Is the number of friends, family, teachers, neighbors, mail carriers, old college roommates, yoga instructors and pet groomers on your holiday gift list starting to feel overwhelming? Give yourself a break. Think edible.
Think soft, chewy caramels. Not only do they ship beautifully and last for weeks, but they're surprisingly easy to make. (Really! Don't be scared of the candy thermometer.)
Think candied nuts. Simultaneously sweet and savory, nuts are a particularly good choice for friends without a big sweet tooth. Think homemade jams, pickles and chutneys. Spreads and relishes like these are gifts that keep on giving. Think tea mixes and cocoa kits. A mug of something warm is so comforting, doubly so when it's a special blend from a friend.
Seriously, who wouldn't love to find a specially made treat tucked in their mailbox or in the toe of their stocking? Whether it's for Aunt Sally or that new teacher at school, you can't go wrong.
Makes roughly 40 caramels
Note: Use 4-quart or larger saucepan for this recipe, as the sugar will nearly triple in bulk when the milk is added.
1 cup (8 oz) heavy cream
4 tablespoons (2 oz) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups (7.5 oz) white sugar
1/4 cup (2 oz) corn syrup
1/4 cup (2 oz) water
2 tablespoons molasses
Butter a sheet of foil and press it into an 8-inch by 8-inch pan so the foil hangs over the sides. Butter any exposed sides of the pan. Set this near the stove.
Combine the cream, butter, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Warm just enough to melt the butter. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
Combine the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves in a small bowl. Set this near the stove as well.
In a 4-quart or larger saucepan, stir the sugar, corn syrup, water and molasses until they come together into a uniform paste. Avoid splashing sugar crystals on the side of the pan; if you do, wipe them away with a pastry brush or cloth dipped in water. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan.
Turn the heat to just above medium. Bring the sugar mixture to a boil and cook to 310 F. Whisk the cream mixture slowly into the sugar. The sugar will bubble and triple in bulk before settling again. Stop whisking and cook the caramel to 245 F for softer caramels or 250 F for firmer caramels.
Whisk in the spices and pour the caramel into the prepared pan. Do not scrape the bottom of the pan because this sometimes contains crystallized sugar. Allow to cool completely overnight.
To finish: Pull the caramel block from the pan using the foil. Cut the caramel into strips and then into individual squares. If candy is sticky, spray nonstick coating on your knife. Wrap each caramel in wax paper.
Caramels keep for a month in an airtight container.
Spicy honey-roasted nuts
Makes 3 cups
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (substitute: chili powder)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup walnut halves
1 cup pecan halves
1 cup almonds
Heat the oven to 325 F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick coating.
Whisk the honey, sugar, lime juice, oil and spices in a mixing bowl. Stir in the nuts to coat.
Spread the nuts in a single layer on the baking sheet, drizzling any extra coating over the top. Roast 5 minutes. Stir the nuts and break up any clumps. Continue roasting and stirring every 5 minutes until the nuts are glazed, have turned dark brown, and smell toasty, a total of 20-25 minutes.
Set the sheet on a rack to cool, stirring every few minutes to break up clumps. Once cooled, store in an airtight container for 2-3 weeks.
Chai tea blend
Makes about 1 cup dry mix, equal to 16 servings. Double or triple this recipe as needed.
12 cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves (about 15)
2 cinnamon sticks
3 tablespoons minced candied ginger
1/2 cup loose black tea
Heat the oven to 350 F. Combine the cardamom, peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon in a metal pie tin and toast for five minutes. When cool enough to handle, place all the spices in a zip-top plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin.
Combine the crushed spices with the candied ginger and black tea. Store in one or more canning jars.
When gifting, include the following instructions: Steep one tablespoon chai tea blend in 1 1/2 cups of water for five minutes. Strain the tea and add 1/2 cup of milk, with honey to taste. Re-heat as needed.
Emma Christensen is a freelance food writer living in San Francisco, California. Find more of her writing at Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn -- thekitchn.com.
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