Retailers everywhere be darned: The spirit of the season is about giving but not necessarily goodies you get from a store. For, as the Grinch learned, Christmas is about so much more.
Thanks to a resurgence of quirky novelty items and crafting, DIY options are an excellent way to personalize your gifts and save some money. As an amateur baker, I plan to focus my efforts on all things edible. If you’re thinking of doing the same, here are some tips to help guide you. Please comment if you have any nifty tricks to share.
Now, to the oven!
- Skill Level: If you don’t know the difference between a spatula and a strainer, it’s probably best to avoid complicated confections like croissants, macarons and basically anything French. In college I started giving fudge as holiday treats since at the time, I didn’t know the first thing about baking. This classic recipe from Ghiradelli is an easy crowd pleaser (think less sweet and more chocolatey than your usual fudge). Folks with a few notches on their apron belts can go for more involved treats like yule logs and gingerbread cookies.
- Equipment: Candies such as pralines and peanut brittle may sound wonderfully compact and appealing… if you have a candy thermometer. Take it from someone who has scraped hardened caramel off a linoleum floor and just days ago burnt a cookie base because she thought a cheap metal pan would substitute for a two-inch baking dish: Proper tools can make all the difference. Sometimes tricks can work. For the fudge, interval microwaving or a high-quality Pyrex bowl nested in a pot of water on a stove can substitute for a double broiler. In other cases, it’s best to choose recipes that don’t call for pastry torches. Unless that’s just how you roll.
- Ingredients: Should your finances be tight, selecting baking projects that call for saffron threads, almond flour or essence of lavender is a bad idea. Bakers and eaters have gotten along just fine with eggs, butter, flour and milk for centuries, and unless your recipients have special diets, so can you.
- Destination: Thumbprint cookies and rum balls are delicious for in-person gifts, but not for your cousin in Idaho, who will almost certainly receive a mess of jelly and melted chocolate. Quick breads, jars of homemade jams, cream-free cookies and biscotti (like these I’m fixing for my grandmother) are excellent options for going the distance.