By Phillippa Spence
From 22nd December until at least New Year’s Day, my parents’ kitchen becomes my festive laboratory. As soon as my suitcase is unpacked and the presents are under the tree I lock myself away, happily churning out spiced and sweet treats for anyone that might be coming round.
Everyone who knocks on the kitchen door is given a sample of some kind of hot toddy, thrust a warm mince pie or sausage roll, and then ushered back out if they hang around too long. I love when the relatives or friends arrive and they are greeted with the scent that glides around the cold air, wrapping them in a warm hug of rich and zesty tidings before they’ve even stepped through the door.
Mull it over
Key to all that is mulled cider or wine, which is the perfect hot treat to greet any pink-cheeked drop-ins. All you need to do is pick the right spices and give everything enough time to infuse beautifully (about an hour just ticking away on the hob). Jamie has the perfect recipe for mulled wine and cider (just replace cider with apple juice for the non-alcoholic version). This is when the spices take centre stage: cinnamon sticks, gratings of whole nutmeg, power-packed cloves, liquoricey star anise and lots of vanilla and citrus – it’s the smell and taste of Christmas in a nutshell. Mulled cider is my favourite as it feels a bit lighter (plus it’s easier to get out of the cream carpet – sorry Mum!). I like to add a thumb sized piece of peeled fresh root ginger to my mulled cider. Give it a bash with a rolling pin before you add to the pan to release its warming glow.
Sugar and spice
A really simple way of adding some festive fairy dust to your meals is to make your own spiced sugar and salt. Simply grind your chosen spices with a little sugar or salt to release the flavours and colours, then mix in the rest of the white stuff. Jars of this make brilliant homemade gifts too – just make a personalized label and pop it under the tree.
For sugar, try ground cinnamon or sticks, ground allspice or anise. You could then mix it all up with some finely grated citrus zest, bashed up fresh bay leaves, thyme or rosemary for even more flavour and aroma. Keep it in a jar and use it to sprinkle over fresh, warm biscuits, mince pies and popcorn, dust a little over a decadent cream-topped hot chocolate, or even roll homemade chocolate truffles in it. While we’re on the topic, if you’re making ganache-based truffles, try infusing the cream with bashed up whole spices before pouring over the chocolate – amazing.
The same method applies for making spiced salts, which are amazing for adding flavour to festive roasts and leftovers – just choose your favourite spices or herbs. You can use it as a seasoning, or add layers of dried herbs and spices to make a festive rub. For example, a Chinese five-spice and chilli salt would cut brilliantly through roast duck or goose. You could also mix a little flavoured salt with homemade quick pickles like finely sliced cucumbers and onion, and serve with slow cooked beef or Boxing day cold cuts and cheese.
The possibilities are endless, really easy and help make your spices go a little further. Share your festive spicy tips below and let us know how you get on experimenting…