Holiday Goodies and Gifts

Christmas isn’t complete without giving (and hopefully receiving!) a few homemade holiday treats

By Zara Abbasi Photos by Katie Childs

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Anyone else out of breath? I am! I just ran a sprint through the last two holidays trying to get everything done on time, see friends, rush from one gathering to another (not to mention the potlucks!). So. Much. Stuff!! But, wait … there’s more! Now for the low, low price of your sanity, you get to make your very own handcrafted gifts for friends and family! How fun is that?! “Not very, Zara. You were apparently oxygen deprived during that sprint you were running!” Ok, I get it, but hear me out. There’s a way you can make handcrafted holiday gifts that spares your sanity but gives you a stellar and thought-out product that will make you proud.

We can do this together! We can be crafty while busy if we stay focused! Let’s make a decision and stick to it. It doesn’t have to be the perfect thing to give; it just needs to be thought out and deliberate. So, think of your audience. Are they cooks? Allergic to nuts? Avoid sweets but love savory, or vice versa? These are great questions to ask to get you started.

After finding out your audience, think of the time and budget constraints that you’re facing. You know what’s cooler than hand-crafted holiday gifts? Sleep and paying your bills on time. But, seriously, don’t take on a project that your body and bank will later regret. It’s possible to make really cute things without a scary time and money commitment.

Lastly, let’s think about packaging. This is where your “wow factor” comes into play. At least it does for me. This is what I love to do most (after making the products, of course), because don’t we all love a beautifully wrapped gift? There are tons of ways to package your products: You can keep it simple with craft paper and different twines and ribbons, use tin cans that we’re so accustomed to during the holidays, use glassine bags, wax paper and perfect little stickers from Miss Em Prints or make your own.

Now that we got the details out of the way, let’s get to work because these are easy, yummy and don’t take too much effort to make.


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Chocolate Fruit and Nut Clusters

How simple are these? You barely need a recipe for them. It’s as if you’re creating your own personalized chocolate bars — like you’re Willy Wonka! And, then you’ll be handing out golden tickets and scolding kids for breaking your rules! Look at you go! Ok, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s make the chocolate first. I can’t emphasize how simple these are; and people will truly thank you for not adding to their waistline this holiday season.

Your favorite chocolate, chopped (chips will work too)
Nuts of your choice or a combination
Dried fruit of your choice
Sea salt
Parchment paper

1. Rejoice because, did you see that ingredient list? It doesn’t even have measurements! That’s how easy it is. Wait until you see the rest of the directions.

2. Melt the chopped chocolate in a glass bowl and check every 30 seconds and stir to ensure it doesn’t burn. This is as hard as it gets.

3. After the chocolate is melted, pour directly on to the parchment paper. You can pour little circles or little logs or something more abstract like a bark if you’d like. The choice is yours.

4. Before the chocolate cools, start adding your dried fruit and nuts. Use any combination that you’d like.

5. Sprinkle with just a touch of sea salt, and allow to cool before packaging.

6. After cooling, package into little clear bags or another package of your choosing and include a loving tag.

7. Pat yourself on the back because you made a super cute gift that’s actually kind of healthy for your friends and not to mention, really delicious.

8. Optional: add flecks of gold leaf (if you want to get artsy) or top with melted caramel for another layer of flavor.


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Marshmallow or Sandwich Cracker Pops

If you need to make a ton of cute individual gifts for kids or a child’s class, then these marshmallow pops are the cutest and easiest things to make. If you want to go the savory route, you can still use this premise but with sandwich crackers. You’ve probably seen these around and for good reason. These get an adorable reaction out of kids, and they’re a fun activity that you can do with children in your own family. Sometimes we just need good, old-fashioned snacks that aren’t too serious to get us in the holiday spirit, and these fit the bill. 

Large marshmallows or sandwich crackers
Candy eyes (can be found at your local craft supply store)
Melting candy wafers (brown)
Orange and yellow M&Ms
Long cake pop or popsicle sticks
Small foam board to hold up sticks while marshmallows are drying

1. For marshmallows, insert a rounded popsicle stick in the bottom of each and set aside.

2. Melt the brown candy wafers in a heat-proof dish in the microwave, making sure to check every 30 seconds. Be sure not to scorch the candy.

3. Once the candy is melted, dip each side of the marshmallow in the chocolate at an angle. Add a little melted candy to the back of the eyes with a toothpick and add on to the face of the penguin. 

4. Add a yellow M&M candy on its side vertically as its nose and then two orange ones at the bottom, as feet, making sure to affix with melted candy and letting it cool properly.

5. If using sandwich crackers, you can dip completely into the chocolate and add mini pretzels at the top with eyes and a red candy as the nose to make a cute reindeer. Feel free to omit chocolate completely if it will contrast with your sandwich cracker flavors.

6. Cool and rest all the treats on the thick foam and package in clear bags with cute ribbon.


Gingerbread Cake

Were the other two recipes a little too easy for you? Are you one of those people who must turn on your stove or oven to feel like it’s really the holidays? Well, this recipe is for you! It’s the epitome of a holiday gift: it’s real GINGERBREAD! It’s not terribly hard to make, it screams “holidays,” and it’s honestly delicious - not to mention, your friends and family will love you for this gem. 

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1¾ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
½ cup molasses
1 egg, beaten
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon almond extract
2/3 cup boiling water

1. Grease and flour an 8- or 9-inch cake pan (or small individual pans if using those). Preheat oven to 325°F.

2. Stir the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and spices together. Cream the butter and slowly add in the brown sugar, and cream completely. Stir in molasses.

3. Add the beaten egg into the creamed mixture and stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.

4. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture in thirds, making sure to mix each time until just incorporated.

5. Gradually add boiling water, stirring after each addition. Pour into greased and floured pan(s).

6. Bake for about 50 minutes if using the large pan and 15-20 minutes if using smaller pans. Check earlier than you have to so that it’s not over-baked. Use a toothpick or cake tester to check for doneness.

7. Once cooled, package the cakes in small boxes with decorative tags/stickers or individually if using disposable cardboard pans.


Compound Butter

People often don’t think about giving compound butter as a gift and we should! This would be such a welcomed gift in my home and better yet, I would absolutely put it to use! It’s so simple to make, requires zero baking or cooking, and the variations are so endless that it would be tragic to not give this a shot. I’m including a few different variations to give you some options. The garlic herb butter is a classic and can be used on breads, rolls and while roasting meats. A tablespoon here and there can also add immense flavor to soups and on top of grilled steaks. The same goes for the green chili cilantro butter — use on anything savory for a twist on the classic. The sweeter ones are great on biscuits, pancakes and scones. There are several possibilities, which is what makes this handmade gift so special and useful. Hope you’ll give this a try!

For Herbed Butter:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon minced garlic or garlic paste
½ tablespoon minced oregano
½ tablespoon minced parsley
1 tablespoon minced rosemary
1 tablespoon minced sage
1 tablespoon minced thyme
*optional: add 2 teaspoons lemon zest

1. The directions for any of the compound butters will be identical. The most important thing to do is to make sure that the butter is very soft and then mix together all ingredients for that particular butter.

2. After mixing, place the butter mixture in plastic wrap and roll into a log, making sure to twist ends.

3. Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours to let the flavors come together and let the butter harden again.

4. After the butter has hardened, wrap the butter in pretty paper or something simple like craft paper, and seal with ribbon, twine or a personalized sticker. 

5. Make sure to advise the recipient to place in the fridge. Shelf life is the same as the expiration date on your pack of butter.

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For Green Chili Cilantro Butter:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons minced cilantro
(depending on strength you prefer)
2 teaspoons minced garlic or garlic paste
2 tablespoons chopped roasted green chilies
(if using can, make sure to drain and
dry chilies)
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder

For Marmalade Butter:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons marmalade
1 teaspoon fresh orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

For Cinnamon Butter:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, very soft
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons honey or brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste