Editor's Note: Some lovely readers have expressed interest in more posts related to gifts from the oven. I invited Joanne Middleton, a long-time reader and blog follower (whom I have never met, by the way!) to share this delicious post and recipe with you.
Two of my very favorite things in the world are baking and giving gifts.
So what could be better than giving a homemade treat as a gift?
I always take a lot of time to think about gifts, and what would make a perfect gift for each and every person I have on my list. For me, a perfect gift is the gift of my own time, creativity and sharing my passion. Baked treats always make people happy. I’ve never had anyone turn their nose at a freshly made batch of chewy chocolate chip cookies, banana bread or a marble cake. And a baked treat can be given for any occasion. A little bit of homework, an hour of your time and some cute packaging can really make someone’s day something special no matter what the occasion is.
What do I bake?
I try to stick to more classic recipes that are nice but simple, versatile and easy to package.
Banana bread, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, shortbread, snacking cake or muffins are all great ideas.
Chocolate chip cookies are a great example of a versatile recipe that can take many forms. You can do a cakeier version like your mom used to make when you were young with raisins and oatmeal, or you could do a chewy chocolate chip cookie with dark chocolate chips and amp it up a notch with a teaspoon of orange zest.
You could also try a banana bread recipe. Versions vary from plain banana bread, to recipes with cinnamon, or to switch it up, with milk chocolate chips, and maybe a streusel topping to boot. Recipes that you can easily adapt to suit your occasion would be preferable.
Have a browse through your moms’ recipe books, or peruse through reliable food websites or blogs during your coffee break to get some inspiration. Always pick the recipe that your mom has marked with a star (or has the most splatters on it) & choose Web sites that have reader feedback where the recipes are rated, just so you know the recipe you choose is a dependable & foolproof one.
One of my favorite recipes to gift is the classic shortbread cookie recipe. Here is the shortbread recipe that I use. I can’t truthfully call it mine as it has come from my Irish mother in law, which in turn, probably came from her mother.
(+) Large bowl
(+) Measuring cups or scales
(+) Rolling pin
(+) Cookie sheet
(+) Baking parchment
(+) Your favorite cookie cutter
(+) Flat lifting spatula
(+) Pastry brush
(+) Cooling racks
(+) 1 cup real unsalted butter at room temp.**
(+) ½ cup icing sugar
(+) ¼ cup corn starch
(+) 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
**Very important to use real butter. Margarines & substitutes just don’t add up in flavor & texture & don’t achieve the same results.
(+) Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
(+) Place all ingredients into a large bowl and with clean hands mix together until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated and made into dough. This will take a few minutes.
(+) Roll the dough into a ball & flatten into a thick disk with your hands.
(+) Prepare baking tray by cutting a piece of parchment paper the size of the tray and placing it in the tray. Set aside until ready to use.
(+) Scatter a little icing sugar on a clean surface on your kitchen countertop. This is to prevent your dough from sticking to your surface when rolling it out.
(+) Place ball of dough on countertop.
(+) Sprinkle a little icing sugar on the dough.
(+) Rub a little icing sugar on your rolling pin to ensure the dough doesn’t stick to it.
(+) Roll out your dough by gently placing pressure as you roll. Roll to about ¾ of a centimeter thickness.
(+) Dip your cookie cutter into a little icing sugar, again to prevent sticking.
(+) Press your cookie cutter down into the dough in a quick firm motion and lift it off & repeat with remaining dough until you have no more dough surface left to place the cutter.
(+) Gently lift your pressed cookies with your flat spatula onto the parchment lined cookie baking tray. Space your cookies out leaving approximately 2 cm between cookies.
(+) If there is any residual icing sugar on your cookies, gently brush it off with a pastry brush.
(+) Gather all the scraps of dough and reroll and cut more cookies as per the method mentioned above.
(+) When your dough is all used and your baking tray is full, place the entire tray of cookies into the fridge for 15 minutes. This allows the cookies to firm up so they won’t spread while baking and they will keep their shape.
(+) After 15 minutes is up, gently remove baking tray from fridge and place in the centre rack of your oven. Bake approximately 8-10 minutes. I say approximately because all ovens are different and the exact thickness of your cookie may vary. Time them for 8 minutes and keep checking them. You want them to bake just until they are very slightly browned around the edges.
(+) When baked. Remove tray from oven and let cookies cool for 5 minutes on the tray as they are still baking with residual heat.
(+) Carefully move cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.
(+) Chop ¼ cup of maraschino cherries into small bits, toss them in a teaspoon of flour and add them to the ingredients before you mix the dough. (I tried these from a Scottish shortbread company and there was no going back, I’ve been addicted ever since).
(+) Add ¼ cup of mini milk chocolate chips.
(+) Add 1 teaspoon of lemon zest and the tea leaves from 2 earl grey tea bags.
(+) Add dark chocolate chips and a teaspoon of orange zest.
(+) Keep the cookies plain but when they are baked and cooled dip half the cookie into melted chocolate.
(+) Grandma’s version. Roll bits of the dough the size of a walnut into balls, press with fork one way and then cross ways and dot with a piece of maraschino cherry or a gumdrop sweet.
I like to keep things simple when it comes to wrapping my baked gifts.
Where possible, I like to let the baked treat shine.Purchase some clear cello wrap, or seasonal or clear cello baggies from your local dollar store along with some raffia to use as ribbon. Your local craft store will also carry an array of gabled boxes or windowed cookie boxes. You may even just want to dress up a small plain white cake box with a stencil or even some ribbon. Have a browse around a bulk baking supply shop as well; they often have lovely things to package your treats.
Do these little packages have to look absolutely perfect? No, certainly not! I’ve learned from experience that the cookies & cakes from the cover of magazines take hours to set up, it takes a small team of professionals to shoot and in most instances the magazine folks use only a few of the very best cookies from a batch of dozens of cookies or several cakes.
The most important thing is that it is a gift from the heart, made with love, and in the eyes of the beholder it is perfect. So don’t be afraid, go ahead and bake!