Let's face it: You could easily buy a present for everyone on your list. But it doesn't have the same heartfelt ring as a gift from the kitchen.
So bake up a batch of cookies, make some fudge or get the children involved with one of these pretzel projects. Then start a new tradition by giving a little bit. Cut fudge into small pieces and bake cookies into bite-sized morsels. Place your homemade gifts — just one item is enough — into small packages set off with a colorful ribbon or a handmade card. Give just enough for a few sweet tastes. Sometimes less is more, especially when it has everyone looking forward to a gift from your kitchen again next year.
Fill each of these homemade fortune cookies with a personalized message of goodwill and give them to your family and friends for the holidays, new year or any other significant event. Bake the cookies in small quantities because you have to work very quickly to fill and shape them once they come out of the oven before the delicate mixture becomes dry, brittle and impossible to fold.
Use melting chocolate, also called confectionery coating or summer coating, in these pretzel recipes. You'll get better results because the cocoa butter has been replaced by vegetable shortening, and the resulting product can be melted, poured and molded with no loss of flavor or texture.
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of ground ginger
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
Preheat oven to 300 F and line 2 baking sheets with nonstick parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, ginger and salt. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla extract and whisk until combined. Stir in sifted dry ingredients, then add the melted butter and blend until smooth. Set aside for 10 minutes.
Draw 2-by-2 1/2-inch circles on each sheet of parchment paper and spoon 1 tablespoon of mixture onto each circle. Using either back of a spoon or a palette knife, spread mixture in an even layer to fill circles. Bake 1 sheet on middle rack of preheated oven and other on shelf below for about 6 to 8 minutes, until cookies are starting to turn golden at edges.
Working quickly, remove 1 sheet of parchment paper from oven at a time, leaving other baking sheet inside and, using a palette knife, carefully and quickly lift cookies off parchment paper. Flip cookie over, lay your fortune message in middle and fold cookie over it in half. Bring points of cookie together to make fortune-cookie curl and leave to cool in a muffin pan (this will help them to keep their shape). Repeat with remaining cookies.
Once you have used up all mixture and all cookies are baked and shaped, slide muffin pan into oven for another minute to brown them evenly.
Leave to cool in pans before packaging in takeout boxes. Stored in an airtight container, they will keep for up to 3 days.
— Recipe from "Gifts From the Kitchen: 100 Irresistible Homemade Presents for Every Occasion," by Annie Rigg (Kyle Books, $24.95).
1 cup coarse salt
3 tablespoon citrus zest
Mix the salt and zest in a bowl. Spread on baking trays and air dry overnight. Package in small containers for gift-giving. Use as a finishing salt on fish, beef, poultry or vegetables. Makes generous 1 cup.
DIPPED PRETZEL STICKS
Cover the table with butcher paper and set out jimmies, chopped nuts and dried fruit in small bowls and let the kids go crazy. You'll need 1 bag of pretzel rods, 1 bag of semisweet chocolate chips, and chopped nuts, sprinkles and dried fruit.
Melt chocolate in microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring until smooth and liquidy. Dip one end of each pretzel stick in the chocolate. Pull out the stick, turning each to remove excess chocolate. Dip in cup of topping or lay flat on wax paper and sprinkle topping over chocolate. Refrigerate 15 to 20 minutes until candy sets.
PEPPERMINT PRETZEL BITES
These easy, colorful treats require a bag of waffle pretzels and 1 to 2 bags of Hershey's peppermint kisses.
Preheat oven to 300 F. Spread pretzels flat on a cookie sheet. Place an unwrapped piece of candy on each pretzel, and then place the cookie sheet in the oven for 2 to 3 minutes. When the candies look glossy and soft, take the sheet out of the oven and place a waffle pretzel on top. Gently press down. Refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes or until firm. Youngsters will have fun making these.
SANTA HAT PRETZELS
You'll need mini pretzels, mini marshmallows, melting white chocolate and red sugar crystals for this recipe.
Carefully melt chocolate in microwave in 30-second intervals according to package directions. Be careful: White chocolate burns easily, turning brown. You can also melt it in a double broiler.
Dip top of pretzel in melted chocolate. Immediately stick marshmallow on right side of pretzel and sprinkle on red sugar crystals before the white chocolate cools. You should be able to visualize a Santa hat. Refrigerate for 10 minutes until candy sets.