Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Homemade Holidays

Phew, what a dizzying few days-weeks-months it's been.  As usual, I've driven myself into the ground with my own demands and expectations, and I'm exhausted from it (but happy).  I'm just getting over the flu, but managed to co-host 3 dinner parties this month, made and packaged a small mountain of gifting goodies, and now all the freshly sewn stockings are hung, the first-Christmas-tree-I've-ever-owned-in-my-life is decorated and lit, and all the presents are wrapped and ready for tomorrow.  I can't help but feel like I've accomplished something pretty great, and I'll bet anything that I'm not alone.  Cheers to us, friends and comrades, for pulling off a good year.

The unfortunate part is that during all the chaos and commotion, I didn't stop to take any photos.  Only just one from today's cookie making session, of the funny looking Siamese triplet cookie that resembles my family.  First 2015 resolution: take more photos.  More better photos.

For future reference, here's a list of holiday gifting edibles I made, with cook's notes:

  • A jar of chestnut spread (confiture de marron), for my gluten-free, food loving friend.
    After a couple of hours of work boiling and shelling the nuts, I froze them for a couple of weeks until I was ready to make the spread, to ensure the longest fridge life possible.  I used a ratio of about 60% unshelled chestnuts and 40% white sugar, cooked with water and vanilla extract for about 20 mins.  About 2-3 lbs of shelled chestnuts made just over 2 x 250mL jars of spread.  The spread itself was delicious, but it's a lot of work for a little bit of spread.
  • Eight packages of strawberry pate de fruits, for my co-workers.
    Never again will I use pectin.  I used a whole bag of thawed frozen strawberries (600g), reduced the sugar (400g), and used pectin crystals (about 3/4 package).  After the whole process was done and waiting a few hours for it to set, it turned out to be still liquidy, so I'm now using it as refrigerator jam. Next day: same thing, but increased sugar (500g) and pectin (1-1/4 package).  The pate set, but it was quite soft still, and tasted less like candy and more like, well, jam.  I cut and rolled the pieces in sugar, packaged them up into gifts, and gave each one out with an explanation and apology.
  • Five packages of mixed cookies (ginger cookies and milk chocolate chip sables), for my neighbors and friends.
    After my candy making fiasco (see pate de fruits), I decided to stick with what I know best: baking.  The ginger cookies were soft and chewy, but a bit flat-shaped; I opted to substitute shortening for butter, light molasses for dark (blackstrap), and 2/3 the brown sugar for white. Rolling the top in coarse sugar is recommended, instead of regular granulated sugar.  Turns out those milk chocolate chip sables (substitution of cocoa nibs for chopped milk chocolate) are the perfect small treat with coffee; I just can't figure out how to make them shape well and not flatten out at the base.  Sharper knife, perhaps?
  • Four small Christmas cakes, for serving at dinners and as host gifts.
    After years of wanting to make a proper Christmas cake (at least 1 month of aging with regular 'feedings' of booze), I finally carved out some time to do it this year early on.  I loved the process of mixing in all those dried fruits, baking the loaves for hours, and checking on them every few days.  A little like nurturing a living being of sorts.  All the while I seemed to have forgot the part about most people not being all that fond of Christmas cake (despite this one being homemade and yummy), and so I had a tough time finding the right people to accept this sort of gift.
  • One batch of oatmeal trail-mix cookies, as a Christmas Eve family activity and to leave out for Santa.
    At 11 am this Christmas Eve morning, my partner suggests we make cookies with my daughter when she gets home from daycare after lunch, to put out for Santa.  I'm torn about the whole Santa story, but I'm sold immediately on making cookies.  We have ingredients on-hand for my favourite oatmeal cookie recipe.  She helps us mix the batter and shape the cookie balls as best as a two-year old knows how.  A Christmas tradition is born.

As for gift packaging, all were wrapped quite simply: cookies in brown coffee bags with a gold ribbon, mini red ball tree ornament, and green gift tag.  Pate de fruits stacked in small clear cello bags with a green wrappped cardboard base, tied with a gold ribbon.  Chestnut spread in a glass jar, fabric covering the lid, tied with twine, and a label and gift tag attached.  Again, no photos, you just have to trust me.  I'll be better next time, promise.

Happy holidays to all, and to all a good night!


  1. Great job (but yes, pics would be nice, lol)! You're able to be productive even when you're sick!!

    Chestnut spread sounds yummy. I just saw that Galleria sells peeled fresh chestnuts, maybe that would save some time?

    1. Yeah it's kind of a fault of mine... I don't know how to relax :(

      Buying peeled fresh chestnuts would VERY much be a time-saver! But the cost must be tremendous. I think the ones I bought (shell-on) were less than $5/lb.

    2. i'm sure you know how to relax, just set high standards :)