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Homemade Gift Giving
It's safe to bet that during the course of a year, many occasions will arise when you need a present. Perhaps, like myself, you really enjoy giving gifts. If you want to give something other than a potted plant, a bottle of wine or a clothing accessory, why not personalize your gift? Bake something from your kitchen.
Packaging baked goods can be a challenge, but with a little imagination, like using recycled containers, scraps of string, ribbon, fabric or even yesterday's newspaper, you can transform the simplest recipe into a handsome food gift. Here are two suggestions that include a package that will almost be as welcome as the homemade item it contains.
An old-fashioned cookie that as a child I always ate while drinking a tall glass of cold milk, is the simple yet delicious Brown Sugar Cookies. Most of us already have the recipe's ingredients on hand and, even better, it takes less than 30 minutes to make a batch of dough.
Once the dough is prepared, just shape it into logs, wrap in plastic and refrigerate up to three days (or freeze, up to three weeks). At gift-giving time, set the cold logs of dough on a brand new cookie sheet, include baking instructions, and tie with a ribbon. Of course another option is to slice and bake the cookies, then package them in colorful tins.
One of my standard condo, apartment or house-warming presents is to bake a favorite cornbread in a new fry pan. After it bakes, let it cool to room temperature, then wrap the cornbread-filled fry pan in aluminum foil. If you're artistic, you can twist and shape long, narrow strips of aluminum foil into roses to attach to the package. Don't forget to tuck into the gift a note that explains how to reheat the cornbread.
One word of warning: Once you begin to give home-baked gifts, the word will spread. Soon, all your friends may expect delicacies like the moist, fine-grained cornbread or the butterscotch-flavored, walnut-crunchy Brown Sugar Cookies, and you may be busier in the kitchen than you thought.
Brown Sugar Cookies
makes 8 dozen
3 1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon each cream of tartar and baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces unsalted butter, soft
2 cups light brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts
Sift the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Using an electric mixer, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and continue to cream until mixture is light. Add eggs, one at a time, just until mixture is smooth and thoroughly blended. Stir in vanilla.
Add flour mixture in three parts. Stir in nuts. Divide dough into quarters, shaping each portion into logs about 8-inches long and 1 1/2-inches in diameter. Wrap each log in plastic and refrigerate until frim, for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days; or freeze, well-wrapped, up to 1 month.
Adjust rack to lower third of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove one log at a time from refrigerator. Using a sharp knife, cut slices, 1/4 inch thick and space them about 1 inch apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 11 minutes, or until pale golden. Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a wire rack until cool. Stack in an airtight metal container and store at room temperature up to 1 week.
Number One Cornbread
You may bake this cornbread in a 10-inch cake pan instead of a 10-inch frypan.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
1 1/4 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Adjust rack to lower third of oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a sturdy straight-sided 10-inch frypan with an ovenproof handle, place 1 tablespoon of the unsalted butter. In a small saucepan, melt the remaining butter; set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set the frypan in the oven to melt the tablespoon of butter. Rotate the frypan to grease the sides. In a small bowl, beat the eggs just to combine the whites and yolks. Add the milk, oil and melted butter and blend to combine. Stir the liquid mixture into the cornmeal mixture. Spoon the batter into the frypan. Bake the cornbread for 30 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cornbread in the frypan, then cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature. To reheat, wrap cornbread-filled frypan in aluminum foil and place in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until warm.
Flo Braker has been teaching baking techniques and her sweet miniatures across the country for twenty years and is the author of several cookbooks.