This year will not be one for big holiday gatherings or silly parties. But we all have people in our live that we appreciate, maybe now more than ever, and people we will miss during the festive season. Which makes it the perfect time to share homemade holiday gifts. Preparing them is a fun, safe activity and they can be attractively packaged (see my guide below) and safely delivered to a doorstep or mailbox with no contact.
Peanut Chili Crunch
Chili crisp or chili crunch is the latest craze in condiments. It is a Sichuan-style crunchy, garlicky, spicy drizzle that is all the rage. You can buy $20 jars from gourmet stores or less expensive bottles in Asian supermarkets. But why not make it? I first came across a recipe in a magazine that was doable but involved lots of mail-order ingredients, rare dried chilis and some fiddly technique. So I researched a number of ideas and fiddled around with a simpler version that uses easy to find ingredients and very little technique. Seriously, google chili crisp and you will find a ton of ways to use this – from eggs to ice cream. I really like this drizzled over mashed or baked sweet potatoes. A little goes a long way, so a small jar is a great gift. Add some ideas for use on the label.
¾ cup olive oil
¼ cup toasted sesame oil or toasted peanut oil
3 cloves of garlic
1 piece of fresh ginger about the size of the tip of your pinkie, peeled
½ cup dry roasted peanut, finely crushed.
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
2 Tablespoons crushed red chili flakes
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Pour the olive and sesame oil into a small saucepan. Put the garlic cloves through a garlic press and add to the oil (or very finely mince the cloves). Put the peeled ginger through the press, grate it on a microplane or very finely mince and add to the oil. Heat the oil over medium high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, just 3 – 4 minutes. Put the peanuts into a ziptop bag and bang with a rolling pin to crush into small pieces. Lower the heat to low and add the peanuts, sesame seeds, chili flakes, brown sugar and salt. Stir well and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let the oil bubble. Pour the chili crunch into a bowl and leave to cool completely. Evenly divide the mixture between three 4- ounce jars, making sure to fill with the crunchy bits and cover with the oil. Tightly cover and chill for up to a month.
Brown Butter and Herb Crackers
Homemade crackers are easier to make than you might think, but they always impress. This version has a nice hint of flavor from the browned butter and herbs. Cut the crackers into any shape you like. A bag of these crackers makes a lovely gift, but to make it even more special, give them with some lovely cheese or preserves. Depending on the size you cut the crackers, this can easily make 4 dozen.
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 Teaspoons kosher salt
1 bunch fresh leafy herbs (marjoram, sage, oregano)
1 cup water
Flaky sea salt
Cut the butter into small pieces and place in a small saucepan (light colored or stainless is best so you can see the butter as it browns). Heat over medium high heat, watching constantly, until the butter is melted. It will start to spit and hiss, then you will see brown speckles appear. Swirl the butter around to distribute the browned bits, and as soon as the butter has an even brown color and a nice nutty smell, pour it into a measuring jug and drop in 3 – 4 stems of the herbs. Cool to room temperature.
Finely chop the herbs to produce 2 teaspoons. Put the flour in a large mixing bowl with the salt and herbs and stir to distribute the herbs evenly. Remove the herb stalks from the browned butter. Pour the butter into the flour, leaving any brown residue behind. Add the water and stir until the dough comes together in cohesive ball and there are no visible streaks of flour in the bowl. You can knead with your hands at the end if you need to. The dough should be slightly tacky. Divide the dough into thirds.
Preheat the oven to 435 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Generously flour a cool surface. Place on third of the dough onto the surface and roll out with a generously floured rolling pin. Roll the dough into a rough rectangle about 1/8 thick. Trim off an wonky edges to create a symmetrical rectangle. Put the dough scraps to the side. Use a pastry brush, brush the top of the dough with olive oil. Use a fork to prick the dough all over, right through the dough (this is not just decorative, it keeps the crackers from puffing up). Sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Cut the crackers into whatever shape you like. I find a pizza cutter or pastry wheel the best tool for this, but a sharp knife or bench scraper works. You can use a cookie cutter to make shapes as well. Carefully transfer the crackers to a prepared baking ship, close together but not touching. Use a spatula or scraper if needed. Make sure every cracker has been poked by the fork. Repeat with the remaining dough, then bake the crackers for 10 minutes, then check that they are golden brown on the edges with a little brown on the top. You may cook them a few more minutes, but watch carefully. Remove the crackers to a wire rack to cool completely. They will crisp as the cool.
Store the crackers in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Crackly Ice Cream Shell
Remember squeezing syrup over your ice cream and waiting for it to make a nice hard shell you could crack with a spoon? The magic of childhood! Truth is, it is so easy to make a version at home with chocolate and coconut oil. The coconut oil is the key, that’s what makes it harden when it hits cold ice cream, and coconut oil is simple to find now. I’m offering a few holiday-ready versions, but you can experiment with your own flavor combos. Both of these recipes makes enough for about 2 4-ounce jars, which is a nice size gift. Each can be stored on the counter for up to three weeks. If it hardens, place the jar in a bowl or sink of hot water until runny. Stir and pour!
Egg Nog Ice Cream Shell
2 cups white chocolate chips
1/3 cup coconut oil
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Melt the chocolate chips and coconut oil in saucepan over medium heat, stirring until smooth. Stir in the nutmeg and cinnamon until smooth. Pour the sauce into a jar or airtight container. Store on the counter for up to three weeks. If it hardens, place the jar in a bowl or sink of hot water until runny. Stir and pour!
Peppermint Ice Cream Shell
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (or white chocolate chips)
¼ cup coconut oil
½ teaspoon peppermint extract
Melt the chocolate chips and coconut oil in saucepan over medium heat, stirring until smooth. Stir in the peppermint extract until smooth. Pour the sauce into a jar or airtight container. Store on the counter for up to three weeks. If it hardens, place the jar in a bowl or sink of hot water until runny. Stir and pour!
Very Useful Sugar Cookie Dough
Here is the simplest cookie dough with so many uses. Roll the dough into logs for slice and bake cookies. You can refrigerate the logs for days or freeze for months. You can give the logs and cooking instructions as gifts, or bake up the cookies and give those away. Keep a log or two in the freezer for last minute gifts or treats. These take well to frosting or glazing. The condensed milk adds a little sweetness but it also adds some structure to the dough.
2 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
¼ cup sweetened condensed milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and fluffy, 3 – 4 minutes. Beat in the sweetened condednsed milk and the vanilla untol thoroughly combined. Gradually beat in the flour and salt, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until you have a well combined, cohesive dough.
Divide the dough into four equal portions and place each portion on sheet of waxed or parchment paper or plastic wrap. Shape the dough into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter, then roll up tightly in the paper, smoothing and shaping the log as you go. Twist the ends like a candy wrapper. Refrigerate the logs for at least an hour, but up to 4 days. You can also freeze the logs for up to 2 months.
To bake: Thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator overnight, or until sliceable. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice into cookies about ¼ inch thick then place 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Cook for 8 – 10 minutes until firm and lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Packaging Food Gifts
It’s pretty easy today to find cute and fun food gift packaging but let me tell you about some of my favorites, with links to find them. I’ve put some great options in my Amazon shop here (from which I make a small commission) from bags and boxes to tins. You can design your own personalized gift bags at The Stationary Studio here. My homemade jams and preserves all wear labels from Nancy Nikko Designs and you can find her fabulous holiday labels here. I am also a huge fan of Felix Doolittle stickers and stationery, which you can browse here. Zazzle lets you create your own labels, gift bags, wrapping paper and many other products using their library of designs or your own creation here. Namemaker will create personalized ribbon to tie up all your pretty packages here or simple gift stickers here. And I couldn’t possibly begin to list all the options on Etsy, but it is definitely worth a look here.
Other Food Gift Ideas
Lemon Rosemary Cocktail Wafers
Parmesan Thyme Cocktail Biscuits
Carolyn P. Bailie says
Do you really slice the sugar cookies 1 1/4 inch thick or did I read this wrong?
The Runaway Spoon says
Typo! Thank you – i’ve changed it to 1/4 inch