Buying presents for a cook is an essentially selfish business; you’re usually hoping to reap the benefits, which is why I always give my friends something I’d like to eat myself, unless we’re talking actual kitchenware.
But at Christmas you can up the ante and give something spoiling as well as useful. Mix and match. If you’re giving something functional, like a cake lifter or a baking tin – and personally I should be glad of either – then throw in a fun tea towel as well, or a colourful spatula or an enormous bottle of vanilla essence (which nowadays costs a fortune) or a Spanish tin of paprika with a saint on the front to cheer things up.
Here is a mixture of ideas for stocking fillers to investment items, things to eat and to cook with, for the occasional baker or the hardcore foodie chef.
Paxton and Whitfield Cheese knives
Best for: Cheese lovers. Obviously.
Really good cheese knives are things of beauty, and these two from my favourite cheese shop, Paxton and Whitfield, are lovely: one’s for hard cheese, the holey one for soft. The handles are rosewood and they’re made from a single piece of metal running all the way through. Nice presentation pack. It would be even better if you added a nice bit of Paxton’s Stilchelton or Vacherin. (Drop into the Jermyn Street shop or look on its website.)
£39 | Paxton and Whitfield | Buy it now
Savor and Sens Gold mustard
Best for: Affordable Bling
This is bling in a jar. It actually looks gold while being entirely edible. Plus it’s truffle flavoured and truffles are everywhere right now. Smearing this on your Christmas Day sausages would be a treat.
£6.95 | Harvey Nichols | Buy it now
Staub Cast iron casserole
Best for: an investment piece. Not for the frail!
My cooking has been transformed since I started using a cast iron lidded pot: it makes the best roasts and casseroles; I even use it for bread.
However, you pay for the sturdiness and heat retention in sheer weight: they’re really heavy, so this isn’t an option for anyone frail.
Cast iron pots come in a range of prices. However, if money isn’t an issue, the best on the market are Staub’s, which are made in Alsace and have the imprimatur of the great Paul Bocuse. The indentations on the underside of the lid apparently mean that the moisture retention is better than most. And the 31cm size is big enough for a medium joint.
£299 | Harvey Nichols | Buy it now
GreenPan Featherweight Dutch
Best for: People who want the benefits of cast iron without the weight
You get the best results with a cast iron pot, but if you’re not up to weightlifting, an excellent alternative would be the GreenPan Featherweight Dutch oven with lid.
It’s half the weight of cast iron being cast aluminium and it’s non-stick and easy to clean. What’s not to like?
From £88 | John Lewis | Buy it now
Microplane Spice Mill
Best for: Results without graft
All right, I know that the right way to crush spices is with a granite pestle and mortar, but if you want results without graft, the Microplane Spice Mill is one of the best and it doesn’t take up much room. It even grinds cinnamon sticks. Good stocking filler.
£19.30 | Amazon | Buy it now
Smeg Stick Blender
Best for: simply everyone
A stick blender is probably the single most useful electronic gadget you can possess. There are lots of excellent brands with a bewildering number of attachments – including potato mashers – but this one, a simple stick from Smeg, is tall, sturdy and handsome. The black version is chic but there’s a festive red too.
£79 | Amazon | Buy it now
Catalonia Organic Saffron
Best for: Connoisseurs.
Not all saffron are made equal, oh no. This one from Catalonia, is the very finest organic stamens, hand picked in the early morning and gently dried over an oak fire. At least so this excellent provider says. I can vouch that it’s got a sufficiently strong flavour to make a mere one gram go quite a long way. Lovely aroma.
The good news is that saffron is a fashionable ingredient again: this makes fabulous saffron buns.
£10 | Vinegar Shed | Buy it now
Sicilian Barbera No. 5 Lorenzo Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Best for: a delicious addition
A good olive oil is a gift of the gods. Barbera No. 5 Lorenzo Extra Virgin Olive Oil is excellent. It’s made with an extraction process that removes the stone without damaging the pulp, which is then press at low temperature. Whatever. It’s got a lovely golden colour.
£15 | Waitrose | Buy it now
The Fine Cheese Company Pickled Walnuts
Best for: Traditionalists
This is a wonderful, old fashioned treat. Pickled Walnuts go really well with cheese but they’re also make an interesting component in a beef stew. They’re made from green walnuts but look almost black. Tangy taste.
£6.95 | Harvey Nichols | Buy it now
Mariage Frères Tea jelly
Best for: A Tea Surprise
This is an interesting conserve with a delicate, haunting flavour. Mariage Frères, the wonderful tea emporium in Covent Garden, does a dizzying number of versions to reflect its wide range of teas, but I like the smoky Tarry Souchong and the spicy Espirit de Noël.
Obviously they’re good on scones or brioche but the Christmas one is good for adding a lift to gravy and the smoky Souchong is a pleasantly subtle condiment for cheese. Plus the label is pretty.
£8.50 | Mariage Frères | Buy it now
Reindeer Spatula and Christmas Tree Cutter
Best for: young bakers
This would be a fun stocking filler for a young baker: a reindeer spatula with a Christmas tree biscuit cutter. Actually, it’d cheer up any stocking. Lakeland’s legendary range of kitchenware includes several fun products for juvenile cooks.
£4.99 | Lakeland | Buy it now
Best for: a useful buy they won't expect
All right, so this isn’t the best time of year to be stoning cherries. Fine. It’s still a really useful product…you just try stoning cherries without one. This is a sturdy aluminium model.
£9.50 | David Mellor Design | Buy it now
Really useful spatula
Best for: Stocking filler for any cook
This, again from the excellent Lakeland range, is a really useful silicon spatula, sturdy but flexible.
£6.99 | Lakeland | Buy it now
Le Creuset Really good cake tin
Best for: GBBO wannabes
Le Creuset’s cake and tart tins are the best I’ve ever used: tough, non-stick and easy to clean. This is a fun heart shape but you may find the round or rectangular ones more useful.
£28 | Harvey Nichols | Buy it now
Ototo Spoon Rest
Best for: Avocado lovers
Every kitchen needs a spoon rest – trust me – and this one from Ototo is admittedly a bit small, but who wouldn’t like a fun avocado sitting on their work surface?
£10.95 | Harvey Nichols | Buy it now