I’ve been following a couple of blogs fairly regularly now, as I have mentioned before, which have reminded me to take the time to pause, re-evaluate how much I am doing just for the sake of putting a tick in a box (literal or metaphorical), and find time to do the things that I enjoy.
I love giving gifts, and while I am only moderately into baking, I love making treats for people. Although I do always get so nervous about giving them as I have a tendency to “healthify” things and thereby ruin the very joy of a treat.
However, I normally either run out of money to buy things for everyone I would like to give gifts for; run out of time to buy ingredients, bake, and meet people to give them to; or just run out of motivation.
This year, however, I was sick of settling for “it’s the thought that counts”. I managed to do my Christmas shopping just that little bit earlier, and I have just a few too many new people I care about in my life to even contemplate buying everyone a proper gift. I was also sick of thinking about baking and wishing I could make more of an effort, and wondering how I could make this-or-that or what I could use this-or-that ingredient in. Also, I do like the idea of showing that vegans can make treats which are tasty and also not too unhealthy.
I have plenty of jam in the fridge, all made by my mum with fruit from our garden, so I definitely wanted to use that in something. I also wanted to make something seasonal, because I do believe in reconnecting with our seasons and local produce, but also because it feels more festive.
I had made jam dot cookies a couple of years ago, and remembered them to be very easy to make in large quantities. So it made sense to make a bunch of those. I couldn’t remember the recipe I used last time, but as they are pretty basic I figured any recipe would do. I went with this one (unfortunately from a site featuring a despairingly flawed rejection of a vegan diet) but with a few amendments:
- I used much fewer oats as I had run out, and replaced the volume with extra pecans and ground flax
- I used much more coconut oil as nothing seemed to be binding
- I used dark Sweet Freedom syrup as I couldn’t find brown rice syrup when I went shopping for my ingredients (in Morrisons)
- I bought a lemon, but couldn’t use the zest as I discovered we have no grater at home…
- I used heaps more cinnamon because I always use more than the recommended amount of cinnamon
I made one batch with my mum’s rhubarb-apple-cinnamon jam and one batch with her quetsche jam (a type of plum) – 32 quite large cookies in total.
They came out with an almost shortbread-like consistency but more textured – quite dense due to the amount of coconut oil and fat from the nuts. I’d have liked to make slightly smaller cookies but it was really hard to scoop out smaller amounts of the dough without it cracking apart. Never mind. Ben ate two of them in one night which is a good sign!
I also wanted to make something more sweet-like in appearance, so I went for the easy mushed-up-dried-fruit-and-nut thing… Again, healthy and seasonal and really just adds so much visual effect!
I made one big mistake with these which was not soaking the dates. They just got chopped really finely in my blended but not blended smooth. So I scooped them out and soaked them with some cashews, but then I overdid it with the water, and ended up with a big dried fruit slop. So I added flax seed and desiccated coconut and more cashews until it had thickened up enough to roll into balls. I then left them uncovered for a day and that seemed to firm them up enough that they could be packed into little trays of goodness.
One other thing I had done before when I was little was make marzipan decorations for cakes. I love marzipan and it’s also quite seasonal, cheap, and easy to work with, but I knew I would never make realistic-enough little sweets to be satisfied with them. So I went with some slightly more “abstract” sweets, decorated with dark chocolate made from my Chocolution chocolate-making kit which I got as a birthday present a couple of years ago from a friend who clearly knows me much too well! I added some berries and seeds from the goji berry mix I got from Waitrose (which also looks very pretty on top of porridge, but tastes best on its own in my opinion).
So each person got 4 cookies, 4 date-coconut balls, a little marzipan sweet drizzled in chocolate, a marzipan disk half-dipped in chocolate and topped with a berry and seed, 2 little homemade chocolate sweets topped with berries and seeds, and a little marzipan “surprise” with a centre of berry and seed mix, topped with homemade chocolate.
And in the end, as much as I believe that if you are going to have a treat, make it a real treat and not a compromise, none of these are actually too unhealthy – the chocolate is simply made from raw cacao, soy lecithin and agave nectar; marzipan is essentially just sugar and almonds and is thus probably the worst offender but still better than many sweets out there; the coconut balls are just dates, cashews, coconut, and flax (maybe something else too, I don’t quite remember); and the cookies are whole wheat flour, fruit syrup, flax, pecans, almonds, coconut oil, and homemade jam from homegrown fruit. Not that it really matters, but it is nice to be able to trace all the ingredients of your treats instead of a list of chemicals.
I always get a bit nervous making food for people, especially baked goods, but was satisfied that people would be touched by the thought, and that also once all wrapped up with their little red ribbons half the job was done as they looked so pretty and festive. However, I have had more replies already than I expected, saying they are delicious, so I hope I can find it in me to make the time for things like this again. To me, it’s what gift-giving, baking – and even to an extent being vegan and caring around nutrition – is all about!