Edible Gifts, Daring December Practice
The holidays are here, and that means it's time to bake for friends and family. But how about changing it up this year? Take the month of December as a Daring Bakers challenge of your own, and set aside your go-to holiday recipes and stretch a bit. Maybe you want to try something other than iced cookies or gingerbread or even your granny's fudge? Here are 20 recipes that I found on 20 very talented Daring Kitchen members sites that I think would make interesting and unexpected gifts, while also giving you a chance to try some new techniques. There's something in here for everyone - sweet, salty, savory, sour, crunchy, creamy - let's take a look!
Hazelnut Brown Butter Financiers
Allie says it best in her post - financiers are 'a cross between cookies and cake.' They're about as traditional a French sweet as you'll find (they're known as friands, too), but the subtle modifications in this recipe are what appealed to me. First of all, while bacon has been the secret ingredient of choice in lots of sweets lately, I'm really of the mind that good salt is even better, and with the sprinkling of fleur de sel and toasty browned butter in this recipe, I don't see how you can go wrong. Add to that hazelnuts, and you have a classic flavor combination in a sophisticated little bite.
What could you learn from this recipe? Practicing browned butter is always a good thing. And if you're not one for hazelnuts, this recipe would adapt well to almonds or pecans too, and maybe even pistachios. And lastly, this is in the traditional French repertoire, perhaps just something you should know how to do.
Salted Peanut Butter Caramel Twix Bars
If the financiers were a little classic, then these Twix bars are little irreverent. They too incorporate salt and nuts, but with peanut butter on a shortbread crust. They're beautiful to look at, and in classic Daring Baker fashion, incorporate several stages of preparation before you can arrive at that same presentation. Plus they're fun. A homemade candy bar, for real? With a little salt sprinkled on top to grow it up a bit? This is definitely the sweet-tooth dessert on the list.
This recipe is all about planning and timing. Each layer has a different preparation, and you'll get practice making a short crust, caramel, and a chocolate glaze, as well as the presentation of the bars themselves. This would be a good recipe if you are looking for precision practice.
Chocolate Covered Pomegranate
We're still staying with candy in this next recipe, but in a very unconventional way. Pomegranates are in season this time of year, and for some people, the gift of fresh fruit is a welcome change from all of the tinned sweets. But in DJ Karma's post, she simply combines pomegranate seeds with chocolate, elevating chocolate covered fruit to a juicy and crunchy level.
This recipe is one of the simplest on the list, but it does involve chocolate, which can be a little temperamental if heated too quickly. You can choose to temper the chocolate if you want practice with it, but given the liquid content in the pomegranate seeds, the candy may not stay solid forever - so you'll want to consume it pretty quickly. Tempering is completely optional. Additionally, if you haven't tried removing pomegranate seeds in a while, this is a good excuse to try the removing-the-seeds-underwater technique.
Apple Butter Hand Pies
We'll continue on the fruit path, but this time the recipe uses preserved fruit - specifically apple butter. It's a fantastic way to introduce the traditional flavors of apple pie in a form that might be less expected. This post is from a previous Daring Cooks challenge, the focus on food preservation. As you might guess, the apple butter was actually Thea's intended recipe, but I found her use of the apple butter in hand pies as being a perfect fit for the holidays.
Given that this was a Daring Cooks challenge, you could follow her instructions and make your own apple butter, or if you're short on time, just try the pies with a high quality store-bought jar. Everyone benefits with pie crust practice, and this one is a cream cheese crust, so it's a little more forgiving than others. Plus these pies are baked instead of fried, and will last a little longer as a result.
Appacham Rose Cookies
But if fried is what you're looking for, this traditional holiday cookie from Kerala, India might really surprise your friends. It's a variation on a common Christmas cookie which you'd find in the Ukraine (carnival roses), Sweden (rosettes) and Italy (crispelle). As with most regional interpretations, the best parts are the modifications made for local ingredients. This is no exception. Finla's using rice flour, coconut milk, and black sesame seeds to make Appacham Rose Cookies.
The challenge in this recipe is both in frying - which some bakers find intimidating - and in finding the ingredients, especially if you're not in an area with an Indian grocer. The rice flour can often be found in Asian markets, and you might be able to find the iron there too. If not, look at your local kitchen store for other tools that would serve the same purpose. It's been years since I made rosettes myself, but if you've never fried anything on an iron before, it's a good thing to try at least once.
German Wine Cookies and Swedish Chocolate Balls
While we're talking about regional specialties, let's take a look at these two treats from Germany and Sweden. The German Wine Cookies are a fairly straightforward butter cookie, but with the addition of port, sweet marsala or cream sherry. They may look like like run-of-the-mill sugar cookies, but the wine will give it a complex flavor that won't bake out with heat.
The Swedish Chocolate Balls are a recipe you can definitely share with the kids. Unlike the wine cookies, these chocolate balls do not require cooking or baking, and can be made in many variations based on what you have on hand. These would be a great change from truffles, if you're one to make those every year.
Bacon Cheddar Chive Scones and Coffee Pecan Muffins
Let's talk a little about breakfast gifts. Depending on the time of the day you visit with friends, breakfast foods might be a very welcome change from the usual tin of cookies. You can get good practice with quick breads by making either of these two recipes, although the scone recipe is definitely more biscuit-like and less quick bread style. Both have savory elements - bacon, cheddar, and chives in one and pecans, butter, and salt in the other, and both attempt to combine different components of a typical breakfast into one vehicle. Another plus? Both of these recipes should freeze well if wrapped tightly after baking, making them easy to pull out and warm up for fresh-from-the-oven flavor.
It's Noshing Time
I love to share the edible gifts I receive with friends, but more often than not everyone's already got a sugar high of their own before they come to my house. And that's why I'd like to share a few items I found that make great nibblers and noshers for game day, for cocktail parties, or just for the coffee table. Savory Wheat Crisps are the kind of upscale item that's too expensive to buy at the grocery store, but is perfect to serve with cheese, so you don't want to do without it. Pretzel bites are another impeccable cheese-delivery tool, but serve them with a little mustard and pastrami and you'll have a snack people won't stop talking about. Plus you get to make mini-pretzels.
If I could grow enough kale to make Kale Chips every day, I would. I know, it's a leafy green vegetable - what's it doing on a baked gift list? Kale Chips are baked, they're gluten-free, they're savory, and most of all, they're completely delicious. Start eating them, I bet you won't stop. And the same goes for Cinnamon Spice Kettle Corn. It looks fantastic in a big bowl, as well as in gift bags and stockings. And it's as easy as making popcorn, really.
Bread Baking and Candy Making
If you’ve got a little extra time this holiday season, why not bake bread? A loaf of homemade bread is gesture with little compare, and just because you don’t bake everyday doesn’t mean that it won’t be appreciated. This Amish White Bread makes two generous loaves and is a very straightforward white bread recipe.
And if you really want to bake that holiday pumpkin pie, how about making pumpkin pie fudge instead? You’ll get some candy thermometer practice, but you’ll still get that pumpkin pie flavor in a smaller form.
When was the last time you got a gift that absolutely delighted you? Well this last group of recipes includes treats I couldn’t really categorize, but the thought of them made me smile. Maine Potato Candy uses leftover mashed potatoes and coconut as the base for a candy bar.
Zesty Lime and Almond Sticks brings together flavors you might not see often at the holidays, but could be a real respite from the gingerbread profile. Plus the fragrance in a cookie tin could perfume a whole room.
Root Beer Float Cupcakes and Cake Pops both take a little extra time, but are the kind of special treat that kids would love and even adults will appreciate. The flavors in the cupcakes are revelatory, something that’s so obvious now I’m surprised we don’t see it more often.
And the cake pops have gotten quite a bit of visibility on food blogs the last year, and I think the holiday season is one more opportunity to bring them out.
I can almost smell the maple and cream and eggs when I read the recipe for Maple Pots de Crème. It’s silky, earthy and grown-up. And although these aren’t a gift I’d wrap and put under the tree, I love the idea of picking a nice cup or container for the custard and presenting that to my friends. Maybe even a sprinkling of salt on top?