Cook with Darina Allen: Chocolate spread and rose water marshmallows

Christmas is edging ever closer, the excitement and craziness mounts and we’re having lots of fun making edible presents.

It’s become a tradition and let’s face it, something delicious to eat will be genuinely welcomed rather than yet another glittering bauble or scented candle destined for the re-gifting drawer.

This week I’m keeping my blurb to the minimum to allow for maximum space for recipes. There is no shortage of ideas for yummy edible presents.

Of course sweet, cute little macaroons, marshmallows, mini muffins, chocolate truffles are fine and delicious but I’ve had even more delighted responses to less evocative but gleefully received cartons of homemade soups, pasta sauces, stews, tagines… Add a tinsel bow and a sprig of holly or rosemary to give them a festive air.

Another busy young mum with four little ones keeps dropping hints about a couple of dozen simple fish cakes and chicken pie with no yucky mushrooms or green flecky bits in the potato topping, to make the kids go ‘yuck’ (parsley). Deliver them fresh or frozen.

They are super handy to have in a freezer as a standby at any time not to speak of over the crazy Christmas period – easy comforting food. We make the pies in little enamel dishes with either a puff pastry lid or fluffy mashed potato.

The dishes are useful for the rest of the year, so it doesn’t have to be an ‘all singing all dancing present’. Tubs of homemade soup are always received with delight, also great for older friends or those living alone not to speak of those in special need in our communities.

You’ll find all those recipes in my previous columns and books as well as a whole range of condiments. Buy lots of ribbon and luggage labels to add a festive look to your edible presents.

Here are some delicious frivolous recipes that we’ve been enjoying making.


Chocolate and hazelnut spread

You’ll never go back to the well-known brand...

Makes: 2 small jars


  • 250 g (9 oz) best-quality hazelnuts
  • 150 g (5 oz) icing sugar
  • 45 g (1.5 oz) cocoa powder (we use Valrhona)
  • 4 tablespoons hazelnut oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Salt, between one eighth and a quarter of a teaspoon


Heat the oven to 190C/gas mark 5.

Spread the hazelnuts out in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 12-15 minutes or until the skins start to loosen and the nuts are golden and evenly roasted. Rub the skins off the hazelnuts and discard.

Cool and transfer to a food processor. Whizz the hazelnuts for 2-5 minutes or until the oil begins to separate from the soft paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the icing sugar, cocoa powder, hazelnut oil, vanilla extract and salt to taste. Keep whizzing until the spread is loose, glossy and a spreadable texture. Taste, it may need another pinch of salt or another tablespoon of hazelnut oil.

Spoon into little jars, cover and use within a month but usually it doesn’t last that long.

Best ever tomato sauce

A good tomato sauce is invaluable to have in the fridge or freezer as a standby, another marvellous accompaniment to all sorts of dishes. Use it on pizza or of course you can have a pasta sauce in seconds. Add a pinch of chilli flakes if your friends would like some extra oomph!

Makes: 16 fl ozs (475ml)


  • 1 oz (25g) butter
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-4 cloves garlic, depending on taste, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 lbs (900g) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 2 x 14 oz (400g) tins Italian tomatoes, chopped
  • salt, freshly ground pepper and a little honey to taste
  • a pinch of chilli flakes, optional


Melt the butter, add the olive oil and toss in the chopped garlic and optional pinch of chilli flakes. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until pale golden, then add the onion, cook for a minute or two before adding the tomatoes, then season with salt, pepper and a little honey to taste. Cook fast for 15-20 minutes if you want a fresh tasting sauce, or more slowly, for up to 1 hour, if you prefer it more concentrated. Purée through a mouli legumes.

Taste and correct seasoning. Pour into sterilised glass kilner or little jam jars. Cover, label and decorate.

Christmas mincemeat swirls with brandy butter

I just love these mincemeat swirls. They are a super way to use up leftover mincemeat and brandy butter. Delicious served warm.

Makes: 18-20 scones


  • 900g (2lb) plain white flour
  • 175g (6oz) butter
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 50g (2 oz) castor sugar
  • 3 heaped teaspoons baking powder
  • 450ml (15floz) approx. milk to mix
  • 400-450g (14 oz-16 oz) Ballymaloe mincemeat or vegetarian and gluten-free mincemeat


  • Egg Wash (see below)
  • 110 g (4 oz) flaked almonds
  • 110 g (4 oz) demerara sugar for sprinkling on top of the scones

Brandy Butter

  • 3ozs (75g) butter
  • 3ozs (75g) icing sugar
  • 2-6 tbsp brandy


  • 1-2 baking trays lined with parchment


Heat the oven to 250C/Gas Mark 9.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss in the flour and rub in the butter.

Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, add to the dry ingredients and mix to a soft dough.

Turn out onto a floured board. Don’t knead but roll gently into a rectangle about 2 cm thick.

Spread the mincemeat over the surface to within a half inch of the edge. Roll from the long side. Cut into 3cm pieces.

Arrange on a baking tray, allowing a little space for the swirls to spread. Brush the cut side with egg wash. Sprinkle each one with flaked almonds and dip in granulated sugar.

Bake in a hot oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown on top. Cool on a wire rack.

Serve warm with a dollop of homemade brandy butter on top.

Egg Wash

Whisk one egg with a pinch of salt. This is brushed over the scones and pastry to help them to brown in the oven.

Brandy Butter

Cream the butter until very light, add the icing sugar and beat again. Then beat in the brandy, drop by drop. If you have a food processor, use it: you will get a wonderfully light and fluffy brandy butter.

JR’s handmade rose water marshmallows

Once you taste handmade marshmallow you will never go back to the mass produced version. JR Ryall, the pastry chef at Ballymaloe House, makes these delicately flavoured and lighter than air marshmallow that are best enjoyed within a few days of making.

Cook with Darina Allen: Chocolate spread and rose water marshmallows

Makes: approximately 100

  • 55g (1lb) granulated or caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp liquid glucose
  • 9 gelatine leaves or 5½ rounded tsp of powdered gelatine
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 tbsp good quality rose water
  • red food colour paste
  • 4 tbsp icing sugar and 4 tbsp corn flour sieved together

For Raspberry Marshmallows

  • fresh raspberries and pistachio nuts (optional)


Line the bottom of a 30 x 20cm (11 x 8 inch) baking tray with parchment paper. Dust with sieved icing sugar and cornflour.

Place sugar, glucose and 200ml (7fl oz) of water in a heavy bottom saucepan. Stir to ensure all of the sugar is wet. Using a pastry brush dipped water, remove any sugar crystals from the side of the saucepan. Place the saucepan on a medium heat and bring to the boil. Once boiling do not stir, simply tilt the pot from side to side to ensure the solution heats evenly until it reaches 127C/260F. It is important to keep an eye on the temperature using a sugar thermometer.

Meanwhile, rehydrate the gelatine in 140ml (4¾fl oz) water.

When the boiling syrup reaches 110C/230F start whipping the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.

Add the rehydrated gelatine and water into the syrup when it reaches 127C/260F and stir with a wooden spoon. The mixture will foam slightly, this is normal. Pour the hot syrup onto the egg whites and whip on full speed for 5-10 minutes until the marshmallow thickens and the bowl of the mixer is warm to the touch. Turn the speed of the mixer to low and whisk in the rosewater and enough food colour paste to turn the marshmallow baby pink.

Spoon the thick marshmallow mix onto the lined baking tray and smooth with a palette knife. Allow to set (usually takes 2 hours).

Dust the top of the marshmallow with the icing sugar and cornflour mix. Turn out onto a work surface, peel off the paper and cut into cubes. Roll each marshmallow in the cornflour and icing sugar mix to finish.

Raspberry Marshmallow

JR also makes divine fresh raspberry marshmallows. Pour half the mixture into the prepared tin, sprinkle the surface with fresh raspberries. I love to add some pistachio nuts as well. Pour the remainder on top, allow to set, proceed and serve as above.

Kumquat and Irish whiskey marmalade

Kumquat marmalade – my special breakfast treat, not as tart as Seville orange marmalade, rather more bitter-sweet. Just gorgeous. A present that your friends will really treasure and you ‘ll find that they’ll be dropping hints, hoping for another pot. It’ll also sell like hot cakes at a Christmas bring and buy or farmers’ markets.

Makes: 6 approx. little pots (200ml)


  • 1 kg kumquats
  • 1.75kg litres water
  • 1.75kg sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Irish whiskey


Slice kumquats thinly crossways. Collect the seeds, put in a small bowl with 250ml of the water, allow to stand overnight. Put the kumquats in a larger bowl with the remaining water, cover and allow to stand overnight.

Next day, strain the seeds, save the liquid (this now contains the precious pectin, which contributes to the setting of the jam); discard the seeds.

Put the kumquat mixture into a large saucepan with the reserved liquid from the seeds. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, simmer, covered for 30 minutes or until the kumquats are very tender. Remove the lid and boil fast to reduce the liquid to less than original volume.

Warm the sugar in a moderate oven for about 8-10 minutes. Add the sugar. Stir until fully dissolved (the mixture should not be more than 5cm deep). Bring to the boil and cook rapidly with the lid off for about 15 minutes or until a teaspoon of mixture will wrinkle when tested on a cold saucer. Remove the pan from the heat while testing. Stir in the whiskey.

Pot in hot sterilised jars. Seal and store in a cool dry place.


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