12.27.2010

give the gift of good taste: edible holiday gifts

I love giving gifts. I like taking the time to find something my loved ones will enjoy, I like making presents look nice, I like making people happy just by handing them something. Most of my gifts are store-bought, because I cook so much throughout the year, but this year, I did more cooking and baking for gifts than ever before.

First, the gifts that aren't edible. I don't like wrapping paper, so I generally wrap gifts in saved tissue paper, newspapers, or pages from the old Yellow Pages. I'm a bit of a closet pack rat, so I usually have that sort of thing around.
One of these packages (for my fairly-newly vegan sister) contains gifts by some other blog-wielding vegans you might know:
One of the adorable panda-with-cookie totes from Panda with Cookie's Etsy shop! AIt was a big hit. And in the tote, I put a copy of Melisser Elliott's Vegan Girls Guide to Life, which I had her sign when she visited last month.

Okay, so those are vegan gifts, but you're here to see edible vegan gifts. So without further ado:
TOFFEE. I have always loved toffee. Almost once a week when I was in elementary school, my mother would go grocery shopping next door to a small bookstore I liked. She'd give me $5 (most of the Fear Street books I liked back then were $3.99 or less), I'd go buy a book while she shopped, then I'd meet her back at the store in time to buy a Skors or Heath bar with my change. I miss toffee, and until I discovered this recipe at the kitchn, I had no idea it was so easy to make. It's not that much work or time, even, though it does require a lot of stirring.

Homemade toffee is VERY easy if you have a candy thermometer. I recommend getting one; I use it often to measure water temperatures for breads, oil temperature when I'm frying, and yes, for candy. I think mine was around $5 at the local hardware/homeware store. However, if you don't have a candy thermometer, neither did the lady who wrote the kitchn recipe above! She judges by color. I always get paranoid about having to tell the difference between "dark golden brown" and "blond" and "honey-colored" in recipes, so I stick to the thermometer. Also, I used a large, rimmed baking sheet to cool my toffee. If you don't have one (why don't you?), you can use several baking dishes, like 2 9x13s or something. Whatever you use, line the bottom and the sides with foil, and removal will be a snap. This recipe makes a lot of toffee; a large baking sheet full, enough to give as gifts to at least 4 people.
Homemade Vegan Toffee

1 lb (that's 2 cups, or 16 ounces) Earth Balance (vegan margarine). That's one box of the buttery sticks, or one tub plus 4 Tbsp
2 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups chocolate (chips and/or chopped baking chocolate; I did a mix since I didn't want the chocolate layer to be too sweet)
toasted almonds, roughly chopped (optional)

Line a baking sheet with foil, set aside. Get out all of your ingredients ahead of time.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and sugar together. Stir this mixture constantly until it reaches 300 degrees fahrenheit. I've seen ranges between 285-310). If you don't have a candy thermometer, that's the point at which it's very thick and has turned dark golden brown. I think this is the "firm ball" stage, if you're one of those people who tests with a glass of water. It's going to be really bubbly at first, and thickens as it hardens. Anyway, that took me about half an hour. DO NOT STOP STIRRING, because if this stuff burns, all will have been for naught. Once you've reached 300 degrees, remove the saucepan from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking sheet; use a spatula to smooth out. Do this quickly, because it will start to harden.
Sprinkle the chocolate across the surface, and allow this to sit for a few minutes, until the chocolate is glossy (3 minutes, 5 if your chocolate chips/chunks are large). Use a spatula to smooth the chocolate over the toffee. If using almonds, sprinkle the almonds over the top.
Allow to cool. Our kitchen is cold, so it was totally cool in under 3 hours, but it might take longer if you have heat in your kitchen. Anyway, once the bottom of the baking sheet is cool to the touch, remove the whole thing, foil and all, from the baking sheet. Peel the foil off the toffee (it comes off really easily), and break the toffee into whatever sized pieces you'd like. Store toffee between sheets of wax paper in an airtight container.

It's dangerous for me to know how easy it is to make toffee. The only thing that is not preventing me from making it (and eating it) all the time is that it takes a whole pound of Earth Balance, which is both pricy and fatty. It is a special occasion food, Sarah, remember that!

If you have trouble cleaning up the saucepan and spoon, I recommend running your hottest tap water or boiled water over them. This loosens up and dissolves the sugar.

Okay, so maybe toffee still seems too tough to you, or isn't your thing, or, like me, you want a sampler of desserts to give to relatives. What else is a good edible holiday gift?
Chocolate bark! This is another one of those things I thought was harder to make than it actually is. In fact, it is so simple that I feel silly giving a recipe for it, so I will just give you instructions.

Melt equal parts sweetened and unsweetened chocolate (ie, chocolate chips and baking chocolate) together in a double-boiler or bain-marie.

While it melts, chop up what you're going to put into your bark. In my opinion, the perfect chocolate bark consists of four flavor sensations: chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, and something that's surprising and/or has a kick. You can experiment at will, but here are some suggestions:
  • Nuts: Almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, macadamias, peanuts;
  • Dried Fruits: Cranberries, raisins, apricots, apples, dates, figs, currants, mango?;
  • Something surprising/with a kick: candied ginger, candied citrus peel, prettily zested citrus, crushed candy canes or other flavorful candy, vegan white or butterscotch chips, pretzels (okay, those don't all have a kick, but are surprising and fun, so they go in this category).
Depending on how much chocolate you use, you want from 1/2 to 1 Cup of each of these things.

As with the toffee, you shape the bark by pouring it into a foil-lined pan. for 16 ounces of chocolate, you'll need at least 9X10 inches. I only used about 10 ounces of chocolate, so I used my 7x11 baking dish, and if you'll note, the bark is still pretty thick. Anyway, pour the chocolate into the pan, then sprinkle your chopped ingredients over the top. Use your hands to press them down into the chocolate. Let this cool for several hours. When the bottom of the pan is cool to the touch, you can remove it from the dish, peel back the foil, and cut it into pretty squares--or break it into rustic chunks.

I also made treats for my coworkers: Almond Crescent Cookies. When I was little, my mom made these a few times. She didn't like to make them, because blanching and grinding all the almonds was a real chore, but I LOVED them. I have never actually thought Crescent Cookies look like crescents; as a child they reminded me more of worms, so in my head, they will always be Worm Cookies.
I cheated: I used Bob's Red Mill almond meal instead of grinding the almonds myself. I made this recipe from Martha Stewart, substituting Earth Balance for the butter. The "dough" never came together; it was all crumbly. I added a Tbsp of soymilk, though, and it behaved EXACTLY like it should. The resulting cookies are very good, very subtle, and one of my coworkers came up to tell me that the cookies were exactly like the Vanilla Kipferl his German grandmother used to make (Kipferl is German for Cresent).

Finally, for my brother Robby, I made homemade grenadine. I used the recipe from the Cupcake Project as a starter, but changed a few things. I'll write more about it soon. (I'm planning an epic Pomegranate Post coming up in January.)
I also gave Robby some Chocolate Peppermint Penguins, which I made by taking the leftover chocolate and crushed candy canes from my Candy Cane Biscotti, mixing it, and pouring it into my Penguin Ice Cube Tray. I love that thing; I got it for free back when I worked for a publishing company that was a division of Penguin Books. I forgot to take pictures of the penguins, though, so you will just have to imagine how cute they were.

Did you give any edible or vegan gifts this holiday season? Did you get any? What were your favorites?

3 comments:

Dazed and Infused said... Best Blogger Tips

oh wow, i need to try that toffeeeeee

all my food-related gifts received were kitchen gadgets (mandolin slicer, veggie peeler, a fancy zester, the soda maker, etc.), and then we gave away a number of infusions. I guess they are technically vegan, but so are 99% of all of them :)

Tanis said... Best Blogger Tips

Having been a recipient of these goodies (mother of the boyfriend) I must say I was totally impressed! I am not vegan, but enjoyed the delights of vegan goodies. Still, my favorite is the peppermint biscotti!! Thank you, Sarah. Hugs,

Tanis said... Best Blogger Tips

As the mother of "The Boyfriend" and non-vegan, I can totally vouch for the pancake bar. A total hit at Sarah's New Year's day buffet. She is an amazing chef!! Lucky, lucky, "the boyfriend" and mother of same!!