Sugar and spice: Mark Hix's sweet treats make perfect gifts for friends and family


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Indy Lifestyle Online

We all indulge a bit over the festive period, and it's nice to have a few little sweet treats to hand for when relatives and friends drop by or to just leave on the table after Christmas lunch so that people can help themselves when they feel peckish. Home-made chocolates and sweets also make great, economical little gifts for family and friends, simply wrapped up in little cellophane packets with a ribbon.

Talisker whisky truffles

Makes about 20

I made these to go with coffee when I hosted a Talisker whisky evening at Fish House a couple of months ago. Chocolate and whisky are perfect partners and for the evening I made half of the truffles without the alcohol and the other half spiked with Talisker – and guess which ones got the thumbs up?

700g good-quality dark chocolate, finely chopped (reserve 250g for coating)
400ml double cream
200g unsalted, softened butter
100ml Talisker whisky (or other whisky)
60-80g good-quality cocoa powder

Bring the cream to the boil, remove from the heat and gradually stir in 500g of the dark chocolate with a whisk until it has melted and the mixture is smooth, then stir in the butter and whisky. Transfer the mixture into a bowl and leave to cool in the fridge (about 1-1 hours) until firm enough to spoon into rough shapes.

Line a tray with clingfilm and spoon the mixture into roughly shaped blobs on the clingfilm. Leave to set in the fridge for a couple of hours until firm. Then melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring every so often. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes. Sift the cocoa powder on to a tray and have a third clean tray ready for the finished truffle. Using a thin skewer or cocktail stick, dip them quickly into the melted chocolate, ensuring as much excess as possible drains off, then put them into the cocoa powder, shaking the tray so they become coated.

When you have about 10-12 coated truffles, shake off the excess cocoa with your hands and then transfer them to the clean tray. Store them in the fridge in a container lined with kitchen paper until they are required, and make sure that you bring them out of the fridge half an hour or so before serving. Don't keep them for more than a month.

Mini pumpkin tarts

Makes 20

Try to find a ripe orange-fleshed pumpkin, but if you can't then you can always use a butternut squash instead – the butternut variety tend to be more consistent in terms of their flavour and ripeness.

You can buy these great little canapé cups in good supermarkets and delis which makes life quick and simple for cocktail parties.

20 mini canapé pastry cases
40 or so pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted and dusted with icing sugar

For the filling

500g orange-fleshed, ripe pumpkin, or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into rough chunks
tsp ground cinnamon
tsp mixed spice
A good knob of butter
100 ml double cream
80g golden syrup

Preheat the oven to 190C/gas mark 5. Put the pieces of pumpkin in a roasting tray with the cinnamon and mixed spice and the butter.

Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes until soft, giving the occasional stir. Take out, drain and cool in a colander. Blend the pumpkin in a liquidiser or food processor until smooth.

Bring the cream to the boil, mix with the golden syrup and leave to cool, then mix with the pumpkin.

Spoon the pumpkin mix into the tart cases up to the top and bake for about8-10 minutes until the filling has just set. Serve warm with pumpkin seeds on each.

Chocolate-dipped Brazils

Makes about 30

You need just two ingredients, quality Brazil nuts and good chocolate, for this fabulous snack. Flavour-wise they will be far superior to the shop-bought variety.

30 good sized, shelled Brazil nuts
250-300 good quality dark chocolate, chopped into pieces

Put the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of simmering water until melted, stirring every so often. Have a cake rack ready over a sheet of cling film or a tray. Dip the Brazils into the melted chocolate a few at a time, then remove with a fork, tapping it on the side of the bowl to encourage the excess chocolate to run back into the bowl and carefully place on the wire rack. Place the rack in the fridge for 30 minutes, remove the nuts from the rack and store in an airtight container in a cool place. Eat within a week.

Macchiato brûlées

Serves 10

I used Pacamara coffee from the Montecarlos Estate in El Savador, from the Starbucks Reserve Range that we serve at Selfridges; it has chocolate and citrus notes.

For the coffee mix

3 egg yolks
30g caster sugar
110ml double cream
110ml milk
30g Pacamara ground coffee

For the topping

100 ml milk
1tsp caster sugar
1 egg yolk
1tsp cornflour
100ml double cream, semi-whipped
Golden caster sugar, to glaze

Preheat the oven to 150C/gas mark 2. Make the coffee mix first: whisk the egg yolks and sugar. Meanwhile in a saucepan mix the cream, milk and the coffee, bring to the boil and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Add this to the egg mixture and stir well. Pour it through a fine strainer, to remove the coffee grounds, and then into espresso cups to two-thirds of the way up.

Stand the cups in a bain-marie of hot water in a deep roasting tin; cover them with foil. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until just set. Remove the cups from the bain-marie, allow to cool; store in the fridge. Meanwhile prepare the topping: bring the milk to the boil. Mix the sugar and egg yolk in a bowl then stir in the cornflour. Pour the boiling milk on to the egg mixture and whisk together.

Return the mixture to the pan over a low heat for 1 minute, stirring constantly until it thickens. Pour it into a bowl and give it a good whisk until smooth and then place a sheet of cling film actually on the mixture to prevent it from forming a skin. When it is cold, fold in the semi-whipped cream.

Spoon the cream mixture about 1- 1 cm thick on to each of the brûlées, using the back of the spoon to smooth it. Sprinkle a thin layer of the golden caster sugar on each, then caramelise with a blow torch. Stand the cups on their saucers with a teaspoon; serve.