With Christmas looming ahead, this weekend will be one big, fuzzy rush of last minute shopping and preparing. The best part of the festival is of course delicious treats, and preparing them at home is worth every bit of time and effort.
Handmade, artisan goodies are far superior than store bought ones and they are bound to touch the person they are gifted to because you made them.
‘Ease’ is a relative term
It might seem easier to just pick some packaged cakes and chocolates off a shelf, but buying also involves driving in traffic to
a crowded store and waiting in line at the billing counter. Now compare that with mixing some cookie dough batter, helping yourself to a few spoonfuls before popping the cookies into the oven and breathing in the beautiful smell wafting through your kitchen as they bake. All this while your favourite Christmassy tunes play in the background in the peaceful environment of your own home.
The recipes I share with you today can be put together by novices and seasoned chefs alike. And when the end result is gifted to someone, they will be impressed, regardless of how easy it was for you to make them.
Take these Chocolate Brandy Balls, for example. It takes a few hours for them to be prepared but the actual time that involves you actively doing any work is 15-20 minutes. The remaining time goes into the mixture and the balls sitting in the fridge. I initially thought I’d dip these balls into melted dark chocolate but the truffles are so delicious as they are that even that procedure seems unnecessary.
1 C Almonds
20 Soft Pitted Dates
2 T Good Quality Cocoa Powder
Pinch of Salt
¼ C Brandy
Grind the almonds into a fine powder.
Add the dates and grind again.
Add the cocoa powder and salt and grind some more to get a slightly
Add up to ¼ C of the brandy (a little at a time) and blend to get a
sticky dough that holds its shape.
Transfer to a bowl, cover and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Shape into balls, place on a plate and dust with cocoa powder.
Keep in the freezer for half an hour.
Tastier and Healthier
When it comes to the dilemma of buying vs. making, the simple fact that home made treats can be customised is enough to put them on a higher plane than store bought ones. To start with, homemade vegan goodies are filled with, at the risk of sounding trite, love. Plus, the hand picked ingredients tend to be healthier. Throw in the advantage that the flavours can be tweaked to suit a person’s tastes, one doesn’t really need to look for any more reasons to put away the reusable shopping bag and whip out the apron and oven mitts instead.
In my Vegan Gingerbread Cookies recipe, you can see that I have used whole, healthy, locally sourced ingredients. This didn’t keep them from being a huge hit among friends and family. The lack of unpronounceable chemicals, hydrogenated fats and animal based ingredients clearly makes these home made cookies a whole lot more delicious and healthier than the packaged kind.
1 C Organic Whole Wheat Flour
¾ C Bajra/Pearl Millet Flour
1 tsp Cinnamon Powder
10 Cloves (crushed to a fine powder)
¼ tsp Baking Soda
¼ tsp Salt
2 T Coconut Oil
¾ C Palm Sugar
1 T Water
1 T Instant Coffee Powder + 2 ½ T Water (whisked together)
1 T Freshly Grated Ginger
Sift together the dry ingredients and keep aside.
Cream together the coconut oil, palm sugar and 1 T water.
Whisk in the coffee+water mixture.
Stir in the grated ginger.
Add the dry ingredients and gently mix into a smooth dough.
Divide into two portions and wrap them in wax paper.
Freeze for half an hour.
Pre-heat oven to 190 C.
Grease a baking sheet/tray.
Remove one portion of the cookie dough and let it sit outside at room
temperature for 5 mins.
Roll into ¼ inch thickness and cut out shapes.
Or form the dough into a cylinder and make round slices.
Place the slices/shapes on the baking sheet without allowing them to
touch each other.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Transfer to a cooling rack and let them cool completely.
Store in an airtight jar.
Making magic with local ingredients
The time, effort and money invested into homemade goodies is a very flexible thing. From local ingredients to exotic ones, from simple treats that take less than half an hour to put together to desserts that can take a few days to come into being, the possibilities are endless. And they can all make a very good impression.
The Spiced Fig and Persimmon Chutney recipe below can be called exotic even though half its ingredients are easily available locally. It took me less than half an hour to make it. When stored in a clean, airtight jar in the fridge, it keeps for at least a week. But it’s so delicious that it is more likely to be eaten by the spoonfuls and finished within a couple of days. Unlike store bought spreads, this has no added sugar and no preservatives so you can afford to indulge because all you’ll be eating is fruit.
10 Dried Figs
1 inch Cinnamon Stick
Pinch of Salt
Pinch of Saffron
Wash and de-seed the persimmons.
Blend them to a pulp without using any water (it’s okay if some small
Cut the figs into small pieces and place them in a heavy bottomed pan
along with ¼ C water and a pinch of salt.
Stir and cook on a low flame for 5 minutes.
Add the cinnamon and cloves and stir well.
Add the persimmon pulp and keep cooking on a low flame for 15-20 mins
while stirring continuously, until the mixture starts lumping together
and leaving the sides of the pan.
Add the saffron and mix well.
Turn off the heat, cover and keep aside.
After it reaches room temperature, transfer to clean, airtight glass
jars and store in the fridge.
Easy on your wallet
The cost of the ingredients for the Spiced Fig and Persimmon Chutney adds up to Rs. 230. I cleaned and reused ten cute little glass jam jars that I had on hand to pack them. They make for adorable gifts! Little jars of store bought fruit preserves costs Rs. 30-40 each. Granted that those don’t need to be stored in the fridge and they last for longer than a week, but at about ⅔ the cost, my homemade Spiced Fig and Persimmon Chutney is a lot more than worth it.
The difference is a lot more gaping when it comes to the Chocolate Brandy Balls. The price of a dozen truffles can be anywhere from Rs. 350 for the poor quality, watered down, milk chocolate ones, which honestly don’t deserve being mentioned, to Rs. 500+ for their dark chocolate counterparts. The ingredients for the Chocolate Brandy Balls added up to Rs. 250 and I got 20 fairly large sized balls out of it! That comes to Rs. 150 for a dozen of them. If I had decided to dip them in high quality melted dark chocolate (with 75-85% cocoa content), it would’ve added another Rs. 100-150 at the most. So that’s Rs. 150-250 a dozen for rich, healthy, homemade dark chocolate truffles vs. Rs. 350-500 for sugar pumped commercial ones which don’t quite match up to the taste.
The Gingerbread Cookies cost me approximately Rs. 100 for the whole batch (including electricity for the oven). If you use regular Whole Wheat Flour instead of the Organic version and Brown Sugar instead of Palm Sugar, the cost will come down to around Rs. 70. The batch yields about 2 dozen large cookies or 4 dozen smaller ones. The same quantity of commercial cookies which are filled with unhealthy ingredients like all purpose flour, white sugar, milk solids, hydrogenated fats, ‘stabilisers’ and ’emulsifiers’ would cost around Rs. 60-120, depending on what kind you buy. So for about the same price or in the case of using organic ingredients, perhaps a wee bit more, your home made vegan cookies are better in more ways than one.
Another very important thing to consider is the ‘green’ angle of homemade vegan treats. For starters, when you make them at home and gift them to people, packaging that is harmful to the environment can be eliminated. Instead, one can use handmade paper boxes or reusable tins/glass jars or even simple brown paper bags tied with a ribbon.
There is also the option of using locally sourced and organic ingredients which are easier on the Earth. And, of course ,being vegan
in itself makes the treats so much more environmentally responsible than all the above put together.
Purely plant based foods mean less pollution all around. By choosing vegan, one can save land, fresh water, food and plant species. Vegan Homemade Treats definitely make the holiday season the celebration it deserves to be.
I will leave you with a really good, detailed info graphic by Culinary Schools explaining the impacts of the livestock industry (dairy,
eggs, poultry, fish, meat…) on the environment. Some of the details specifically mention the United States but they do apply to the rest of the world too, including India, to a very large extent.