Just try doing what we did. Try gathering internet advice on making homemade food gifts this holiday season. Everybody and his Aunt Lucy has recipes – oh yes, plenty of recipes. And online these almost always take the form of a “slideshow” you have to click through, invariably with some silly number that somebody decided was the cleverest thing ever.
57 This. 29 That – click, click, click. Quick. Easy. Cheap. Click, click.
You might think maybe websites benefit somehow if you click a lot. Yet at a glance, nobody – not even Martha Stewart herself – looks beyond those 37 recipes to the foundational IDEAS of giving homemade food gifts. We love making, wrapping and giving them, and unlike anybody else, apparently, we’re here to tell you why.
There are four main reasons you might enjoy making such gifts in your kitchen, and we value each and every one. First and foremost, though we tend to forget in the frenzy of holiday shopping, such gifts are undeniably and unbeatably personal. They are from you, start to finish. If appearing to have spent a bunch of time, trouble and money on someone’s gift matters in certain cases, so be it. That’s why God created shopping malls – or Amazon. Yet nothing you can buy either of these ways remotely stacks up to a homemade food gift for being directly from you.
The second reason flows from the first. Homemade gifts, especially if chosen for falling comfortably within your culinary skill set, are generally easier than going out shopping. You might not think so at first, since you have to shop for ingredients and certainly have to prepare a recipe, even if it’s a super-simple one. Still, going to a shopping center, be it a mall or a downtown retail area, involves a generous investment of time, effort and probably angst when stores are packed with crowds doing the same things you are.
Another benefit many have discovered, especially during any holidays with a bit of belt-tightening required, is that homemade food gifts are wildly affordable. Some recipes you can find online even give you a cost estimate, and that generally comes down to bang-for-the-buck. Just think how much you’d end up spending in a store to achieve the same impact, the same goodwill, as a food gift whose actual cost might be $3.67. $20? $30? When you think about it that way, the competition doesn’t even seem fair.
And finally, there’s flexibility. If you have friends and family (okay, of course you do, and they’ll probably show up this time of year), if you have coworkers at the office, if your kids have teachers and playmates at school, the bottomless pit of needed gifts yawns open starting around Thanksgiving. And there’s often very little notice.
What we recommend is making some food gifts that are virtually timeless – things like hard candies or the infamous bourbon balls everybody’s grandmother used to make, except using Texas craft bourbon, of course – and then outfitting yourself to prepare perishable items like cakes, cupcakes, brownies and scones in the largest batches your oven (and counter space) can handle. That process can go on throughout the holiday season, and it can be loads of fun.
That way – and we’ll bet you can see this coming – you’ll have a kitchen full of holiday gifts, some of them ready for gifting at a moment’s notice – that are personal, easy, affordable and flexible. All you need is to figure how to wrap them in one or more festive ways, and make sure you always have the paper, ribbon and tape to pull it off.
Once you become a card-carrying homemade food gifter, you’ll never again have a meltdown when your child tells you while drifting off to sleep that he or she needs “presents” for five teachers by the time the school bus pulls up at 7:18 the next morning. A five-minute flourish of wrapping and you’ll be able to drift off to sleep too.
WHOLE LEMON FIG POUND CAKE
For probably a century or more, a pound cake was a pound cake was a pound cake – and everybody’s pound cake had the same ingredients and tasted just about the same. Today we think of pound cakes almost as a delivery system, carrying one or more interesting, delicious flavors. Needless to say, that’s where our jams, jellies and sauces come in handy indeed.
Vegetable oil spray
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup finely ground graham cracker crumbs
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ cup half and half
3 large eggs
½ jar Fischer & Wieser’s Whole Lemon Fig Marmalade
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325°. Spray an 8-by-4-inch glass loaf pan with vegetable oil spray. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream the butter with the granulated sugar and dark brown sugar. In a medium bowl, whisk the cake flour with the graham cracker crumbs, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the whole milk, cream, eggs, marmalade and vanilla. Beating at medium speed, add the dry and liquid ingredients to the butter mixture in 3 alternating batches.
Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake in the lower third of the oven for about 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn the pound cake out onto a rack to cool completely. Dust top with powdered sugar. Makes 1 pound cake.