'Tis the season to be baking, and retailers and consumer products companies of all kinds are promoting the idea of cookies, cakes and breads as terrific do-it-yourself gifts to stretch the budget farther.
Given the lingering economic uncertainty and the still-high unemployment rate, there are plenty of folks who are looking for ways to give presents without draining the bank account, so the pitch is on trend.
Even those who are feeling more comfortable about their finances are considering homemade treats as a gift option, especially if they are starting to add people back onto their gift list that may not have received a gift last year. After all, homemade gifts aren't just for the budget conscious; they provide personal touch to holiday gift giving.
Wal-mart Storesand Aldi are among the retailers putting a special push behind home-baked gifts by discounting the ingredients needed to create several different recipes.
Wal-mart has posted recipes for holiday classics such as sugar cookies, gingerbread, snickerdoodles, fudge and toffee on its Web site and calculates that each recipe makes several gifts that will cost less than $5 each. Videos on the site also highlight some of the advantages of baking gifts, including having fun while making the items.
Jeannette Pavini, a household savings expert for Coupons.com, said she likes giving homemade gifts not only for the savings, but also because her family enjoys working together to make these creations.
In past, Pavini has taken photographs of her children helping her bake and attached it to a card tied on the baked goodies. Years later, she's seen these photographs displayed in the recipients' homes.
"It is an inexpensive touch that makes it much more personal," Pavani said.
And to further the savings consumers can scan coupon Web sites — such as Coupons.com — for discounts that can add to the price reductions offered by local grocers at this time of year, she said.
According to Pavani, even products that aren't typically associated with baking are trying to jump on the baking bandwagon. She's noticed an olive oil brand promoting its use in baking even though that's not a common association.
Procter & Gamble'sPringles potato crisps has a recipe for ginger cookies created by Chef Kyle Shadix that uses the chips in the batter. The company even suggests bakers decorate the canister for a creative package.
While those aren't necessarily the first products one thinks of when baking, other products more commonly associated with cookies and cakes such asHersheyor Kraft have a wealth of baking resources, including recipes, tips and other gift suggestions on their Web sites.
For those who are a little unsure in the kitchen, Pavani suggests other homemade gift ideas such as buying a collander and filling it with pasta, olive oil and wrapping in a kitchen towel, or a basket of beauty supplies.
Here are some other tips to keep your DIY-gesture from looking half baked:
Pay attention to packaging. Make it look pretty. Packaging can range from something simple like plastic wrap tied with a fabric ribbon to more creative containers such as canning jars, drinking glasses, tins or loaf pans. The nicer the container, the more the present is like a double gift.
Diane Werner, food director at Taste of Home magazine, suggests you stop off at garage sales during the year. Often you can pick up plates and bowls decorated with holiday motifs on the cheap.
Werner also has a recipe for fortune cookies, which can be packed in take-out style containers purchased at a crafts store and filled with personalized holiday messages.
Let them bake it. If you have someone who likes to bake on your gift list, you can layer dry cookie ingredients in a pretty jar, and then add the recipe. This gifts look nice when you gift them, and taste good later.
Sun-Maid even has a layered recipe suggestion for those who don't like baked goods. Layer a mason jar with with white or brown rice and other ingredients that can be used to make a fruited rice pilaf.
Don't forget the label. Use labels or printed business cards attached with curling ribbon to offer a holiday wish.
Share. Feeling charitable? Since the holidays are often a time to think of those who are less fortunate, there are organizations that invite folks to bake treats for donating. One such group is Dropinanddecorate.org.
And if you're curious, here are the recipes for the Pringle-packed ginger cookies and Taste of Home's Good Fortune & Cheer Cookies.
Kringle-Spiced Pringles Cookies by Kyle Shadix
Yield: 2 dozen sandwich cookies
1 can Pringle's “The Original”
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fruit preserves, raspberry or mixed berry
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
Preheat the oven at to 350 degrees and place Pringles, flour, baking soda, and spices in a food processor, and puree until the consistency of corn meal; set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until slightly fluffy.
Add the egg and vanilla, and mix for 30 seconds.
Pour the Pringles spice mixture into the bowl and mix for 1 minute; place dough in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Drop by rounded teaspoon onto ungreased baking sheets, and bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown.
In a small bowl, combine fruit preserves and ginger (if desired, ginger is optional); spread 1 teaspoon onto a cookie, and top with another cookie. Instead of crystallized ginger can swap out 2 teaspoons of powdered ginger to the jam.
Good Fortune & Cheer Cookies
Bake: 5 min./batch + standing
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon rum extract
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 ounces white baking chocolate, chopped
Crushed peppermint candies
Red, white and green nonpareils
Write fortunes on small strips of paper (3 in. x 1/2 in.); set aside. Using a pencil, draw two 3-in. circles on a sheet of parchment paper. Place paper, pencil mark down, on a baking sheet; set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar, egg whites and extracts until well blended. Add flour; mix well (batter will be thick). Spread a scant tablespoonful of batter over each circle. Bake at 400° for 5-6 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.
Slide parchment paper onto a work surface. Cover one cookie with a kitchen towel to keep warm. Place a fortune in the center of the other cookie; loosen cookie from parchment paper with a thin spatula. Fold cookie in half over fortune so the edges meet.
Place center of cookie over the rim of a glass; gently press ends down to bend cookie. Cool for 1 minute before removing to a wire rack. Repeat with second cookie. If cookies become too cool to fold, return to oven to soften for 1 minute. Repeat with remaining batter and fortunes.
In a microwave, melt chocolate; stir until smooth. Partially dip cookies or drizzle as desired; place on waxed paper. Sprinkle with crushed candies and nonpareils. Let stand until set. Store in an airtight container. Yield: 1-1/2 dozen.
Recipe courtesy of Taste of Home. More recipes are available at their Web site.
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