There’s no shortage of edible seasonal specials to try at this time of the year, but if you’re looking for something a little more imaginative – and local – we’ve put together a few selections to choose from.
As The Sugar Man, Man, Alex Crawford has developed a reputation for crafting innovative (and addictive) treats completely from scratch. Growing up, he always associated Christmas with his German grandmother’s traditional cooking. The trademark item was a Christmas pudding “that would always be full of German grog, every German brandy you could think of – it would get you drunk from one spoonful!”
His mince pie chocolate bars don’t go quite that far, but he’s been marinating a fruit mix in Adelaide Hills Cider since the end of July to get it just right. The mix includes fresh quinces and dried figs from the Adelaide hills, blood orange peel from the Riverland and sultanas, raisins and prunes from further afield. Crawford mixes these through the chocolate along with pie crumbs made from Dairyman Barossa butter and Laucke flour to add further texture, while the gingerbread bars use a special spice blend from his grandma’s secret recipe.
The holy trinity of Christmas treats also includes eye-catching edible Christmas baubles. Crawford puts hand-tempered white chocolate into molds, fills them with cinnamon salted caramel, hazelnut praline chocolate, roasted hazelnuts and cacao nibs and puts them back together before decorating the outside.
Though there’s a handle, he’s emphatic that they’re not made for hanging on a tree – “they’d fall straight away because they’ve got so much filling,” he laughs. Instead, it’s a treat to be savoured visually but enjoyed before too long, “like a gingerbread house.”
At the other end of the spectrum of local producers, Haigh’s have also released several new treats this festive season, including the milk gingerbread nougat with chocolate-covered parcels of soft, chewy nougat spiced with ginger, cinnamon and allspice. Even richer is the dark walnut brandy crunch, a crunchy toffee and chocolate centre containing brandy-soaked pieces of walnut toffee and Kangaroo Island spirits liqueur wrapped in dark chocolate.
Jeff and Mary Goodieson know a thing or two about European winters – they lived in Salzburg for years and Jeff has very fond memories of visiting Christkindlmarkets with “snow falling around your head, holding onto a mug of gluhwein to keep warm.” Like mulled wine, gluhwein is red wine that’s been heated, sweetened and spiced and though Goodieson acknowledges that it’s not the ideal drink for an Australian Christmas, he channelled the flavours in his Christmas Ale. The chestnut brown ale is spiced with cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, allspice and orange peel – “everything you throw into a Christmas pudding or gluhwein.”
While European Christmas beers generally boast outsized alcohol percentages, Goodieson’s seasonal release is dialled down somewhat at 6.3%. The even more limited edition barrel-aged Christmas Ale has sat in former shiraz casks for a year since last Christmas. It clocks in at 7.9%, concentrating the existing flavours and adding a little oak and shiraz to the mix for a truly memorable Christmas drop.
A few years ago, Adam Carpenter and Wes Heddles from Prohibition Liquor Co made “an insanely small batch” of Christmas gin for their personal consumption. They didn’t use actual Christmas puddings in the distillation, instead focussing on the constituent ingredients like cherries, figs, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and anise.
It tasted so good, Carpenter says, that they immediately knew that had to release it in commercial quantities. By then Four Pillars had made a significantly bigger splash in the market but last year’s 300 bottle run of Prohibition Christmas Gin sold out so quickly that they doubled the size of this year’s batch. That sold out within a week and a half but there are still several bottles available for tasting at Prohibition’s distillery door, along with a batch of Christmas gin brownies. The gin is available in cocktails, but Carpenter says the rich, thick, syrupy liquid – which is more like a liqueur than a gin – is so good on its own that “it’s almost a waste to not drink it neat.”