True story: Last year around the holidays I stumbled upon a recipe for homemade Irish cream at the awesome food blog Smitten Kitchen. It looked fun, easy, and delicious…and made a batch way bigger than I could possibly drink by all by myself. Luckily, the blog post solved that problem by suggesting decorative containers in order to divvy the cream into individual servings to distribute to family and friends.
“Hmmm” I thought. “I have some free time on Saturday. Maybe I’ll give this a try and hand out as a gift to my family next time I see them.”
So I ordered the cute mason-like jars, whipped up a pitcher of Irish cream, then delivered one to each person in a group of family and friends with a personalized note. I thought it would be fun.
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They went NUTS.
No joke, the Irish cream was received better than most purchased gifts I had put hours and big money into buying. Yet this was a gift that just took nothing more than a few ingredients and a little bit of time and love. Over the next week I got a bevy of thank you texts and photos. The lucky recipients gushed over how much they loved the cream and how they used it, from drinking straight over ice to stirring in their morning coffee. I didn’t get such heartfelt thanks from the Chicago Bears gear I gave. And we’re serious Bears fans.
Why is that? While there’s often a lot of thought that goes into purchased gifts, something about homemade gifts tends to get a little extra appreciation: appreciation for the time, talent, and hard work that went into making it, and especially appreciation for the fact that the gift came from someone you know versus a factory. To put it another way: Between the ugly sweater that grandma knitted you and the one you got from Ugly Sweaters Inc, grandma’s sweater is still sitting in your drawer while the store-bought sweater was thrown in the donation pile long ago. It’s because no matter how ugly it is, it’s from grandma!
As the holiday season this year inches closer, I’ve been thinking of other types of homemade food gifts that my family and friends might enjoy more than a present I could order online. Like the Irish cream, delicious treats don’t necessarily require a baker’s skilled decorating hand or a ton of special equipment. It just takes some time, planning, and great presentation.
If you’re interested in creating your own homemade food gifts this year, below are a few suggestions to get you started, no special equipment needed. The key to making them memorable, though, comes down to a few simple guidelines:
Go for originality—something you can’t find in the store or your recipients didn’t know could easily be made from scratch. Anyone can make chocolate chip cookies, but if you put in an exotic ingredient or decorate the tops with artfully arranged edible gold foil, your friends will be super impressed.
Don’t do anything that has to be consumed immediately or will melt/harden/explode if not kept at a very specific temperature at all times. Perfected a molten chocolate lava cake? Impressive. Handing said lava cake to your boyfriend’s mom and yelling “You have to eat it NOW or else it will congeal!” will send her running from you in terror.
Presentation is key. If you dump your treats in a plastic zip bag or something similarly disposable, it will look like you’re handing out leftovers from an impromptu kitchen session. I put the Irish cream in those great looking glass containers, wrapped them with multi-colored curly ribbon, and attached a small card like the kind you find on the rope handle of gift bags. Even better, the containers were reusable, which everyone appreciated. Find decorative cellophane bags, uniquely shaped containers, or a woven basket lined with colorful tissue paper to display your handiwork.
Ah, the recipe that started it all. This stuff is delicious, super fast to whip up, and can be made as boozy or non-boozy as you like. The hardest part is making sure that your cocoa paste is just the right texture or you get little bits of cocoa pieces that float around. Not that those pieces stopped anyone from downing it all. The small Wek juice jars were just the right size to divide between multiple people, but included enough Irish cream in each to last a few servings. Get the recipe.
Food gifts don’t necessarily need to be all dessert-based. Everyone eats enough candy and baked goods during the holidays to keep Willy Wonka in business, so your recipients will probably appreciate something a little different. Jam lasts longer than a treat and can also be dressed up in nice looking jars. This recipe makes creating a batch super quick and easy. Get our Strawberry Jam recipe.
Truffles impress everyone because they seem so elegant and decadent. Shhh… don’t let anyone know they’re easy to make! These super chocolatey truffles only require four ingredients and take an hour to assemble. If you want some variety you could roll them in crushed hazelnuts or other delicious toppings. Get our Charles Chocolates Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles recipe.
Why this recipe? Because bacon. Bacon makes everything delicious, and caramelizing it with bourbon and brown sugar makes it insanely delicious. It’s generally best to make brittle with a candy thermometer but this recipe adjusts for those who don’t have one. Just try not to eat it all before you pack it up for others. Get the recipe.
Nuts are a great alternative to candy and sweets, though these could totally double for candy with the combination of maple and cinnamon. Pump up the cayenne for an extra kick. The nice thing about spiced nuts is they’re so adaptable: Eat them straight out of a bowl, top an ice cream sundae, mix in with popcorn, or layer on warm fudgy brownies. They’re the ultimate in versatility! Get the recipe.
For a nut treat on the more savory side, try these salted rosemary walnuts. They’re also great to eat on their own, mixed with the above maple cinnamon nuts, or served over roasted green beans. If you’re putting together a mixed box of homemade treats, these herbed nuts will be a great addition to temper all the sweetness. Get our Roasted Rosemary Walnuts recipe.
Limoncello is an Italian liqueur made with vodka and lemons, typically served ice cold as an after-dinner drink. I never realized how easy it was to make until my brother and sister-in-law, as part of a wedding gift, received instructions on how to produce their own. The final product was as delicious as any Limoncello I had in Italy, and I was doubly lucky when they moved to London and gave me the rest of their batch. This is a great step-by-step recipe, though I recommend using high-proof vodka instead of Everclear. An important note: If you want to give this away as a Christmas gift, you better get started now. The vodka, lemons, and simple syrup have to sit and rest for a minimum of a month and a half to develop the full flavor. Get the recipe.
Okay, so if you add fruit to your chocolate does it count as a health food? In this case…um, yes. I’ll say yes. This recipe is super easy with great tips on how to keep your chocolate from separating, and if you want to be really fancy, how to make strawberry tuxedos using a combo of white and dark chocolate. You can also mix it up by dipping dried fruit such as dried apricots. Get our Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries recipe.
Related Video: How to Make Homemade Irish Cream
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