Pinterest (and most of the online food world) will pretty much spend the next few weeks leading up to Christmas telling you that you should be making your own fruit mince pies from scratch or how ‘easy it is to make your own gingerbread house’. And they’ve probably already succeeded in stressing you out about something as wonderful as eating dessert. I’m here to tell you that it’s all nonsense – there are ways in which you can cheat your way to entertaining like Nigella, without anyone knowing you broke the so-called ‘rules’.
1. Host a cookie swap
The idea of giving a box filled to the brim of beautifully decorated biscuits is a great one – everybody loves getting biscuits! The problem is, if you want to give them a selection, you’re going to need to set aside 2 whole days to bake.
Solution: host a cookie swap with two or three friends. Get each one to bake a triple batch of their favourite cookie recipe, then get together over some tea (or wine) and swap the batches amongst yourselves. You’ll leave with the same amount of cookies you came with, except now you have three varieties. Everyone will think you’ve been slaving away for days. Ha!
2. Cookie swaps too much effort?
Want to give an edible gift but don’t trust your icing skills? Give a DIY cookie gift! Make the cookie dough and freeze it in logs. When you’re ready to gift it, wrap the log in baking paper, tie some pretty ribbon around it and place it in a box with a piping bag filled with frosting and a selection of sprinkles. Yes, you did just cheat your way to hardly doing any work!
3. Buy your Christmas cake
Let’s be honest here, every year we all say we’re going to make it earlier and feed it brandy lovingly for weeks on end, but every year December creeps up on us. You know who never forgets about Christmas? The supermarkets. They make their cakes (like they put up their Christmas decorations), in October. Let them do the work and you can take the credit.
4. Make it look like your own
If you’re buying your cake, you’re going to need to convince others you made it yourself. The best way to do that? Decorate it yourself. Forget the fondant – no one eats it anyway – opt instead for one of these easy ideas:
– Arrange crystallized fruits and pecan nuts on top and gloss over with warm apricot jam for a real home-made look
– Arrange some paper cut outs on top of the cake (stars, snow flakes etc.) and dust with icing sugar – simple, striking, so little effort
– Frost it in a thick layer of brandy-flavoured butter icing
– Pile Christmas star- or tree biscuits on top and create a winter wonderland
– Turn it into a drip cake and pile candy canes, chocolate truffles and festive sweets on top (all store-bought, of course!)
5. Never underestimate the power of gold dust
Invest in a couple of pots (you can buy them from baking shops) – you won’t believe how much glam they add to everything! My favourite trick is to mix the dust with a little vodka and dip in cherries for a lush gold paint effect! The vodka paint is also great for splattering onto biscuits, cakes and dessert plates.
6. Make-ahead desserts
Don’t get carried away with fancy desserts; do something simple (buy super yum) that can be made the day before. Fridge cakes, ice cream cakes, pavlova, mousse cakes or semifreddos are all great as you can get them done and in the fridge the day before. Leaving them – and you – time to chill.
ALSO READ: 3 Make-ahead desserts to save you time
7. DIY desserts
Making any dessert is too much effort? Get your guests to make their own. My personal favourite is a DIY trifle bar! Lay out bowls of sliced sponge cake, different flavours of jelly, a selection of liqueurs, various flavoured custards, whipped cream, crumbled fruit cake, biscuits, sprinkles etc and get your family to build their own trifle while you sit back and revel in your genius. If trifle isn’t your thing, you can apply the same concept to pavlova or ice cream sundaes.
8. Cheat’s Christmas croissants
“Oh these? I was up at 4am laminating my own croissant pastry!” Buy store-bought croissants – stale ones work the best so the bakery might just give them away for free – then dip them in a simple syrup made with 1 part sugar and 1 part water. Fill the croissant with fruit mince, some almond frangipane and freeze again. To bake, simply pop them in the oven for 15 minutes when you wake up in the morning and then just wait for the compliments to roll in!
9. Make your house smell like Christmas
With all this cheating and store-bought nonsense going on, you’re probably going to need to convince your guests even more that you were killing yourself in the kitchen for their culinary pleasure. In a saucepan, combine 1-2 cups of water, 2-3 cinnamon sticks, 2 orange slices, 2 star anise, 1 tsp cloves, 1 tsp ginger, dash of vanilla essence then bring it to the boil. Allow to simmer and the aroma of Christmas to waft through your house just before guests arrive. *drops the mic*