Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Hot Cocoa and Tasty Gift Ideas

This week, there seems to be a palpable excitement building in the air. An afternoon walk around the neighborhood yesterday revealed windows adorned with wreaths and neighbors perched on ladders stringing up lights. There is a steady stream of invitations to holiday parties. Store shelves are piled high with holiday confections and shiny baubles. And I'm sitting and thinking of holiday gifts that I want to give and wishes that I want to send, via e-mail or snail mail.

Giving a gift is fun and challenging in equal parts. I think gift-giving reveals how much you really know about a person. And sometimes the one thing you know about a person is that they already have two of everything.

As my darling friend Shoots said, "Turns out my family has enough shoes, hand bags, make-up, watches, wallets, perfumes and liquor to last them a life time so I was thinking of home-made food items as presents."

Excellent idea! The thing about consumable gifts is, you don't have to find a place to store the gift, dust it for eternity or remember to pull it out and display it when the gift-giver visits you. With an edible gift, you simply eat the treat and enjoy the moment.

There are still plenty of things to consider when giving homemade food gifts. Such as- Does the recipient have any dietary restrictions? How far is the gift being shipped and how long will it take to get there? Do they enjoy cooking or baking, in which case they would enjoy getting specialty ingredients like extracts and spices? Do they prefer sweet or savory foods?

A box of homemade cookies/nuts that I gave as a holiday gift a couple of years ago
Here are my top picks for gifts that are being mailed or taken long-distance. I would say that these food items have a shelf-life of at least a week or two.

1. Candy, such as nut brittle, caramels, and toffee. Candy can seem intimidating but it is amazing how easy it is- armed with just an inexpensive candy thermometer, you can whip up unbelievable confections.

2. Low-moisture cookies such as shortbread cookies and biscotti.

3. Boozy cakes such as fruitcake.

4. Mixtures such as chivda and granola.

5. Roasted and spiced nuts, like these spicy-sweet pecans (which should be accompanied by a warning about their addictive potential).

6. Spices, like a homemade garam masala or taco spice or sachets of mulling spices. 

7. Beverage mixes, such as hot cocoa or mocha mix.

One of the tastiest edible gifts I've ever received: dinkache laadu
If you're not shipping stuff but instead giving it to folks locally, there are even more options, because you can give goodies that are best stored under refrigeration, such as truffles and fudge.

A popular edible gift idea is the gift-in-a-jar. These can range from pancake and cookie mixes to lentil soup mix and its cousin, a dal mix. Also, there are the DIY gift baskets which can be endlessly customized, such as a "DIY sundae box" packed with cones, a couple of homemade ice cream sauces and candy toppings. The recipient simply buys ice cream and makes their own sundaes.

Packaging food gifts can be very fun and creative if you have the time. With ribbons, decorative paper and baskets and bows, you can come up with something that looks like it came out of the Harry and David catalog. By the way, I regularly read catalogs cover to cover not because I want to shop but because I'm looking for cute packaging ideas. Not that it matters- people will devour homemade food gifts regardless of whether they're dolled up or not.

Food gifts don't necessarily have to be homemade. If the recipient lives in another place, you can send them a food specialty from your city. My sister made me deliriously happy last year when she got me a huge supply of specialties from two famous food stores in Bangalore and Chennai- spice powders and pastes and snacks. This summer, my aunt visited the US and I gave her a large grocery bag stuffed with my favorite snacks from Trader Joe's- triple ginger cookies and Thai spiced cashews and some other things. She loved them so much that she bought more of those to take back to India for her friends. 

If the food gift is a hit with the recipient, you can send the same thing over and over again! After all, it gets consumed. One of my favorite childhood food memories comes from one of my aunts who visited us once or twice a year. Every time, she would get a big packet of fried banana chips from a shop in her neighborhood. These banana chips were crisp, salty and heavily seasoned with tons of black pepper. It was a double treat- hugging a favorite aunt and then snacking on the banana chips she got without fail.

When I visit my parents, I always take a big bag of roasted pistachios and some dark chocolate for my father. These two treats never fail to please him. A friend of mine has the sweet tradition of baking fig cookies for her father as his birthday present. This is a neat way to get around the question of "what new gift idea can I come up with every time" while keeping the other person perfectly happy.

I think over the years I'll figure out a short list of edible gifts that I am good at making and that are consistently well-received. And then that will be my tradition, to make those things year after year. For now, I tend to experiment and try different recipes every year. I made a hot chocolate mix last year and it was delicious, but when I needed hostess gifts this weekend, I couldn't resist trying a new recipe.


It is the hot chocolate mix originally from Cook's Country but I used malted milk powder instead of regular milk powder. The white chocolate chips melt into the beverage, making it creamy and irresistible. Make a batch of this and be sure to fill up a jar and decorate it with a ribbon just for yourself.

These are the proportions I used:

2 cups malted milk powder
1.5 cups cocoa powder
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1.5 cups white chocolate chips
1 tsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt

Mix together in a bowl, then process through food processor in 2 batches to make a fine powder.

To make a cup of cocoa, take 1/3 cup cocoa mix into a mug. Add 1 cup hot milk (dairy or non-dairy) and mix well. It helps to add a small amount of hot milk and then whisk all the powder in before adding the rest of the milk. Enjoy a steaming hot mug of cocoa!


Are you giving any edible gifts this year? Are you looking forward to receiving any? What are your greatest  hits? Do you have any fond memories of giving or receiving edible gifts?

48 comments:

  1. never heard of malted milk powder before. sounds delicious. i am baking up some biscotti in various combinations to give out before the holidays.

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    1. If you've tasted Bournvita or Horlicks then you've tasted malted milk. Biscotti are wonderful- so fun to dunk in tea/coffee.

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  2. Brilliant idea Nupur. I have always liked such edible gifts but have never done any myself. That cocoa mix is simple but such a thoughtful gift too, paired with a mug it is perfect

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    1. Oh yes, cocoa mix along with a mug, or along with a book would be a sweet gift.

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  3. I totally agree with the edible gifts, especially if it is home made. It makes the person feel so special. I never realised this till last Christmas when I sent a home made Christmas cake to my family back in Bangalore. They enjoyed every bit of it and I plan to send across another one this year.

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    1. That's an awesome tradition you started!

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  4. I made the hot chocolate mix from your recipe last year to put in my christmas hampers. it was a huge hit. apart from cake, hot chocolate, cookies and some murukku, it had a pair of earrings, one handmade soap an apron and a christmas decoration! i loved putting it together and am already scouting for ideas this year....

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    1. Oh my aren't your friends/family lucky?? Your Xmas hamper is full of wonderful things. I hope you'll post this year's version.

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  5. Thats exactly what I am doing this year. Hot chocolate and chai mixes in a jar. I just went and shopped for my ingredients yesterday. I was looking for unsweetened hot chocolate but could not really find it in the grocery store. Hence I bought baking chocolate. Have to wait and see how that turns out.
    I would love to know where you found your malted milk powder and cocoa powder? I have been using Pinterest as an inspiration and there are numerous pics of how to package these items. Can't start putting them togethere. Oh I am also doing Pampering in a Jar and Relaxation in a jar gifts for family members!

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    1. Both malted milk powder and unsweetened cocoa powder can be found in any supermarket. Check the tea/coffee aisle or the breakfast foods aisle. Of course, they can also be bought online and specialty sellers like King Arthur Flour have very high quality malted milk and cocoa.
      Your jar gifts sound like so much fun!

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  6. I love all the great ideas! I do want to gift some homemade goodies. I know its the season of cookies and cakes but honestly my heart is calling out for til-gul and now dinkacha ladu after seeing it here. The most heart warming edible gift was the homemade faral from my mom and ma-in-law sent us on Diwali last year and some great homemade spices from a dear friend.

    I saw you in my dream last night, I was watching ur interview in my dream where you were talking about your work related to sunflowers (!!!). I was missing ur posts after the marathon and was so delighted to see a new post from you!

    I got my cast iron skillet the same size as yours and LOVE it!!! I've been cooking in it every-single-day and regret not buying it earlier...thanks a bunch Nupur! Love ya lots! :)

    - Priti

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    1. LOL I am terrible at gardening so trust me I would only work with sunflowers in a dream! Glad you're enjoying your new skillet- I use both of mine in a very "paisa vasool" way too.
      Hey make yourself some tilgul if you feel like it. Call it sesame brittle or something ;) and it will fit in with the season.

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  7. I made homemade cocoa for the first time this year. It's so good and I'm planning to pass some around for gifts. A chef friend suggested adding a wee bit of cardamom to the mix and I have to say it makes the yummiest tasting cocoa I've ever had! For 1 cup milk, I heat it, add 1/4 cup of chocolate chips, and I crush the seeds from a couple pods with my mortar and pestle. I heat it all on the stove until it's blended. YUM!

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    1. Ooh cardamom, you say? Must try that- I do love cardamom in sweets. And savories :)
      Your recipe sounds fantastic- proper hot chocolate.

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  8. I have been racking my brain for teacher gifts for my daughter's preschool teachers and this post has given me some great ideas. I was thinking about baking cookies with my daughter and even looked up one of your older posts on world peace cookies yesterday. I just didn't put those two ideas together.

    Thanks :)

    -Anu

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    1. Oh those world peace cookies are always a hit with the chocolate fans.

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  9. My recent kitchen supply gifts were super cute - Box grater, Apple Slicer and a cute English Tea set with all the bells and whistles. When I went to India, my jumbo family gifted me many spice powders belonging to different cuisines, munchies and sun-dried goodies which I adore. I love gifting handmade mats, coasters, bookmarks and dish towels all made using Crochet. :-)

    I tried Mexican Hot Chocolate (from Hershey's site) last winter and adored it. Its a regular in our home during winters. I loved that you added white chocolate chips, makes it yummy! Just a Q - Where did you buy malted milk powder from?

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    1. I loved hearing about all the gifts you're giving and getting! Malted milk powder can be found near the milk powders/tea/cocoa in any supermarket. Just ask someone if you can't find it.

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    2. Thanks for the info Nupur! Will check it out. In India, there is a warm milky drink that's served as mid-day beverage, esp. during weddings and any family celebrations. Its known as Malt (sometimes they even serve Raagi Malt). The original 'Malt' as they call it has Maltova like flavor with a hint of crunchy butterscotch. Malted milk powder reminded me of those tasty warm beverages!

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  10. I wanted to ( and haven't dropped the idea) of giving hand made gifts to S's pre-k teacher, but I have a lingering doubt if they would like edible gifts made at home as against pre-packaged...
    In IL, it was very clear, 'packed' food only, not touched by your hands!
    I think this jar of cocoa mix will be a hit! I can include one in the gift bag. I will :)

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    1. Yes, I do know that some people hesitate to eat food from home kitchens. I always wonder if these people have been inside commercial kitchens...but to each their own.
      I would say, just ask the director/principal/administrator of the school directly about what the teachers prefer.

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  11. oh, I had one more question..
    The powdered sugar we get in stores has cornstarch added, to keep it from clumping, so do I still need to add another tsp if I am using store brought pow.d sugar?

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    1. Yup- do add another tsp of cornstarch, it makes the cocoa creamy.

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  12. Ooooh! Thanks a lot for this post Nupur. I'm giddy with excitement at seeing my name in print :D I am definitely going to try the hot chocolate mix and also the cookies as presents. This year I offered my friends 4 flavours of granola to choose from for their present ;) I am yet to make it, so we'll see how that goes.

    Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year and enjoy the holidays in your new home.
    Love,
    Shoots :)

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    1. Hey Shoots- such a sweet idea to offer a choice of granola flavors!! Nothing like home baking to make the holidays smell wonderful :)

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  13. I *always* give books, but you've persuaded me to consider those pecans--I'm a sucker for anything spicy-sweet.

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    1. I like giving books too but many times I'm just not sure what the person's taste in books is. You'll love the pecans. Forget gifts- make a batch for yourself :)

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  14. A post after my heart. Just this morning I was eagerly looking thru a very high end expensive food gift catalogue that happened to come via snail mail. I was mainly flipping thru for ideas on foods easy to make or assemble and packaging them beautifully. I'm all about the packaging for some reason! Good aesthetics make me go weak in the knees and for some reason I then assume the goodies inside must be wonderful too:-)

    Anyhoo, I came across a box of 12 different flavored cheese dips and they all sounded so yummy and seem easy enough to whip up in a processor at home. All I'll need is to get wild with the flavors and some small jars. I loved all your ideas and am desperately craving dinkache laddoos after I spied your photos.

    My plans for the holiday menu this year- (Note: we are non veggies from Goa so have to have meat on the menu of some sort)

    1. Herbed lamb chops with peppercorn sauce(from a recipe I saw on The Pioneer Woman Cooks)
    2. Spinach Dill Cheese phyllo pie
    3. Cherry tomato feta salad
    4. Cookies in all shapes and sizes baked with my son
    5. A cake with cream filling and frosting courtesy The Baker aka my younger sister who's visiting
    6. Olives, spiced nuts, baked fontina with crackers for noshing before dinner

    Deepa

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    1. Giving a selection of dips is such a delicious ideas! Your holiday menu sounds perfect- here's wishing you a wonderful feast!

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  15. Yes, here's my most recent edible gift offering http://palateticklers.blogspot.in/2012/11/birthday-memories.html

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  16. Not as a gift, but I remember my mom's sister giving us a batch of sago papad, rice papad, onion papad every summer. Home-made pickles, Podis are also desirable gifts for the spice lovers. Home-made jams and fruit squashes are also good. I have not given or received these items -:). But thought will be a good idea. Are they?

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    1. Yes, these are all excellent ideas- I always love giving and getting any of these.

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  17. 3. Boozy cakes such as fruitcake

    Nupur, any good recipes out there you can recommend? Thanks!!

    Aruna

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    1. I've tried Alton Brown's recipe with success: http://onehotstove.blogspot.com/2009/12/i-cant-believe-its-fruitcake.html

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    2. Thank you! Will give it a shot.
      Aruna

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  18. I would like to make this mix, but with a little bit of cardamom powder too...I love the flavor of cardamom with milk :)
    Thanks for wonderful gift ideas, Nupur.
    -Dee

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    1. Mmm- cardamom would be a nice addition.

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  19. I've bought some Xmas themed cookie tins and am planning some food gifts for our neighbours and my daughter's teacher. Made some hard caramel candy and pumpkin roll and want to bake a few cookies. Love the ideas you have here. The hot cocoa mix sounds awesome - who knew it was this simple.

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    1. I saw you posted your box and it looks amazing!

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  20. Great post... I was wondering about the 3rd item in the picture above... looks like something made with crescent rolls. Do you have a recipe for it?

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    1. Nope, that's rugelach (a traditional Jewish filled cookie). Not made with crescent rolls but with dough made from scratch. I used Ina Garten's recipe:
      http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/rugelach-recipe/index.html

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  21. Lovely post Nupur :-) My hubby gifts me with fruit basket from Edible arrangements; healthy and excellent gift idea and I love it. We all enjoy it as family and I kind of switch to fruit for lunch/dinner until we finish it all. My son loves the fruits dipped in chocolate ;-) and boy, they are delicious...
    I haven't given any home cooked edible gifts as kids/people here in US are kind of reserved when it comes to home cooked foods. So I just get them packed or store bought...

    Thanks for the post :-)
    Mina.

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    1. Mina- I know some people don't like eating home cooked food but honestly, the vast majority of people I've met simply love it when I offer them home made treats. It just depends.

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  22. Love the idea of edible gifts. It is great as everyone likes food and the gift does get used. I liked your hot cocoa recipe, can't wait to make one for myself.

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    1. If you try it, let us know if you like it!

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  23. Planning to gift granola, chocolate-almond-fruit blocks and your very own "dandy" candy this Christmas... :)

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    1. Yum! That dandy candy recipe was courtesy David Lebovitz. Those all sound wonderful!

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