No time for cookies? It's understandable. No talent for elaborate cakes? You know your limits.
Afraid you'll mess up making even the simplest holiday treats? You might suprise yourself.
In the 21st century, anyone who shows up at a holiday party and has a homemade treat in their hands is considered something of a wonder. But that wonder doesn't have to be an expert who needs time and a lot of talent to produce a delicious and attractive food gift. Really.
What you will find here is a selection of gifts from the kitchen that range from simple to the elaborate. But, for the most part, they are simple. Quite a few are no-bake goodies, which cuts down on the kitchen time. A few require a candy thermometer, which are simple to use and sold in most supermarkets in the baking aisle. The most difficult is probably the Buche Noel shown at the top of the page. Inside is a yummy cheesecake topped with Christmas candies.
Pick what suits your time and abilities. But most of all, have fun in the kitchen. And, remember that even the simplest gift from the kitchen is enhanced with pretty wrapping and ribbon.
1 tablespoon water
1 cup butter
1/4 cup cream
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
5 ounces dark chocolate
1 cup toasted almonds, chopped
Flakey sea salt for sprinkling, optional
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
2. Boil the water, butter, cream, sugar and salt over medium heat in a 3-quart saucepan. Stir slowly and constantly with a heatproof spatula until the syrup reaches 300 degrees. (Use a candy thermometer.)
3. Remove the mixture from the heat, and stir in the vanilla.
4. Pour onto the parchment paper. Let stand 1 minute, then sprinkle chocolate on top of the toffee. Wait 3-5 minutes for the chocolate to melt, then spread it evenly over the toffee with an offset spatula.
5. Sprinkle on the almonds, followed by the sea salt, if using.
6. Refrigerate the toffee until the chocolate is set, about 45 minutes.
7. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container. Makes 1 1/2 pounds.
-- HeatherChristo.com, from "Sweet Confections: Beautiful Candy to Make at Home," by Nina Wanat
Chocolate-dipped Peppermint Sticks
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon shortening
2/3 cup chopped pecans or your favorite nuts or sprinkles
16 (3- to 4-inch long) fat peppermint sticks
1. In a small saucepan combine chocolate and shortening; cook over low heat just until melted. Transfer to a bowl. Place pecans on waxed paper.
2. Dip one end of each peppermint stick into melted chocolate and then roll in chopped nuts or sprinkles. Place on waxed paper; let stand until set. Wrap each individually to give as a gift. Makes 16 gifts.
Note: You can substitute pretzel rods. Break in half and dip broken end in chocolate.
Chunky Cranberry Relish
6 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup full-bodied red wine (such as pinot noir) or cranberry juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon finely shredded orange peel
1. Wash and drain the cranberries, removing any spoiled berries or foreign objects.
2. In a wide stainless steel skillet, combine wine, sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cook for 1 minute. Add the cranberries and bring to boiling; reduce heat. Boil gently over medium-high heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until skins pop*, stirring occasionally. Stir in the orange peel.
3. Cool completely; remove cinnamon. If desired, smash berries slightly with the back of a spoon for a thicker relish. Spoon into decorative jars. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Yield: 4 to 5 cups.
Tip:For a softer, smoother cranberry sauce, prepare as directed, except boil gently for 20 minutes.
-- Better Homes & Gardens
Simple metal tins look cheerful when decked with leftover wrapping paper or bold grosgrain ribbon. A handwritten tag under the ribbon lets recipients know what delightful treat is nestled inside -- pumpkin pie-spiced nuts.
Roasted Spiced Almonds
4 cups whole unblanched almonds or mixed nuts
1 egg white
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie or apple pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread almonds in a single layer in a shallow baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Place on a wire rack; cool 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Grease a 15x10x1-inch baking pan; set aside.
2. With a wire whisk or rotary beater, beat egg white and water in a large bowl until frothy. Stir in granulated sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and salt. Stir in cooled nuts. Spread nuts in a single layer in prepared pan.
3. Bake about 20 minutes or until nuts appear dry, stirring once halfway through baking. Transfer nuts to waxed paper, separating into individual pieces or small clusters; cool completely.
4. Place almonds in tightly covered decorative containers. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes 5-1/2 cups.
Rice Krispie Treats, but so much better!
White Chocolate-Cranberry Crispy Treats
1/4 cup butter
5 cups tiny marshmallows
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg or ground cinnamon
6 cups crispy rice cereal
1 cup white chocolate baking pieces
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted
1 recipe Marshmallow Topping (see recipe below) (optional)
Chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)
1. Lightly grease a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan; set aside. In a 4- to 5-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows, stirring until melted. Stir in nutmeg. Add crispy rice cereal, white baking pieces, dried cranberries, and the 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans, stirring until combined.
2. Scoop mixture into prepared pan. With the back of a greased spoon, press mixture evenly into pan. If desired, drizzle with Marshmallow Topping and sprinkle with additional chopped pecans. Let stand for 1 hour before serving. Cut into bars. Makes 48 bars.
Marshmallow Topping -- In a medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter over low heat. Add 1 1/2 cups tiny marshmallows, stirring until melted.
Storage: Layer bars between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days.
No-Bake Butterscotch-Pretzel Bars
Nonstick cooking spray
1 1/2cups powdered sugar
1cup creamy peanut butter
6 tablespoons butter, melted
2 cups crushed pretzels (about 6-1/2 ounces)
1 11 ounce package (about 2 cups) butterscotch-flavored pieces
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup coarsely crushed pretzels
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
1. Line a 13-by-9-by-2-inch pan with foil. Lightly coat the foil with cooking spray; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, stir together powdered sugar, peanut butter, and melted butter. Stir in 2 cups crushed pretzels. Press mixture firmly into the bottom of prepared pan.
2. In a heavy medium saucepan, combine butterscotch pieces and whipping cream. Stir over low heat until pieces are just melted.
3. Carefully spoon and spread butterscotch mixture over crumb mixture in pan. Sprinkle 1/2 cup coarsely crushed pretzels and the peanuts evenly over butterscotch mixture; press gently.
4. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours. Cut into bars to serve. Store in refrigerator for up to 1 week. Yield: about 36 bars.
Fabulous Five-Minute Fudge
1 12 ounce package semisweet chocolate pieces (2 cups)
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk (one-half of a 14-ounce can)
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted if desired
1 teaspoon vanilla
1. Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper; set aside. In a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine chocolate pieces, sweetened condensed milk, and water.
2. Microwave, uncovered, on 100 percent power (high) for 1 minute; stir. Microwave about 1 minute more, or until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth, stirring every 30 seconds. Stir in nuts and vanilla. Pour mixture onto prepared cookie sheet and spread it into a 9x6-inch rectangle, or drop mixture by rounded teaspoons onto prepared cookie sheet.
3. Chill fudge about 30 minutes or until firm. Cut fudge into 1-1/2-inch squares. Makes 24 pieces.
CHOCOLATE-PEPPERMINT BUCHE NOEL
Chocolate sponge cake:
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons warm water
Butter, flour for the pan
9 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, divided
6 tablespoons Dutch-processed cocoa, sifted, plus more for dusting
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1-2 drops red food coloring, optional
Crushed candy canes, optional
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
Candy canes, to garnish
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate with the warm water. Let cool to room temperature.
2. Grease the bottom of an 18-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet. Line pan with parchment; butter and then flour the parchment.
3. With an electric mixer, whip the egg yolks on medium-high speed until light in color and beginning to thicken, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup sugar and whip until very thick and pale yellow, 2 minutes. Reduce speed and mix in chocolate. Fold in the cocoa and salt.
4. In a clean mixer bowl with clean, dry beaters, whip egg whites until frothy and beginning to increase in volume, 30 seconds. In a steady stream, add remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Increase speed and whip until soft peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes.
5. Stir half the whites into the chocolate. Gently fold in the rest. Scrape batter into pan, smoothing it level. Bake 22-25 minutes, until the top springs back lightly when touched.
6. Meanwhile, spread a large clean dish towel on the counter. Using a sieve, thoroughly dust the towel with cocoa powder. Run a knife around the inside edge of the hot cake pan, and invert it onto the towel in one quick motion. (It (*25*)s a messy process. Be prepared for clouds of cocoa.) Remove the pan and parchment. Starting from a short end, roll up the cake and towel together. Let cool.
7. For the filling. Fill a wide pot with 2 inches of very hot water. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the 2 egg whites, 1/2 cup sugar and a pinch salt. Set the bowl in the hot water; so the water comes up to the level of the mixture in the bowl. Whisk until almost hot (about 120 degrees), about 90 seconds. Then, using the mixer on medium-high, whip the whites until cool and thick, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce to medium speed, add butter a tablespoon at a time, mixing until completely incorporated. Mix in the peppermint extract and red food coloring. The filling should be soft and loose. (Chill it for 20 minutes if it's too runny.)
8. Unroll the cooled cake. Spread the filling to within 2 inches of the edges. Sprinkle with crushed candy canes, if you wish. Then reroll the cake without the towel. (The cake can be stored, well-wrapped in plastic wrap, overnight in the refrigerator at this point.)
9. Set a wire rack on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Set the roulade on the rack.
10. For the glaze, bring the cream, sugar, 1/2 cup water and cocoa to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer 8-10 minutes, whisking often, until very thick, like hot fudge. Don't let it boil over. Let cool.
11. While the glaze is cooling, soften the gelatin in 1 1/2 tablespoons water. Melt it in a double boiler, then whisk it into the glaze, and strain the mixture into a metal bowl. Let cool until thick but still pourable, about 5 to 10 minutes.
12. Pour the glaze over the roulade, covering the top and sides evenly. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours. Garnish with crushed candy canes.
-- Adapted from a recipe by Emily Luchetti, pastry chef, Waterbar
White Chocolate Snack Mix
2 cups bite-size wheat or rice square cereal, bite-size shredded wheat biscuits, or bite-size shredded wheat biscuits with raisin filling
2 cups broken graham crackers, graham crackers with cinnamon-sugar topping, or chocolate-covered graham crackers
2 cups pretzel sticks
2 cups broken rice cakes
1 cup tiny marshmallows
1 cup raisins or mixed dried fruit bits
1 cup whole or slivered almonds or cashews
1 pound white baking chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon light-color corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1. Line an extra-large baking sheet with waxed paper or parchment paper; set aside. In an extra-large bowl, gently combine cereal, graham crackers, pretzels, rice cakes, marshmallows, raisins, and nuts.
2. In a medium saucepan, combine white chocolate, cream, and corn syrup. Cook and stir over low heat until nearly melted; remove from heat and stir gently until smooth. Stir in almond extract.
3. Pour warm chocolate mixture over cereal mixture; toss gently to coat. Immediately spread mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Cool until chocolate is set (up to 12 hours). Break into pieces as needed. Store in an airtight container for up to x days.
Makes: 56 servings 1/4 cup each with 105 calories, 2 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fat, 4 mg cholesterol, 1 gram fiber.
1 (8-ounce) package chocolate sandwich cookies with white filling, finely crushed
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 pound white baking chocolate, melted
1. In large bowl combine crushed cookies and cream cheese.
2. Beat with mixer on low speed until well blended.
3. Form 1-inch balls by hand. Dip balls in white chocolate; place on baking sheet covered with waxed paper. Refrigerate 1 hour or until firm.
To store, cover and refrigerate. Makes 50 truffles.
This cheesecake should chill overnight, so plan ahead.
Christmas Candy Cheesecake
2 cups shortbread cookie crumbs or graham cracker crumbs.
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter, melted
4 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups (16 ounces) full fat sour cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
A variety of Christmas candies
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Crust: Securely wrap two squares of aluminum foil up and around the sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan. The crust is very buttery and the aluminum foil will prevent butter from seeping out of the pan and onto your oven floor. It will also be extra insurance against water seeping into the crust when it's baking in the water bath.
If making crust with shortbread cookies, process in a food processor.
3. In a small bowl, combine the crumbs, brown sugar and cinnamon; stir in butter. Press onto bottom and 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the spring-form pan. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to wire rack. Let cool completely.
4. Filling: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth. Add beaten eggs and mix on medium-high speed until incorporated. Pour into the partially baked shortbread crust.
5. Place cheesecake pan in a larger baking pan and add 1 in. of hot water to larger pan. Note: I used the hot water that comes from my tap because it is very hot indeed. This is a short-cut I use sometimes, but I usually put on a large pot of water to use for the hot water in the water bath.
6. Reduce oven heat to 325 degrees and bake for 1-1/2 hours or until center is just set.
7. Topping: In a medium bowl, combine sour cream and sugar and stir until smooth. Spoon the mixture over the surface of the hot cheesecake and spread with the back of the spoon to cover. Bake for 5-7minutes longer.
8. Remove spring-form pan from water bath. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Loosen cheesecake from the sides of the pan with a knife, but do not remove the collar. Refrigerate overnight.
9. Open the collar of the spring-form pan and remove. Garnish with your choice of Christmas candies.
-- Sprinklebakes.com, adapted from "Taste of Home 100 Best Desserts"