Homemade gifts are the ones that mean the most. So if you are cash-strapped, don’t want to support the plastic industry, are really stuck in what kind of gift to buy, need a hostess gift or just to give something small this holiday season, get creative, start in the kitchen. It’s where I always start and so far I haven’t had any returns!
Candied Maple Pecans
This is an easy way to make candied nuts. Use them on salads or a dessert. A great gift would be the candied nuts, a homemade salad dressing and the recipe for the salad.
4 cups pecan halves
1 cup maple syrup
1 tsp sea salt
Toss pecans with maple syrup. Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated 325°F oven approximately 15 to 20 minutes, tossing every five minutes. They should brown, but do not burn.
Once they are done, slide the paper on to the counter so they don’t continue to cook on the hot baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt.
Package in small cellophane bags and freeze.
Marzipan Cake with Sour Cherries
I am not a fan of fruit cake but this recipe can be a great substitute. The cake is moist and will keep well for a week. Makes a great hostess gift or bring along for a pot-luck.
The recipe calls for canned sour cherries. I have used frozen that I thawed and drained really well. They will not look as nice as the canned ones but that’s okay. Sprinkle some icing sugar on top.
Be sure to buy almond paste and not commercial marzipan for this recipe. Check the ingredient list on the package: If almonds are listed first, you’ll know it’s almond paste. If sugar is listed first, it’s marzipan.
1/2 cup butter
8 oz almond paste (not marzipan), grated
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp pure almond extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups bottled or canned, pitted sour cherries well drained
For the cake, combine the butter, almond paste and sugar in a food processor, pulsing on/off until mixture is smooth. Otherwise, beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in eggs, vanilla and almond extract.
Mix or sift flour with baking powder and stir into batter.
Spoon into a buttered 8-inch cake pan lined with parchment paper. Place drained cherries on top and press in slightly. Bake in a preheated 325°F oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until browned and firm to the touch.
When cool sprinkle with icing sugar.
Serve cake with whipped cream or ice-cream.
Peanut Butter Bark
This is a very quick and simple recipe, just a lot of bowls to wash! Keep it in the fridge otherwise it may become too soft to eat.
1 pound plus 2 ounces imported white chocolate (Lindt or Callebaut), finely chopped
1 1/2 cups super chunky peanut butter (do not use old-fashioned or freshly ground)
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
Butter 15×10-inch jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with edges). Line with parchment paper.
Melt 1 pound white chocolate with peanut butter in a large bowl set over saucepan of simmering water, stirring until chocolate is melted and smooth.
Melt the semisweet chocolate the same way as above. Melt the remaining 2 ounces of white chocolate the same way.
Remove all bowls from over the water. Pour the peanut butter mixture onto the prepared panm, spreading to cover surface completely. Using spoon, drizzle melted semisweet chocolate in lines over peanut butter mixture. Using spoon, drizzle melted white chocolate over top.
Take a knife and draw it through the chocolates to marbleize. You will get a swirly effect.
Chill until firm then cut into 2-inch triangles or other shapes.
Can be made two weeks ahead. Keep chilled.