Homemade gifts always a hit

Buttery chocolate cookie dough with chocolate chunks, nuts and marshmallows. Creamy caramels with apple cider and warm spices. These are just a taste of some of the irresistible sweets you could be gifting this holiday season.Homemade holiday gifts deserve special presentations, but these finishing touches don't have to mean a lot of extra time or money. Break out the crafting supplies, hit up a vintage shop or venture online to gather an inspired collection of packaging materials. With a few simple tips, you can create a memorable presentation worthy of the sweet, buttery goodness inside. * Create a candy cone. To package small, individually-wrapped candies such as Spiced Apple Caramels, find some festive paper at a craft or scrapbook store. Roll it into a cone and tape it shut at the seam. Add ribbon or other decorations and then fill the cone with candy. * Think outside the cardboard box. Consider packaging your gifts in a simple wooden box with a festive bow tied around it. Visit your local craft store for interesting containers to help you break free of the typical cardboard variety. * Take and bake. A ready-to-bake treat such as North Pole Cookie Dough is the perfect hostess gift. Consider presenting it in disposable pint-sized ice cream containers. You can find them online or simply ask for a few from your local ice cream shop. Just don't forget to add a festive tag with baking instructions. * Be sure to label. Use festive gift tags with the name of your recipe so your lucky friends and family know what a special treat they're receiving. Custom complimentary gift tags can be found at butterisbest.com. Visit ButterIsBest.com to find more holiday cookie and candy recipes courtesy of America's Dairy Farmers. While there, sign up for the daily holiday cookie e-newsletter, "Better Baking with Butter," available to subscribers from Nov. 22 to Dec. 25. Spiced Apple Caramels Makes about 75 caramels Ingredients: 2 cups apple cider 2/3 cup heavy cream 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon apple pie spice (If you cannot find apple pie spice, substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon allspice.) 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 1/2 cups sugar 1/4 cup light corn syrup 1/2 cup (one stick) butter, cubed Freshly ground cinnamon or course sea salt (optional) Directions: 1.) Pour cider into small saucepan and simmer over medium heat until reduced to 1/3 cup; approximately 35 to 40 minutes. Set aside to cool. 2.) Line 8-inch square pan with buttered parchment paper or aluminum foil. In small bowl, combine heavy cream, salt, apple pie spice, cinnamon and reduced cider; set aside. 3.) In large, heavy-bottom saucepan, combine sugar and corn syrup. Cook over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Insert candy thermometer and simmer until syrup reaches 234 degrees. 4.) Remove from heat, remove thermometer and very slowly whisk in cream mixture (mixture will foam and may spatter). Add cubed butter and stir or whisk until cream and butter are fully incorporated. Return pan to heat, reinsert thermometer and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until temperature reaches 250 degrees. 5.)‚ÄàRemove from heat and pour caramel into prepared pan; let mixture cool slightly, then sprinkle with freshly ground cinnamon or sea salt, if desired. Cool completely at room temperature or refrigerate until set. 6.)‚ÄàOnce set, remove caramel from pan lifting out by parchment paper or foil. Cut caramel into 3/4-inch squares. Wrap each piece in small wax paper square, twisting at each end. Store caramels in airtight container in cool place or refrigerate up to two weeks. North Pole Cookie Dough Makes three "pints" of dough or two dozen cookies Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips 1 2/3 cups flour 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 cup (two sticks) butter, softened 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed 1/2 cup sugar 1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 2 large eggs 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks 1 cup roasted almonds or toasted walnuts, roughly chopped 1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows Directions: 1.)‚ÄàPlace 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips in microwave-safe dish. Microwave 30 seconds on high, stir and continue to microwave in 10- to 20-second intervals, stirring after each, until chocolate is melted and smooth. Set bowl aside and cool to room temperature. 2.)‚ÄàIn medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. In large bowl, beat butter and both sugars using electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add melted, cooled chocolate and vanilla, blend until fully incorporated. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture slowly; mixing until incorporated. Fold in chocolate chunks, nuts and mini marshmallows. 3.) Fill pint containers with cookie dough and refrigerate up to four days or freeze up to one month. When giving as a gift, attach following baking instructions: 4.)‚ÄàPreheat oven to 350 degrees. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons, or using small cookie scoop, onto parchment-lined baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Flatten dough slightly using back of spoon. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until edges are lightly cracked but centers are still soft. 5.)‚ÄàRemove from oven and cool slightly on baking sheet before transferring cookies to wire rack to cool completely.

********** Published: November 25, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 32