Cheap Gifts: Tasty Treats for the Holidays

The holidays are coming up and you want to give gifts to your friends. The problem is, gifts can get expensive really fast! If you’re already gettings gifts for your parents, 2-3 close friends, grandparents, a couple of siblings, maybe a significant other, then your budget may already be stretched thin. What are you supposed to do for the other people you might want to give gifts to? People like neighbors, work friends, not-so-close family friends who you know you’ll see at that annual holiday party and who you also know will give you something. If you’re also new to living on your own, there’s an expectation that you’ll start giving out more gifts and, chances are, you want to meet those expectations. An easy way to do this is to give food gifts!

Last year’s baked goodies – cranberry almond biscotti dipped in chocolate with silver sprinkles (the sprinkles were left over from a cookie decorating party) and Oreo truffles dipped in chocolate (with leftover sparkle sprinkles)

The quickest and easiest way is to bake up a bunch of sugar cookies and hand them out. The problem with this is that they’re loaded with sugar, have very little personality, and people are already stuffed with sugary sweets that are easy to buy this time of year. Instead, find a few easy recipes that you can make yourself, spend a couple of evenings (or a weekend) baking, and then give the gifts to your friends. If you really want, you could turn it into a baking party and invite a few friends over to help you! When you buy the ingredients, you might end up spending more than you think you would, but the costs even out over the number of people you gift. For example, I might spend $40 buying ingredients, but the cost per gift can be as low as $2 to $5 for 3-5 people – which is really cheap when you think about it. This post is pretty massive, but you’ll find lots of detailed information to help you pick recipes, bake them, clean up, and spread the cheer – including some tried and true recipes that I use!

A Quick Note About Food Gifts

A (can be) cheap option for gifts is to bake them. If you like to bake and have some time, then this could be a good option for you. Find a couple of quick, easy, delicious recipes that you can make and spread the cheer! If you do make food gifts, keep in mind that you’ll want to deliver the goodies within a day or so because cookies and brownies and other baked goods are good for only a few days. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can absolutely order your food gifts. The only thing about this option is that paying someone else to make and package the food can get expensive fast (which kinda defeats the entire purpose of doing food gifts in the first place). That said, my grandmother orders a basket of food for each household in the family every year and calls it good. She’s definitely a woman who knows her limits and focuses on her priorities (which don’t include anything in the kitchen).

Keep It Easy!

Unless you’re exceptionally gifted in the baking and decorating department and have tons of time, you’ll want to keep it easy. Think goodies that need minimal (or no) decorations, easy to batch, and don’t require a lot of (or any) complicated steps. You’ll also want to keep it easy for your giftees. With everything else going on during the holiday season and all the sugared foods, people probably don’t want to receive an entire pie and you probably don’t want to bake entire pies for everyone! Though, if you do, please add me to your list…I will always take pie. In practice, this means that you’ll do best by making cookies, brownies, mini-cupcakes/muffins, and bars = bite-size goodies that people can eat in 2-3 bites at most.

I recommend choosing up to 3 recipes – something chocolatey, something non-chocolate, and (ideally) something that a diabetic could enjoy (I have several diabetics on my list). If you need some help picking out recipes, look at Pinterest and then find tried-and-true recipes over at Allrecipes.com. Pinterest is all very well and good for giving you dreams of sugarplums dancing in your head, but you risk Pinterest fails this way. Instead, use Allrecipes to find highly rated recipes that a lot of people have reviewed. This is much safer and it’s more likely that your goodies will turn out just as delicious as you want them to be. Another potential is to check out my latest favorite cookie website Once Upon a Chef. I recently made her Perfect Pumpkin Pie for 2 Thanksgiving dinners and received rave reviews – multiple people said it was the best pumpkin pie they’ve ever had (one tip: if you do make this pie, cut the sugars in half. It’ll taste just as good).

Get Ready, Set…

After you choose what you want to make, I highly suggest practicing. You don’t want to make a bunch of goodies that will be too fragile or droopy to survive transportation! Think stackable cookies, mini muffin/cupcakes that are okay getting a little smooshed, and hard cookies (like biscotti).

Once you have your recipes, make sure you have ALL your ingredients before you start baking. There’s nothing worse than being halfway into mixing up a recipe and realizing that you’re short a cup of milk:


Thank goodness for good neighbors!

In addition to all the ingredients, make sure you have the correct bakeware. This includes mixing bowls, measuring cups, baking sheets, minimuffin tins (if you’re making those), parchment paper, cupcake liners, loaf pans, and anything else you might need (this is also partly why you practice). I have been in the middle of mixing together ingredients for a pie when I realized I didn’t have a pie plate (turns out, I had returned my mom’s to her after I was done using it the previous time). The same neighbor who let me have a cup of milk thankfully let me borrow her pie plate (and her minimuffin tin).

Bake!

It’s finally time to bake and make your kitchen smell amazing! When you get around to baking, make a plan. If you’re baking after work, spread the process out over a few nights. it might be wise to make only 1 or 2 recipes a night at most. That way, you’re not up really late waiting for that last batch of biscotti or pumpkin bread mini loaves to come out of the over.

If you’re doing a baking marathon and haven’t really done one before, consider the order in which you want to finish everything. My method is to start with recipes that bake at the coolest temperatures and go up from there. Anything that is no-bake also goes last because I can do that while the other stuff bakes.

Another option is to make small batches over time. This is usually what I do because I’ll have Christmas parties spread out over a few weeks. So, I’ll make 1 batch of my chocolate goody, 1 batch of my non-chocolate goody, and 1 batch of my non-sugar goody one week, wrap them up, and give them away. Repeat the next week. This way, I don’t end up slaving over my stove and oven for hours on end at a time.

Lastly, it’s so much more fun if you put on some music, a TV show, or a movie while you mix and bake, and pour yourself a glass of wine (or beer, or champagne, or hot chocolate, or apple cider – whichever you prefer).

1 batch of biscotti ready to go! Some were dipped in chocolate and some were left plain.

Oh yeah, the kitchen’s now a mess…

You finished baking and now you have to clean up. Make it easier on yourself and fill your sink about halfway full with hot, soapy water. Every time you finish with a bowl or a utensil or baking sheet, put it in the sink. When you’re ready to clean up, everything has been soaking and will be easier to clean.

If you’re really lazy clever, use aluminum foil and parchment paper. Foil is especially helpful – you can put it on top of baking sheets and then throw it away when you’re done. That way, the baking sheet underneath stays clean and doesn’t need to be washed.

If you’re using a pan and can’t get away with lining it with foil, make sure you grease the handles and edges too and not just the insides. If you’re even half as messy as me, you probably spilled batter on the edges or the handles, which will bake into a rock in the oven and be impossible to remove…unless you grease those handles and edges first! This tip is also handy with crockpots and any other baking that requires greasing the pan first.

Again, this will be so much more fun if you have good music or something on TV playing and a good drink. Plus, you finished baking so you have a counter full of tasty treats. You should definitely do some quality control while you clean up 😉

Spread the Cheer

Now that all your goodies are baked and ready to go, it’s time to wrap them up and give them away! First though, let them cool all the way, preferably overnight or at least for a few hours. To package up your goodies, you can get holiday-themed containers or use mason jars or take-out food containers. You can put them in tins, plastic containers, bags, or on a plate covered with plastic wrap. It’s entirely up to you. In my experience, bags are super easy – whether they’re fancy holiday ziploc bags, regular ziploc bags, or fancy holiday treat bags. Though, if you have leftover takeout food containers, those are very easy too. Put the food in, tie a ribbon around it, and you’re done. The main thing is to make sure that the goodies aren’t too squished or have too much room. And, if you have fragile goodies, hard containers will protect them better than a bag will. You can pick these up at any grocery store when you buy your ingredients.

When it comes to delivering your goodies, your 2 choices are hand delivering the goodies or mailing them. Hand delivering isn’t a problem – you literally hand the container to the person. If you mail them, consider getting a flat-rate box (if you live in the US) because they’ll arrive in 2-3 days (and still be relatively fresh).

2 of My Standby Recipes

I have tried several goodies over the past few years, including apple cider mini muffins, cranberry almond biscotti, saltine cracker toffee, Nutella cookies, and Oreo balls. For example, last year I did cranberry almond biscotti and dipped Oreo balls:

The biscotti recipe I used is in a cookbook, so I can’t provide a link here, but here are a few of my other go-bys:

Apple Cider Mini Muffins

I made these babies 2 years ago as an experiment and brought them to work where they were a huge hit! Check out the evidence below:

I then made them for a holiday bake sale and they sold out very quickly. Now, they’re a staple in my holiday cooking. One thing – the recipe calls for reduced apple cider. I have too much on my plate to spend time reducing apple cider. Instead, use a powdered apple cider packet and dissolve it in the amount of water required in the recipe. Instant “reduced” apple cider!

Saltine Cracker Toffee

These are awesome! They are very easy to make and are quickly devoured. In full honesty, I was very skeptical about these and then someone brought a container to work and then I ate them like they were crack. They’ve got a bit of sweet, a bit of salty, and a lot of delicious.

Rudolph Reindeer Brownies

Photo courtesy of https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/reindeer-brownies/ because I accidentally deleted the photo of my reindeer brownies.

All you do is make a box of brownies. Cut them into triangles, then stick on 2 candy eyes at the wide part of the triangle. Then break mini pretzels in half and stick the 2 halves into the brownie above the eyes for antlers. Put a dot of red icing at the pointy tip of the triangle for the noses and you’re done!

Go forth and bake

Thanks for reading all the way to the end! I know this is a long post, but there’s a lot of good stuff in it. If you have some good recipes that you recommend, please share below! I’m always looking for good recipes. And if you try any of the suggestions above, please please please come back and share how they worked for you! And and if you know someone who wants to get into baking their holiday gifts, please share this post with them.

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