Christmas is a time for giving - and what is more satisfying than a gift that has been home-made with love? It is a fabulous excuse to make the treats we allow ourselves only at this festive time. Panforte is a chewy, delicious Italian fruitcake made with honey, sugar, nuts, chocolate and fruit.
Traditionally, it is dusted with icing sugar and served with strong black coffee. It can also make a decadent dessert. Served in thin wedges, a little goes a long way. I have made a big one here, but you could cook the recipe in two portions and make two gifts. Be sure not to overcook. You want it to be quite soft when removed from the oven; it will harden as it cools.
Specialty shops and some Asian stores sell edible rice paper. Use this to line the bottom of the tin and it can stay there once cooked. Well wrapped, the panforte will stay fresh for weeks, but once sliced I guarantee it won't last long at all.
From Italy we move to Germany for a wholesome stollen. This is scrumptious served plain or with butter, or toasted spread with the marzipan from the centre - yummy. Again, you could make a smaller version if you prefer.
Finally, I love traditional English cheese straws. Bundled up, they make a great gift. My aunts love being given these as they are perfect with an evening tipple.
Get the children involved in the art of making and giving. If you prefer, leave out the chilli or use cheddar instead. I think the first version of these I made as a child consisted of cheese and Marmite. I don't think many were wrapped for presents: we ate most of them hot from the oven.
The final touch is coming up with creative ways to wrap and present your homemade gifts, which will always be appreciated for the effort that goes into them (plus it's great for the budget, too).