits” but despite the name, they’re yummy. The photo on the right is from this site, which also gives the recipe.

I’m very fond of currants and I also have a yen to make Eccles cakes, which I’ve eaten but never baked myself. I’ll probably try this recipe, which looks quite straightforward. There are more on the web, including this one that looked great, but it recommends that you render lard, and make your own candied peel. I might make the candied peel, but don’t think I’d bother rendering lard. But who knows? If I make that recipe (sans lard) I’ll let you know, because it does look excellent.

I really enjoy baking, but I hardly ever do it, because if I bake, I know I’ll end up eating more biscuits than I usually allow myself (which is generally none), so it’s lovely to have an opportunity to bake things, try one or two, and give the rest away.

What about you — do you bake things or make gifts for the festive season? And which of the above biscuits would you prefer to receive?

Rice paper rolls

Every now and then, usually in spring or summer, when I want something fresh but a little different, I make rice-paper rolls. I’m not all that good at rolling them yet, but I am getting  a little better. At least they don’t fall apart when I bite into them, the way they did when I first tried. I think I was trying to put too much filling in them, but now I think I’ve reached the ‘just right’ amount. I also don’t soak the rice paper too long. I’ve learned that it continues to soften after you’ve wet it, and if it’s too wet, it’s hard to handle.

These are not exactly the traditional Vietnamese ones — I generally use whatever I have in the fridge so;  grated carrot, lettuce, slivers of capsicum and cucumber, sometimes an egg (which I cook into a flat pancake kind of thing first and slice up) and whatever noodles I have handy.  

Sometimes I use soba noodles, but today I used angel’s hair pasta, and I also used up some caviare I had leftover from making stuffed eggs the other day — you can see the black speckles in some of them. I also only had coriander (cilantro) on hand, so not many herbs this time — usually I’ll use basil and mint as well. 

These are vegetarian, but I’m planning to take some to a “bring a plate lunch” soon, and will probably make some with smoked salmon and avocado, and the various salad bits. The ones with caviare and egg and salad were lovely, but not everyone likes fish eggs.

They’re a little bit fiddly, but once you have the ingredients sliced or grated, they’re quite quick and fun to make so I enjoy making them. And eating them, of course.  It doesn’t take long, and on hot days it’s nice not to have to use the stove.


My lemon tree is laden with fruit and I’ve been using lemons as often as I can. I love them. I’ve also given quite a few to friends.

The other night I had guests for dinner and I made a lemon tart, which was very yummy. I served it with home-made blueberry sauce and ice cream. 

I forgot to take a photo of it. And though there was still quite a large piece left, when a friend dropped around the following day, we each had a slice for afternoon tea, and she took the rest home to feed to her husband and son.

I’ve squeezed a few and frozen the juice, as I like it when I have just a glass of water. I’ve also frozen some slices of lemon, as they look pretty in drinks, as well as adding a nice freshness.

I’ve made several dishes — a curry and a chicken casserole — that used lemon juice and zest of lemon (the peel) in them. And I’ll probably make osso buco soon which I always top with gremolata, which is a mix of lemon zest and finely chipped parsley and garlic, served raw — just mixed together. It’s delicious and only takes a few minutes to make. In fact I make gremolata to go with a lot of stew-type dishes but it’s also yummy with fish dishes. You can read more about it here.

I’m using them as fast as I can because it won’t be long before the possums sniff them out. Last year they nibbled off the entire peel of the lemons, leaving the fruit hanging on the tree, naked. You can read about it here.

I also like making lemon drizzle cake. There are heaps of recipes around, but since I have a gluten intolerant friend visiting soon, I’ll probably make the cake from this recipe. Almond meal (which is just ground almonds) makes a surprisingly moist cake. Alternatively I might try this recipe, which looks delicious and is also gluten-free. I made limoncello last year so I can use that, too.

What’s your favorite thing to do with lemons?