Forget frankincense and myrrh, we're hungry for 24-carat gold

IT'S the glittering decoration that is fashionably digestible and on its way to becoming one of the biggest sellers of the festive period.

• All that glisters: A gold leaf is being used as a cake decoration on a luxury pudding by Heston Blumenthal Photograph: Ian Rutherford

In a move that suggests Scots are opting for luxury rather than austerity this Christmas, upmarket food store Waitrose has reported that sales of its edible gold leaf, which went on the market last Monday priced at 3.99 for a tiny pot, were so strong at all three of the company's Scottish outlets that only a few were left on the shelves.

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The gold leaf is the vital ingredient in Heston Blumenthal's recipe for a no-expense-spared Christmas dessert. His spiced popping candy chocolate tart features a hazelnut shortbread base with orange chocolate ganache on top.

"Scots are adding some glitter to their Christmas entertaining," said a Waitrose spokeswoman. "The gold leaf is the ultimate symbol of gourmet opulence."

The cake decoration is not the only unusual luxury Christmas item being snapped up by Scottish consumers. Sculpta Cosmetic Clinic, which has treatment centres in Glasgow and Edinburgh, says it has seen a huge rise in the number of Botox gift vouchers being given this year.

Dr Mohammed Ahmad, clinical director of Sculpta Clinic, said: "Since the start of the month, the number of Botox bookings and the sale of Botox treatment gift vouchers has dramatically increased - showing that it is clearly the gift of choice this season."

The unusual present choices came as Scots opt to splash out on their Christmas shopping, despite the difficult economic climate.

Upmarket store Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh reported that sales in the store yesterday - known traditionally as "panic Saturday" as it is the Saturday before Christmas when many shoppers rush out to buy their Christmas presents - would far surpass those of last year and said that the shop had been "much busier" than on previous "panic Saturdays".

"There is evidence that people are going for luxury this year," said Harvey Nichols Edinburgh store director Gordon Drummond.

"This has been an exceptionally good day for us. The Saturday before Christmas is traditionally the busiest day of the year and we're seeing a lot of people coming in, many of whom have been cooped up at home because of the weather or because internet deliveries have been cancelled because of the snow."

Drummond said that some particularly strong performers included perfumes and cosmetics, and added that the store was also selling a high number of designer handbags and accessories, as well as a number of men's luxury clothing items.

John Lewis, which has stores across Scotland, also said that its customers were opting to splash out, reporting that high-end food blenders, pure sheepskin slippers, Molton Brown gift sets and Charbonnel truffles and Champagne had been best sellers over the previous few days, as shoppers rushed to fill Christmas stockings.

In Edinburgh, a clear day enticed thousands of shoppers out to George Street and Princes Street, while in Glasgow snow showers did little to deter shoppers who flocked to the main shopping thoroughfares of Buchanan Street, Argyll Street and Sauchiehall Street. Across the country, department stores and electrical retailers also reported strong sales of technical equipment including iPads, iPhones and televisions, as shoppers opted to buy now rather than in the January sales and before the VAT increase comes into play next month. Some stores are already offering discounts of up to 75 per cent.

However, one company was quick to sound a note of caution over the level of spending this Christmas. Bright Grey Research reported that almost 5.5 million adults will fall into debt over the next month to pay for their festive fun.

Its "Salary Gap" study, which looks at expenditure against income for adults in the UK, shows that the average Briton will spend almost 65 per cent more of their income during the festive period than at any other time in the year to fund their living expenses.

It added that men are set to spend the most this Christmas, reaching an average 661 per month for October, November and December, compared with women, who are set to spend 543 on average per month.

"The most common reason for overspending at Christmas is that ‘I will feel guilty if I do not give my family/children everything they ask for, with 35 per cent stating that the level of spending over Christmas is ‘just because I have to'," said a Bright Grey spokesperson.

Meanwhile, stores and shopping centres across the country will extend their shopping hours from today until 23 December, with some shopping centres in Scotland, including Silverburn, near Glasgow, remaining open until midnight.