Does the prospect of dragging the same battered box of baubles out of the loft again this year leave you feeling less than festive? Then join me in ditching the tinsel and deck the halls with delicious treats; after all, the only tree ornaments my nearest and dearest have ever really shown interest in were the ones they could eat.
With some really simple ideas, it’s easier than you might think to create unique homemade goodies for Christmas that not only taste wonderful but do a brilliant job of dressing up your home, too.
If you’ve got the time to spare, making everything from scratch can be incredibly rewarding. Following the success of last year’s gingerbread advent calendar, baking cookies is something I’m happy to do again: my latest batch of gingerbread men are destined to be strung into a row of bunting so they can be pulled off the ribbon one by one. It’s a fun project for other people to help with and ideal for those who don’t enjoy the stresses of attempting a gingerbread house that needs to be demolished in order to enjoy eating.
There are lots of easy ways to turn your favourite treats into decorations without the need for a piping bag or even cookie cutters. Most supermarkets stock Christmas sprinkles featuring tiny holly leaves, silver balls and snowflakes that can speedily transform bought cupcakes or cookies ready to be stacked on the table or even hung on the tree.
Give afternoon tea a touch of festive cheer by spooning some white icing over bought chocolate tea cakes to resemble tiny Christmas puddings. Or try arranging a pyramid of little ribboned jars of salted nuts, small pretzels and colourful chocolates as an eye-catching table decoration to serve as nibbles with drinks or give to guests as a parting gift.
If you are handy with a piping bag, try icing names onto plain biscuits to make place settings for the table. For a simple seasonal setting, write names on snippets of green paper and pin onto the top of tangerines.
Here are some simple festive decoration ideas that look and taste great.
Gingerbread man bunting
The biscuits will last for at least two weeks so they can be strung up ready to be enjoyed over the festive period. I’ve left mine plain but decorate them if you like.
Prep time: 30 minutes, plus cooling time
Cook time: 8-10 minutes
50g golden syrup
100g dark muscovado sugar
225g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp fine salt
Ribbon for hanging
Gently heat the syrup, sugar and butter together in a small pan, stirring until melted.
Mix together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the warm butter mixture then use your hands to bring together to form a dough.
Roll the dough out between sheets of parchment to a thickness of ½cm. Slide onto a baking tray and chill for 30 minutes.
Heat the oven to 190C/170C fan/gas mark 5.
Cut out the gingerbread men and use a small cutter or wide straw to stamp out two holes in the body for threading. Transfer to two parchment lined trays and bake for 8-10 minutes. Leave to cool on the tray.
Thread the gingerbread men onto lengths of ribbon and hang in place.
Popcorn and dried cranberry garland
Popcorn garlands are a fun way to decorate the tree or string up across the mantlepiece. Shorter lengths can be threaded onto thin ribbon and tied into napkin rings. Popcorn that has been made a day or two in advance is easier to thread than crisp, freshly popped kernels. The popcorn will soften further over time so is best eaten within a few days but as decoration will look good for several weeks.
Prep time: 30 minutes
3 tbsp sunflower oil
100g popcorn kernels
100g dried cranberries
Thin string or ribbon and a large needle, for threading
Put the oil in a large heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Add the corn, cover with the lid and shake the pan to coat the corn in the hot oil.
Cook for 1-2 minutes, shaking the pan every now and again until the popping has slowed down then remove from the heat.
Using a large-eye needle carefully thread the popped corn onto long lengths of thin string or strong cotton, interspersing them with dried cranberries. Tie large knots on either end to secure and use as garlands or to tie round napkins.
If you’re up for making your own macarons you’ll be able to pick festive colours to match your style theme, but shop-bought alternatives will also work brilliantly if you want to save time. Most supermarkets stock a selection box of colours; I found pretty pastel macarons in Lidl (£3.49 for 12) and virtually identical-looking Les Delice Des Rose Macarons from Ocado and Waitrose (£6 for 12). Most recommend serving within an hour or two of taking out of the fridge.
To decorate, use a festive stencil, hand pipe on the icing, attach a snowflake wafer with a dot of icing or simply dust the macarons with icing sugar or edible glitter.
Prep time: 10 minutes, plus setting time
40g icing sugar
12 flavoured macarons
Edible glitter, optional
Small piping bag, wafer snowflakes or stencil
Thread or thin ribbon, for hanging
Mix the icing sugar with 1-2 tbsp water until smooth and thick.
Spoon the icing into a piping bag and hand pipe each macaron in a festive design. Alternatively, attach a wafer snowflake or lay a snowflake stencil on top and spread over a thin layer of icing then spritz with glitter. Leave to set then return to the fridge.
Loop lengths of ribbon around each macaron, securing the top. Carefully hang in position and eat within two hours.
Chocolate pretzel wreaths
These make pretty decorations if you can resist eating them before they get to the tree. They’re fun to make too – the chocolate, sprinkles and sweets you use to decorate can be varied to include favourites such as chocolate buttons and jelly tots. To enjoy at their crunchiest, these are best eaten within two to three days of making.
Prep time: 20 minutes
100g white, milk or dark chocolate
175g salted pretzels
Sprinkles or small sweets, to decorate
Ribbon, for hanging
Melt the chocolate in a microwave or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Dip each pretzel in the melted chocolate and arrange six in a circle on a sheet of parchment.
Dip six more pretzels into the chocolate, arranging them in a ring on top.
Decorate with sprinkles and small treats then leave to set. Arrange on a platter or thread with ribbon to hang.
Peppermint cream candy canes
These melt-in-the-mouth candy canes are really easy to make and less likely to crack a tooth than their boiled-sugar counterparts. Make them a couple of days ahead and leave to firm up before hanging.
I added food colouring to white icing but red and green icing are widely available. The canes will continue to harden over time so are best eaten within two weeks of hanging, but can be kept for up to a month in an airtight container.
Prep time: 15 minutes, plus setting time
Few drops peppermint extract
200g white fondant icing
½ tsp strong red food gel
Knead a few drops or extract into the icing then cut it in half. Roll one piece of icing into a ball then wrap and set aside.
Add some red gel to the other piece of icing and knead to make an even colour. Divide the red icing into four 25g balls then divide the white icing in the same way.
Take one ball of each colour, keeping the rest covered. Roll each out into a 1cm wide rope then twist the two ropes together.
Using your hands, roll the rope out to a 60cm length then cut into four 15cm pieces. Shape into a cane and place a sheet of parchment then repeat with the remaining icing. Leave to dry for at least 24 hours.