But, here's a quick look at some of the holiday gift cooking/baking I've done:
First up, and probably most successful in terms of a) money spent, b) time spent and c) ease of process.
Homemade spiced rum: I found a recipe on this on Serious Eats a few weeks ago and immediately decided to make it. About half of the spices, most people will already have in their kitchens. I thought I had almost all of them, but then realized a few more had fallen casualty to the move over the summer.
I started with a 1.75 bottle of Bacardi Gold and used the following: cloves (whole), all spice (whole), nutmeg (ground), star anise (whole), black peppercorns (whole), cinnamon sticks (I broke mine in half), vanilla bean (1 - split down the middle, seeds scraped), ginger (two 1-inch sized pieces, peeled) and the orange peels from half an orange (remove the pith really well with a paring knife).
When I measured out as the Serious Eats recipe called for, however, I thought it looked pretty pathetic, so amped up to about 1 teaspoon of each spice. After tasting the second day, I removed about half of the orange slices. They had given off a sweet, fragrant taste quickly, and I didn't want it to overpower the rum.
Next up, a recipe I found on The Kitchn blog: hot cocoa on a stick. I thought, oh fun! how cute! I bet those will be a snap!
This is basically 8 oz of tempered chocolate, mixed with powdered sugar and more cocoa powder to make it fudge-like. You pipe into molds (I spooned mine in since I only had 6 molds to fill), stick a stick in it, and let them harden.
I took a few liberties with the instructions, such as using candy canes for the sticks (it's a blizzard, people... you do not run to the store in 17 inches of snow for coffee stir sticks) and using these cute snow-men molds that I picked up instead of standard size ice cube trays.
Then when I went to pop them out, I accidentally broke two canes!
So, in all, not the favorite in terms of ease or gifts produced. But, the four little snowmen that DID survive are going to be a cute hostess gift for a friend.
Last, but not least, this is a repeat from holiday 2009: Brady's Christmas Caramels.
These are far less nerve wracking to make the second time around. Melt 2 stick of butter, add 2 1/2 cups brown sugar and a pinch of salt, stir in a cup of light corn syrup then a can of sweetened condensed milk, and keep the pot moving.
The caramel cooks for between 15 and 20 minutes, and needs to be stirred constantly. If you have a reliable candy thermometer (that you have used before with good results), clip it to the side of your pan and aim for about 240 F -- soft ball stage.
If your candy thermometer sucks (like mine) use it as a rough estimate, and start cold-water testing the candy at about 220 F. Take a fork, swirl a few drops of the caramel into cold water. The caramel is done when it holds it's form (a soft ball) when you retrieve it from the water.
Be careful though, because the caramel will continue to heat a little, even after you turn off the heat, so don't let it go past "hard ball" stage -- or it will be tough to cut up your candy (see last year's post on hard caramel)
Instead of using a buttered pan, I took a big sheet of parchment (bigger than the 9x9 pan) and laid it over the pan with a little oil spray. Pour the candy onto the paper and spread into the pan. This makes it incredibly easy to remove the caramels later (just lift the paper). Cut into 1 inch pieces and wrap with parchment.
This requires a little more work than the rum but a 9x9 inch pan makes a TON of caramels and they are a really fun treat. This remains one of my favorite holiday recipes!! Thank you SO much for sharing it, Brady!!