Christmas Chocolate

Montage 1

I think I have to finally admit that Christmas is actually happening. Soon. Like, in a few days. Pretty soon I’ll be putting the out of office email reply on and heading down to Devon. It’s taken me a while to get in the festive spirit this year. Especially since the weather has been so warm (apparently there were colder days in May than in December – my current favourite weather anecdote). But after consuming more mulled wine than was probably good for me and listening to Annie Lennox’s rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen on repeat, I’ve finally got on board with the whole thing.

Montage 2

I usually make something edible as Christmas gifts. Last year it was honeycomb, and the year before that, florentines. Both of which featured relatively stressful processes involving sugar thermometers. Last year, I almost reached breaking point when making the honeycomb, covered in bits of glue-like caramel frantically trying to unstick the stubborn buggers from each other. So this year, I opted for something simple. I melted chocolate, spread it out on a tray and and covered it in stuff. Easy.

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Roasted Parsnip and Smoked Garlic Soup

Soup

I’ve recently returned to Bristol after a restorative and relaxing break visiting my parents in the countryside of Devon and Cornwall. The silence and peace that being a good twenty minutes from the nearest major road affords was much needed. It was lovely to spend time with family, and in my mind, there is too much talk of Christmas being about stuff, rather than people. That being said, carefully chosen presents are always appreciated. My stocking seemed to mostly contain food and food related items, including, of all things, smoked garlic. It was heavily wrapped in newspaper, so as to stop the pungent aroma permeating everything around it. I’m sure this is the modern, Ottolenghi version of a satsuma.

Garlic

Another memorable part of my Chirstmas was visiting my uncle and his family on Boxing Day. We turned up at 5pm, at which point there had been a good three hours of alcohol consumption already. My Mum and I proceeded to neck back the Prosecco at quite a rate, in a feeble (and futile) effort to catch up. When the general level of inebriation reached its peak, there was a particularly hilarious incident that stemmed from the suggestion of karaoke. It was then decided that we didn’t have a microphone, and so must find the requisite stand-in. This led to my uncle foraging through the salad drawer of the fridge to find suitable phallic-shaped vegetables to use as microphones. This included a parsnip, a carrot, a courgette, and, in a moment of desperation, a Romaine lettuce leaf. These were laid out on a tray for the unwitting karaoke performers to make their selection from. There was “Rocking around the Christmas tree” sung into a parsnip, and my personal favourite, ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” with the help of a long red pepper.

Roasting

Lots of food writers talk about how food can evoke memories. Diana Henry, for example, enthuses about how gooey cow’s milk cheeses take her back to snowy seasons in the Swiss Alps, scraping the cheese off slates with spoons whilst sitting by a roaring fire. The connection between the vegetable karaoke and this soup is slightly more tenuous, but I still had to suppress a chuckle as I was peeling the parsnips. The creaminess of the parsnips works well with the pungent hit of smoked garlic. If you can’t get smoked garlic (find your nearest fancy deli and it should have it), just use regular garlic. I think this recipe sums up my Christmas break rather well: wonderfully foodie stocking presents and parsnip microphones.

Soup 2

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Honeycomb Toffee

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I always try and make edible Christmas gifts. This decision, made in November, always seems like the easy, simple and relaxing option. Instead of braving the hordes of Christmas shoppers, I envision that I will be smugly ensconced at home, effortlessly whipping up batch after batch of delicacies. The reality, however, is always far from this. I end up leaving it until the last minute, then spend a couple of days covered in smudges of chocolate, trying to hold back the stress-induced tears.

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This year was no exception. I chose to make honeycomb, having read several recipes that insist it’s a piece of cake, only requiring three ingredients and a casual fifteen minutes. Having seen the process on Masterchef, including the rather showy moment when the bicarbonate of soda is whisked into the caramel and froths up spectacularly, I thought that this would provide the elusive balance of ease and impressiveness.

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Oh how wrong I was. I ended up trying several different recipes, no one of which quite provided the desired effect of crisp, crackling honeycomb. One batch made nowhere near the quantity I had expected, requiring a dash to Sainsbury’s midway through to replenish my stocks of golden syrup and sugar. Another batch set too soft, rendering a hasty re-labelling of the finished product as ‘burnt sugar toffee’ (so you’ll know if you’re a recipient of batch one). Finally I found a recipe that seemed to set close to the imagined crispness, but still took a fraught three hours to firm up, in which I couldn’t resist wandering over and prodding it every five minutes.

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The resultant stickiness of the soft, toffee-like honeycomb was slightly maddening, as it stuck to the kitchen cabinets, my socks, hair and pretty much everything else. I was prising bits out from between the sofa for the rest of the day. I slathered the end product, hastily titled ‘honeycomb toffee’ to account for said stickiness, in a generous amount of dark chocolate, the tied it up in cellophane bags. Finally, I sat down with a cup of tea, surveying the carnage that covered every surface of the kitchen, and wondering, as I do every year, whether simply ambling around the shops would be all that bad.

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