Christmas presents are expensive, especially if you overthink it for months then end up panic-buying armfuls of Oliver Bonas tat on December 23. But it doesn’t have to be that way. This December, let your local cornershop be your knight in shining neon armour, full of things that you can convert into gift-giving gold. Here are some simple crafts you can do with easy-to-source supplies, ones that will delight your friends and renew your family’s faith that you’re an underappreciated creative genius. You’re welcome.
Quick Christmas pickles
In this season of punishingly rich food, a crisp pickle or two is a welcome relief. And thankfully, making them is as easy as (mince) pie. Simply chop your chosen vegetable with as much daintiness as you can muster, place them in a colander, sprinkle them with sugar and salt, and rub them gently all over like you’re a Netflix Christmas movie romantic hero caressing his intended. Then place them in a very clean jar with a few whole peppercorns, and pour in your brine (made of equal parts white wine vinegar and water) until they’re completely covered. Add a label, advising the recipient to keep them in the fridge and eat them within two weeks.
Take it to the next level: Christmas spices are very welcome here. Add a couple of cloves, a cinnamon stick and star anise for some scented delight. And don’t even dream of handing over a nude jar: dress them with a circle of brown paper over the lids, tied with twine.
Dried citrus garland
This one’s a win-win: it looks very pretty, and drying out the citruses makes your house smell like the interior of Paddington’s hat. Get out your sharpest knife and finely slice a mix of oranges, lemons, grapefruits and limes so they’re about half a centimetre thick. Lay the slices on a tea towel, and gently press another tea towel on top to remove as much moisture as you can. Then lay them on greaseproof paper-covered baking trays and slowly dry them out in a low oven: around 100C for two hours should do it. Turn them every half an hour. Poke a hole in each one, and thread them together to make a garland that’s equally lovely on the Christmas tree or hanging over the mantelpiece.
Take it to the next level: If you burn them a bit (like I did, embarrassing huh?) hide your shame with gold paint. Or thread on fresh cranberries, star anise or cinnamon sticks for extra fragrance.
This chocolatey, caramelly Brazilian sweet is a step up from yer bog-standard truffle. Combine 50g of butter, 50g cocoa powder and a tin of condensed milk in a saucepan, constantly stirring until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a bubbling boil. Turn down the heat, and keep stirring for 10-15 minutes, until the mixture is shiny and thick and comes away from the surface of the pan. Stir in 1 tsp vanilla essence and a pinch of salt and beat vigorously. Chill the pan for two hours. Then use a teaspoon to make small balls of the mixture and cover them in your choice of coating. Chocolate vermicelli is traditional, but crushed pistachios add a note of sophistication. Or make them extra-pretty by dyeing desiccated coconut pastel colours. Put some desiccated coconut in a bowl along with a few drops of food colouring, and rub it with your hands until it’s evenly coloured. Then it’s time to get rolling.
Take it to the next level: Raid your house for suitable presentation receptacles: try wrapping recycled chocolate boxes in Christmassy paper and lining them with tinfoil, shoving them in a jam jar, or popping them in cellophane bags tied with a ribbon (cannily reused from a gift someone else gave you).
Salt-dough Christmas ornaments
It’s now too late to join a pottery class and make ceramic trinkets for your loved ones. But salt-dough decorations are way easier to make and will last for decades (unless the recipient gets drunk enough to try eating them). To make your dough, mix together one cup of plain flour, half a cup of table salt and half a cup of water, and knead till you have a pliable dough. Add more flour if it’s too sticky, more water if it’s too dry. Roll it out on a floured surface until it’s about as thick as a pound coin (an empty wine bottle works if you don’t have a rolling pin. We assume you have an empty wine bottle). Then it’s time to excavate your long-buried creative talents.
The coward’s way is to use star- and heart-shaped cookie cutters to create designs, and then emboss them by gently pressing a decorative button, shell or dried flower to leave an indented pattern on the surface. But you can do better than that! If you want to get ambitious, use your computer screen as a DIY lightbox to make paper templates. Find the design you want online, make it the size you want using a photo-editing tool, and then trace it directly off the screen on to a sheet of plain paper (press gently with a felt-tip or soft pencil to avoid damaging your laptop). Cut out the shape with scissors, place your paper template on the surface of the dough, and gently cut round it with a knife. Apply extra bits of dough to decorate the surface, sticking them on with water. Don’t forget to use a skewer to make hanging holes in your decorations (you can’t really do this after they’re baked). Lay them on a tinfoil-lined tray and bake them for three hours at 150C.
When they’re cool, you can leave them plain, stain them a picturesque ’70s brown using woodstain, or paint them bright colours with acrylic paint, according to your artistic vision. Use gold or silver paint to highlight the details. And finally, use wool or twine to make a hanging loop for each one.
Take it to the next level: You can make literally anything out of salt dough. Trinket dishes, candle holders, fairy doors, and much more: why not raid Pinterest for ideas?
Gourmet marshmallows are having a bit of a moment, and they’re super-easy to make at home. Hunt down a recipe, and gift alongside some fancy cocoa powder and a nice mug for a DIY hot chocolate set.
Flavoured butter is all over foodtok right now, so facilitate your pals’ butter board dreams by whipping up a batch (truffle, za’atar, and cinnamon sugar are all delicious) and presenting it in a nice jar, alongside some fancy crackers.
Peppermint bark is an American classic that’s super-easy to make. Melt white and dark chocolate together, pour on to a tray, and sprinkle with crushed candy cane. Then, break it into rustic-looking shards and package it up.
Chocolate salame is one of Nigella’s Christmas faves. Sounds weird, tastes delicious. Check out her Insta for deets.