Homemade Holiday Gift Ideas ( A Round-up of Sorts)

Can you believe that tomorrow is December 1? I’m kind of in denial about the whole thing – holding on to November for as long as I possibly can.

Maybe it’s because I’m starting a new job on Monday. Yes, right in the middle of the holiday fray, I’m starting a new job and putting my youngest back into day care. What stress? What added pressure?

It’s definitely for the best, and I’m really excited about the opportunity. It just comes (as most things do) at a particularly busy time.

With that in mind, it might be a while before I post anything on the blog. It’s not that I won’t be baking and cooking, it’s just that I’m not sure how much writing and editing time I’ll have. I’m prepared, though. I’m arming you with some of my favorite holiday posts from last year to get you started. These were all big hits with my friends and family, and I hope you’ll enjoy making and giving them as much as I did.

Homemade Panettone (excellent for French Toast)
Time consuming, but totally worth it!

Cranberry and White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
A versatile cookie recipe that adapts to all manner of flavors and add-ins.

Pink Peppercorn Sea Salt Caramels
As delicious as they are beautiful!

Whole Wheat Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing
If you’ve ever been intimidated by royal icing, this should help you overcome your fears!

So, thanks to all of you for continuing to come to this little corner of the internet.  I’m grateful for your support and feedback, and for your patience when things get a little sporadic.  Life continues to happen for all of us outside of cyberspace, and I’m thankful that I still have a creative outlet and a place to share the things I love.

Let me know if you try any of these recipes, and if you give them as gifts or keep them all to yourselves (I know I’m tempted to do that with those caramels, and with that panettone).  Hopefully I’ll find that I have time to continue to post regularly, but if not, maybe you’ll find some inspiration from these in the meantime.



Holiday gift ideas: Pink Peppercorn Sea Salt Caramels

Every year, I try to come up with interesting and flavorful homemade holiday gifts to give my friends, colleagues and family.  I usually bake a variety of cookies, cakes, shortbread and crackers, package them up and give them away in decorative tins and boxes.

This year, I wanted to try something new.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m still baking (as is evidenced by the 80 or so cookies cooling on my kitchen counter right now), but I thought it might be fun to try my hand at something different and unique. I looked through cookbooks, websites and magazines, and the one recipe I kept coming back to was for Salt and Pink Peppercorn Caramels from Better Homes and Gardens‘ December issue.  The photo in the magazine was so beautiful, and the description that accompanied the photo was equally as lovely.  I just knew I had to try this flavor combination.

I decided, though, that I would make my own caramel recipe, and just add the pink peppercorns and salt at the end.  The BHG recipe was fine, but it used brown sugar, and I prefer my caramel made with white sugar.  I know that this is one of those super-refined ingredients, and I would love to experiment with candy-making using unrefined cane sugar, but at this point I’m comfortable with the familiar.  And I just don’t make candy all that often, so when I do, familiar is important.  Candy-making is a fickle art, and I’m not yet knowledgeable enough to be totally experimental, especially since I need these to give as a secret-Santa gift tomorrow.

According to Serious Eats:

Pink peppercorns lend foods a different kind of heat, closer to chiles than black pepper. They have the same peppery bite, but it’s wrapped in a sweet fruity flavor reminiscent of a berry with an attitude. The peppercorns have a thin, fragile skin that can easily be rubbed off (a great lightly-flavored colorful garnish for fish or chicken).

Based on this description, it only makes sense that you’d pair them with something sweet, and when you enhance the whole thing with some French Celtic sea salt, you’ve got a perfectly balanced bite.

Pink Peppercorn Sea Salt Caramels
prep time: 5 minutes
cook time: 40 minutes
rest time: 2 hours
yields: 60 pieces
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1 cup salted butter, cut into pieces
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 teaspoon crushed pink peppercorns
1 teaspoon French Celtic sea salt
  1. Prepare a rectangular baking pan by lining it with aluminum foil and spraying with oil or greasing with butter.  Set aside.
  2. Combine sugar, corn syrup, butter and 1 cup cream in a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat.
  3. Stir until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes, then wash down sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in warm water.
  4. Place a warmed candy thermometer in the pan and cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. 
  5. Wash down any crystals that form on the sides.
  6. Continue to cook until the mixture reaches 244F, or Firm Ball stage.
  7. Remove the pan from the heat and with a clean wooden spoon, gradually stir in the 2nd cup of cream.
  8. Return to the heat, bring back to Firm Ball stage, or at least 245F.
  9. Remove from the heat and pour into your prepared baking pan.
  10. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. 
  11. Sprinkle crushed peppercorns and salt evenly over the surface.
  12. Allow to cool completely – you may want to put it in the fridge to speed this process.
  13. Once cool, remove the caramel from the pan by lifting the foil liner.  
  14. Peel off the foil, and cut into pieces.
  15. Wrap with waxed paper.

Aren’t they pretty?  And I can tell you, the flavor is just as nice.  These are a great little holiday treat for your friends and family.  The pink peppercorns add a unique dimension to the flavor profile, while also adding a touch of holiday color to an otherwise ordinary salted caramel.  Try them and let me know what you think.