Edible Holiday Gifts

So, for the last two weeks I have been terribly ill.  I usually adore the holidays, but this year a sore throat, a runny nose, a fever, and endless coughing really put a damper on my spirit.  I had planned an extensive list of edible gifts intended for my family, and luckily I had a head start on them before my health turned its back on me.  I managed to put together a nice collection of edibles; however, due to my eventual Day- and NY-Quil-induced state, I took very little, if any, photos of my creations.  So, for that, I am sorry.  I will share with you my list of gifts, as well as recipes for my favorites.  I think I bit off more than I could chew (let alone taste) but the experience was wonderful and I conquered some of my candy-making fears.

The Contenders:

  • Scratch Cherry Pie (x2)
  • Sea Salt and Pistachio Brittle
  • Gruyere and Hazelnut Crackers
  • Sweet and Spicy Rosemary Roasted Nuts
  • Chocolate Covered Vanilla Porter Marshmallows with Pretzel Garnish
  • Homemade Peppermint Patties

The List:

The Rundown:

After procuring all necessary ingredients and tools, I set out to accomplish my cooking goals.  I started with the cherry pies, and frankly, it went off without a hitch.  I still had some homemade lard in the freezer (yes, I rendered lard last year…in my kitchen…with 10 pounds of pork fat) and Scott had given me a marble pastry board for my birthday, so making the crust was a breeze.  I can’t believe I just typed that, but it’s true.  It’s amazing what a simple tool or ingredient can do for one’s confidence level.

After the cherry pies were assembled and placed gently in the freezer, I moved on to the pistachio brittle.  As a child, my mother would whip up several batches of peanut brittle around the holidays.  She made it look so easy.  I had never made brittle before on my own, and I just bought a candy/deep fry thermometer, so I felt I was well-prepared for the task at hand.  I’d made caramels before, but brittle is a whole other beast and I needed to be on top of my game.  Sugar can burn so easily and quickly, so I needed to fight off whatever urge I had to retreat to my bed and its soft, welcoming blankets.  Needless to say, I succeeded!  I made brittle!  It was easy, fun, and intensely delicious. 

Onto the marshmallows.  I seriously had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I don’t really gravitate to marshmallows, but the idea of making beer and pretzel marshmallows really appealed to me.  Besides, they’d be covered in chocolate!  I love the combination of salty and sweet, so this seemed like a marriage made in candy heaven.  I purchased a set of perfectly square silicone ice cube trays in the hopes that I could get perfectly square marshmallows.  After boiling the sugar, beer, and corn syrup (believe me, it’s a necessity) within an inch of its sticky life, I set out to turn it into marshmallows by whipping the mixture (along with the gelatin and more beer) into a frenzy and pouring it all into the molds.  Twelve hours later, the marshmallows had set and I was able to gently pry them out of the ice cube trays and toss them in powdered sugar.  I dipped them carefully in chocolate as Scott sprinkled the pretzel pieces on top.  Success!

The hazelnut and Gruyere crackers had to be one of the easier edible gifts on my list.  All I did was combine a little hazelnut flour, AP flour, salt, pepper, butter, cheese, an egg, and heavy cream in a food processor.  I rolled it into a log, wrapped it in cling film, and stored it in the freezer until I was ready to slice off cracker-sized pieces and bake them in the oven until crispy!  I sprinkled a little Maldon salt on top and voilà.  Delicious bite-sized snacks.

The sweet and salty rosemary roasted nuts were a collaborative effort.  Scott was an efficient and obedient assistant when it came to measuring, spooning, and mincing.  It was a hands-on dish, and I’m okay with that.  I say a cook’s best tools are his or her hands.  This dish required very few ingredients (a mix of cashews, walnuts, pecans, and almonds along with chipotle powder, maple syrup, orange juice, brown sugar, rosemary, and kosher salt) and only one sheet pan, so clean-up was relatively painless.  As they roasted in the oven, the house filled with the scent of one of my most favorite herbs – rosemary.  That, mixed with the sweet elements and the hint of spice from the chipotle powder, really started to remind me why I love to cook.  I was immediately placed back into the holiday spirit, illness be damned!

And finally, the homemade peppermint patties.  These were seriously so easy and infinitely better than the ones you might find in the store.  Even though the ingredients aren’t the best for us (sugar, butter, chocolate) at least when we ate these we knew what we were putting into our bodies.  I’d rather eat sugar, butter, and chocolate than a bunch of preservatives and additives.

So, that concludes my edible gift experience.  I seriously couldn’t see myself doing much else for the holidays.  Yes, I made a few purchases to give as gifts, but the vast majority of what I gave out was edible.  My family always says not to buy them anything because they have enough stuff.  I respect that and used this opportunity to exercise my culinary muscles. 

As for recipes, look for my Scratch Cherry Pie in upcoming posts.  From start to finish, I’ll give you my tips for making a great (foolproof) crust and my not-so-secret ingredients for a delectable cherry filling. 

Happy (belated) Holidays!

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