I was thinking about Christmas confectionery when I was making the After Eight Bars, and it made me think of the sorts of gifts my mum, as a teacher, received from her pupils. Suddenly my mind was filled with thoughts of Matchmakers, Terry’s chocolate oranges and quality street. Ohh, i did like matchmakers. I’ve not thought about those crunchy chocolate sticks enhanced with flavoured sugar crystals for years, do they even still exist? Either way that thought was the inspiration I needed, I had to recreate Matchmakers. I thought they’d be tricky but actually they’re the easiest homemade chocolate recreation I’ve ever made. Basically tempered chocolate with added flavoured sugar crystals and then cooled quickly to get the right set/crunch. Even though I say it myself, these are a resounding success. I’m definitely going to make them often 🙂

Feel free to change the flavour, all you need is to sub the peppermint essence for orange, coffee, strawberry or caramel and you can recreate your favourite matchmaker flavour. I’d say this recipe makes about 16-20 sticks.


(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, can be soya-free, can be gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

2 tbsp Demerara sugar or course grained granulated sugar

1/2-1 tsp essence

85g dark dairy-free chocolate (i like Nomo)

  1. Add the essence to the sugar, stir well and leave to dry out for 10 or so minutes. I’d advise tasting the sugar once the essence is added, as you may want more depending on flavour.
  2. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment and place in the fridge, or better still, the freezer to chill.
  3. Melt the chocolate, following these directions. Let it cool so the sugar doesn’t melt.
  4. Stir in the sugar. Transfer to a piping bag, snip off the very tip and pipe long straight lines on the chilled and lined baking sheet. Immediately place in the fridge to set. They’ll be ready after 30 minutes or so.
  5. I’d recommend keeping these in the fridge until you’re ready to eat them.

After Eight Chocolate Bars

I know that After Eights (thin soft mint fondant filled chocolate crisps in little individual envelopes) are available all year round, but for me they seem very Christmassy. I think it’s probably because my mum was a teacher and she often received a couple of boxes as gifts from her students, along with some MatchMakers (ooh that’s an idea!) and a Terry’s Chocolate Orange!

I have made bars rather than thins mainly because I have some chocolate bar moulds and I thought they’d be more successful, but you could try with a larger tin, layering the chocolate, fondant and then chocolate. I reckon If you chill it well before cutting into squares you could get the desired After Eight effect. I’ll update you if i get a chance to make these again before Christmas!

I had been tempted to call these After Sevens as a nod to the fact that they’re a free-from version of an After Eight, but then you might not have known was I was talking about! The taste is really authentic, so I hope you really enjoy this recipe.

I used Sainsbury’s own brand fondant icing which is may contain tree nuts but not peanuts, so that’s good for us. If you’re looking for totally nut-free fondant then Nut Free MarketPlace sells some. It’s essential to use dark chocolate in this recipe to get the contrast of dark bitter chocolate and sweet minty centre.

After Eight Chocolate Bars

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, can be soya-free, can be gluten-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

180g dark dairy-free chocolate

150g white fondant icing, grated

2 tbsp water

2 tbsp caster sugar

1/2 – 1 tsp mint essence.

  1. Melt 120g of the chocolate (using this technique) and use to coat the chocolate bar moulds, or the bottom of a square tin. Let fully set.
  2. Make a sugar syrup out of the water and caster sugar by melting the sugar into the water until completely dissolved. Add the peppermint essence.
  3. Pour half of the user syrup into the grated fondant and mix to form a paste, adding more syrup until you get the desired consistency. It needs to be runny enough to ooze but not so runny that it’s a liquid!
  4. Fill the moulds with the fondant filling, or cover the chocolate lined tin. Place in the fridge to firm up.
  5. Melt the remaining chocolate and spread over the exposed mint fondant and leave to set again.

Fabulous Vanilla Fudge

Who doesn’t love fudge? The ultimate naughty treat, basically a combination of fat and sugar, is utterly irresistible, well it certainly is in this house! I have a chocolate fudge on my site but i’ve really been wanting to make a perfectly smooth and creamy vanilla fudge, just like those ones you buy in postcard adorned boxes in the West Country.

Having done seeming hours of research it was hard to find a ‘friendly’ version that doesn’t contain a dairy-free condensed milk. Besides having none in, I really wanted a recipe that could be whipped up with ingredients that were already in the larder/fridge. I also wanted to avoid coconut cream as I think it imparts too strong a flavour unless you’re making a coconut variety. But then again, I wanted a smooth creamy finish so it needed to have some creamy addition along with the sugar and margarine.

As often is the right place, I turned to The Guardian and found Felicity Cloakes recipe for the ultimate fudge which features cream, Demerara sugar and golden syrup. Now, those are staple ingredients. We started experimenting and this ended up as the basis for this ‘friendly version’. The Demerara sugar gives a wonderful depth of flavour and the whipping oat cream gives the silkiest, creamiest finish. It may take a good 5-10 minutes of rigorous stirring, but the arm work out is definitely worth it, both for upper arm strength and the resulting divine fudge! I hope you enjoy the results as much as we do – we love it so much that i made two batches in a week!

Fabulous Vanilla Fudge

(Dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

100g dairy-free margarine
550g demerara sugar
200g golden syrup
350ml Oatly whipping cream
2 tsp vanilla paste
1/2 tsp flaky sea salt

1. Melt the margarine, sugar, syrup and cream together over a low heat until all the sugar crystals have dissolved
2. Turn up the heat and bring to a rolling boil. Heat, stirring now and then, until it reaches 116 degrees Centigrade.
3. Turn off the heat, stir in the vanilla and slat and then beat vigorously for 5-10 minutes until the fudge thickens from a liquid to a thick paste. The colour will change to a pale brown fudge colour
4. For into a baking tin lined with non-stick parchment and leave to set. This takes an hour or so as you want it to be fully set before attempting to cut into bite sized cubes.
5. For variety, try topping it which chopped dark chocolate as the bitter chocolate contrasts wonderfully with the sweet smooth fudge.

Pomegranate and Grenadine Pâte de Fruits (Fruit Jellies)

I’ve always loved to make homemade sweets, and as pate de fruits are such an essential part of Christmas (especially for the French side of the family) these homemade fruit jellies are the perfect addition to my 12 days of Christmas.

If you’re not familiar with pate de fruits they’re a fruity jelly sweet, like a soft fruit pastille, covered in sugar. Made with fruit juice, sugar and pectin they’re naturally vegetarian and allergy friendly despite being not particularly healthy. But then again it’s Christmas and it’s time for luxury and indulgence.

Making homemade sweets seems like the height of luxury and difficult techniques, but these are super simple and you end up with some beautiful 100% natural pure fruit pastilles. One batch makes enough for well over 50 jellies, making it easy to have some for our Christmas treats as well as an addition to my homemade hampers. As long as they’re kept in an airtight container they will keep for months.

This recipe is adapted from the fabulous book on preserving by Pam the Jam. I’d thoroughly recommend seeking it out if you enjoy delicious and exciting preserving. I’ve chosen a combination of pomegranate and grenadine as it felt suitably festive and packs a punch of flavour, but you can easily swap any juice you’d like.

Pomegranate and Grenadine Pate de Fruits

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 50-100 jellies

500ml pure pomegranate juice

juice of 1 lime

3 tbsp grenadine

450g granulated sugar

15g pectin

75g glucose syrup

1 tsp flavourless oil

  1. Line a 20cm square baking tin with parchment
  2. Pour the juices and syrup into a deep saucepan.
  3. Stir the pectin powder into half of the sugar. Sprinkle over the juice and stir, heating gently until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Add the rest of the sugar, the glucose syrup and oil. Let the sugar dissolve. Then bring to a rolling boil.
  5. You want the temperature to reach 108 degrees Centigrade. This will take 10-15 minutes and you will notice the bubbles changing as the mixture heats. Be sure to scrape down the sides whilst the mixture is bubbling.
  6. As soon as it reached 108 degrees Centigrade, take the pan off the heat and pour into the lined tin.
  7. Leave to cool, then cover with baking parchment. Once fully cold and set cut into pretty shapes. Squares or triangles are the most efficient but I like using mini cookie cutters to stamp out little shapes.
  8. Roll each shape in caster sugar and then store in an airtight container until ready to eat.