Pretty special gifts, mulled wine kits and florentines

Yikes…I thought all was going swimmingly on the Christmas gift and preparation front but it is a fact (possibly not actually…a fact..) that time speeds up in the week before Christmas so that however you plan you just seem to be dashing around like a headless chicken at the last minute. I’ve tried the list making (always good) and the slow, deep breathing there is still an edge of panic creeping up on me.

I was, of course, planning to make loads of edible gifts for my loved ones and some of the ideas have already been ditched but these  can be made quickly.

The Mulled wine ‘kit‘ can perk up a bottle of wine and usually falls into the gift category of ‘need to get them something but they are difficult to buy for…and I actually don’t want to spend that much’. I know you have lots of these dilemmas.

The Florentines, on the other hand fall in to the gift category of ‘I really want to give them something special that they will love and show that I have spent time (in very short supply at the moment as we have discussed) in lovingly making these gorgeous Italian biscuits. They are a pretty Christmassy mix of dried fruit, candied peel, cherries and nuts held together loosely with caramel and then dipped in plain chocolate. I only make them at Christmas and so are more special because of this. Fortunately they don’t keep very well with a tendency to go soggy so you have to eat them asap-no good for putting under the Christmas tree



Makes 3 sachets

6 x 20.5cm square pieces of white muslin

125g Demerara sugar

12 whole cloves

15 whole allspice

3 x 30cm lengths string or ribbon

3 large bay leaves

3 cinnamon sticks

3 star anise


1.  Lay out 3 muslin squares and put another 3 on top.

2.  Divide the sugar between the 3 squares. Add 4 cloves and 5 allspice to each pile.

3.  Gather up the edges and tie with string/ribbon.

4.  With a thick needle or similar make 2 holes in the centre of the bay leaf. Thread the string through and secure the cinnamon stick and the star anise to each bundle. Tie at the ends to make a loop.

To gift wrap:

Hang each bundle around a bottle of medium red wine. Attach a lable with the serving instructions:

To make the extra special mulled wine…Pour the wine into a large pan. Add a few slices of lemon and a few of orange. Add the spice sachet. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 15 minutes. Leave to cool a little and then serve.




50g unsalted butter

50g caster sugar

50g mixed walnuts and almonds, finely chopped

15g sultanas (chopped finely)

15g soft, ready to eat apricots, finely chopped*

Approx 8 red glace cherries, finely chopped

1 tbsp plain flour


75g good quality plain chocolate


1.  Line 2 baking trays with a silicone based baking paper Heat oven to 180C.

2.  Melt the butter in a roomy pan. Add the sugar and let it dissolve. Boil for about a minute and then take off the heat.

3.  Stir in the nuts, sultanas, apricots and cherries. Add a tbsp. of flour.

4.  Put a heaped teaspoon of the mixture on the trays allowing plenty of room for the mixture to spread. Bake for about 10 minutes until they are golden brown. You may have to do this in 2 batches.

5.  Whilst they are still warm use a knife to push them into a roundy shape. Leave on the trays until cool and then transfer to a wire tray. (if they solidify before you can shape them just put them back in the oven for about 30 seconds.

6.  When they are completely cool you can add the chocolate. Melt the plain chocolate carefully either in a small bowl over water or in a microwave. Taking each biscuit you can either brush chocolate over the entire back or just dip all the edges into it. The chocolate on the back does make it less likely to break up. Leave to cool on baking paper.

7.  Store in an airtight tin interleaving with foil.



*or chopped mixed peel-chop it up a bit more than in the tub.

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