Last year I made a pact with myself to start making more of the presents I was giving in an attempt to reduce the amount of things I bought at Christmas. It’s not that I don’t love the huge array of things out there to buy, but that it just feels so much more satisfying to give someone something you’ve had a part in creating. It doesn’t need to be something grand or all that elaborate, I think it’s just nice for it to be something you spent time on.
Each year I make large batches of chutney to include with my friend’s and family’s Christmas presents. I try and do this a few months in advance to a) get it out of the way, b) make use of particular fruit being in plentiful supply and c) allow the flavours to mellow. As Christmas starts to draw closer and the presents start to be given I like to add some kind of baked good in there too.
Through trial and error over the year I’ve settled on biscotti being the perfect gift. Some years I’m in the mood for something citrusy and others for something involving a little more chocolate. (Next year’s is going to be chocolate orange, I’ve already decided.)
It keeps perfectly well for days and when combined with a tin of tea leaves, a bag of freshly roasted coffee or a bottle of something is the perfect last minute gift for someone. No matter how hard we try there’s always someone we didn’t think we’d see but now seemingly will or maybe even someone who got you a present you entirely weren’t expecting. This is where the biscotti and the coffee come in.
This year I played around with adding herbs to the mix before finally settling on Lemon, Thyme & Pistachio. When you’re done simply add a good handful to a bag, tie up with string and add a label.
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150g plain flour
125g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
Zest of 2 lemons
100g dried apricots
150g unshelled (and unsalted) pistachios
A handful of thyme sprigs
2 tbsp milk
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees fan.
In a bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and lemon zest. Once this is done set it to one side and roughly chop the apricots and pistachios – you want to be able to see the colours from both as you slice the biscotti. Pick the leaves from the sprig of thyme and add them to your flour mixture and stir in the apricots and pistachios.
In a separate bowl lightly beat eggs and milk together before adding to the dry mix. Fork through until it starts to clump together before getting your hands in and bringing together into a dough. If it feels a little too sticky add a fraction more flour.
Tip the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and need briefly to make sure all of your fruit and nuts are combined. Split the dough into two equal balls, roll into a fat sausage and place each on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Once it’s on the sheet you can perfect the shaping, don’t worry. You’re looking for them both to be around 20cm long and 6cm or so wide. The mixture should be playable so shape as you will.
Bake the biscotti in the oven for 25-30 minutes. In this time you’ll see it will have risen and spread out slightly, along with taking on a soft golden colour.
Remove from the oven and careful transfer the loaf to a chopping board by just picking up the greaseproof paper. With a serrated bread knife cut the loaf diagonally into 1cm thick slices.
When both loaves are slices, lay the pieces out flat on the baking trays and return to the oven. As you do turn the temperate down to 130 degrees fan and bake for 10 minutes before flipping the biscotti over and baking for a further 5 minutes.
When you take the biscotti out of the oven it should be firm and crisp but when pressed still retain a slight toast-like texture when pressed. Transfer to a rack to cool down before packaging up the biscotti in little bags or glass jars.