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Holly Bell Answers Your Christmas Family Cooking Questions

Holly Bell Answers Your Christmas Family Cooking Questions

Missed our Wednesday Lunch Club with Great British Bake Off finalist Holly Bell? Don’t panic – you can catch up on all of the brilliant advice she shared here

Every week at Mother&Baby bring you the Wednesday Lunch Club – a chance to get brilliant advice for your parenting questions from a top expert.

This week, GBBO finalist Holly Bell was on standby to answer your questions about homemade Christmas gifts.

Holly’s a BBC Radio Leicester presenter, family recipe writer, blogger and mum of three – her newest addition to the family arrived this summer. Holly’s first book, Recipes From A Normal Mum, has reached the bestsellers lists and she continues to write her blog of the same name.

If that’s not enough, she also works with baby and toddler food brand Organix as its ‘Normal Mum’ expert on cooking and is currently supporting their No Junk Christmas campaign.

Catch up on all of the highlights from her live chat below…

I want to make a Christmas cake but I don't want to soak the fruit in alcohol, do you have any other suggestions? And am I too late to make one?

Holly: You’re definitely not too late at all. I usually soak my fruit in tea and some alcohol but you can leave the booze out altogether if you prefer. This recipe can be made right up until a couple of days before Christmas.

I really like the idea of giving my children's friends something homemade to take home on the last day of school, but with all the sweet things around at this time of year, it would be nice to give them something savoury that they'll enjoy. Do you have any suggestions?

Holly: Oh yes I do indeed. I would make them some breadsticks wrapped in cellophane and nice ribbon. You can leave the cheese out or replace with sesame seeds instead.

Can you advise me on the best tray lining for baking cut out biscuits with a boiled sweet on the centre i.e. stained glass effect?

Holly: You need non-stick baking paper, not baking parchment. I have used the old fashioned brown baking parchment for this purpose before and ended up in a right pickle!

I’ve just bought some cookie cutters to bake with the kids. I'd love to gift some of these cookies and maybe hang some from the tree. Any tips for making them last longer?

Holly: The trick here is to bake the cookies until they're very dry – moisture is not their friend once on the tree. I find gingerbread works best for these type of decorations (and often lasts four weeks) but to be safe I try and make batches every two weeks. If you make a large amount of dough you can freeze half of it raw, defrost overnight in the fridge and then you're back to baking more cookies.

I would love to give some edible gifts at Christmas. Can you recommend something that will keep well so I can make it in advance?

Holly: My ultimate favourite is a real #Nojunk favourite that is perfect for gifting. All you need is good quality dark chocolate. Here are the instructions for hot chocolate sticks.

My girls love to bake and eat their creations! Have you any kiddie friendly recipes for a Christmas-y cake that isn't a traditional fruitcake as my youngest doesn't like it?

Holly: Do they like a sticky ginger cake at all? This recipe seems to go down very well with children.

My five year old loves doing stuff with pastry and is looking forward to making Christmas shapes. What can we do to make the pastry more interesting and tasty for us 'testers'?

Holly: I would suggest adding either orange zest, lemon zest, chocolate chips or cinnamon. Unless you want to go down a more savoury route and try some grated cheese, perhaps some walnuts crushed up or even some finely chopped rosemary? They sound delicious.

Your daughter is in good company, Organix Food found that 73 per cent of mums say children love getting involved in the Christmas preparations. There must be a lot of pastry shapes being eaten out there!

Any suggestions for savoury biscuits? And also handling batch baking pressures (for people with a small oven)?

Holly: I totally feel your batch baking pressures. I have a regular sized oven, which is fine, but by no means new or has any amazing features. It gets hot and that's it! So I tend to do a lot of freezing of biscuit dough and baking later. With cakes I tend to avoid batch baking anything with bicarbonate of soda as that kind of cake mixture doesn't fare well when left around to wait. If I need to bake a lot of items on one day (like for the school bazaar) then I make sure I have my timer and line up the next lot of mince pies/cupcakes etc ready. I find then by the time I've baked one tray off then other are just about finished and ready to go in, if I work slowly enough and take enough tea breaks.

I'd like to make brownies as a gift but need to post them. Any suggestions on how to package them up so they survive the post and stay fresh for the recipient?

Holly: Luckily brownies are so under baked by their nature that they tend to do quite well when posted. I always wrap mine first in non-stick baking parchment - two layers. Then I wrap in a double thickness of foil. I tend to go one step further and put bubble wrap in the box to absorb any big shocks or drops.

How long can chocolate gifts like truffles or Florentines keep for? I love the idea of making gifts for teachers/nursery for Christmas but would need to do it in advance!

Holly: With truffles you need to look at the use by date on the cream as your guide. Keep them in the fridge until you gift them and advise to bring to room temperature before eating. For Florentines, you can keep them for two weeks but I find they start to lose their crunch after five days so really try and make just before gifting. Also make them smaller for staying crisper longer. Seems to work!

Do you have any tips for making a cooking or baking session as mess-free as possible with a toddler?

Holly: First explain all the 'rules' whatever they may be in your house. That could be not eating raw egg or not throwing ingredients – whatever works for you. In general I just try and be as clear as possible about what I expect. Then I make sure they're all wearing old clothes and try and only get out one ingredient at a time. You can guarantee that as soon as the child weighing the sugar sees there's flour on the horizon then they'll lost interest in the current job.

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