08 Dec Head to the kitchen to create the best gifts of all
When I was little, my mom always had a gift closet. Downstairs in the spare bedroom was the tall dark wood-paneled cabinet with shiny brass knobs that she’d open up to reveal little boxed treasures she’d picked up in her travels and tucked away, just in case she had the need for a last-minute gift. I always thought it was such a great idea, having a gift closet.
As for me, I’d need a gift freezer, being the baker that I am. I’d fill it with freshly baked loaves of breakfast braids, baggies of pizza dough, homemade pesto cubes and cookie-making components to compile into do-it- yourself gourmet gifts to give to friends and family on my Christmas list.
It’s always nice to have a plan for breakfast, especially if you’ve got guests staying with you. But with all the hubbub of the holidays, it’s a challenge to think up new and different things to make. Who wouldn’t appreciate a freshly baked breakfast braid, with diced honey ham and cheese woven into the softest of bread doughs, to pop in the oven and serve to house guests visiting this time of year?
Busy families might enjoy an at-home pizza party waiting to happen thanks to the pizza-making kit, complete with ready to bake pizza dough, homemade pesto sauce and roasted tomato marinara sauce. Tuck in a package of fresh mozzarella, and let the pizza-making begin.
And we can’t forget Jolly Old Saint Nick, now can we? Whip up some cookie dough and stash it in the freezer to give to the cookie-baking friends or families with small children on your list.
Already formed into a log, it’s as easy as slicing and baking with minimal cleanup. Heck, let the kids bake for Santa this year.
May your holidays be merry and bright and your freezer filled with gourmet gifts to give.
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. yeast
5 cups flour
½ tsp. salt
2 tbsp. butter
1¼ cups milk
2 tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup diced honey ham
1 cup cheddar cheese
In a large mixing bowl, combine warm water and sugar, stirring to combine. Sprinkle yeast on top and stir to dissolve. Allow yeast to rise and get puffy. Add flour and salt to yeast.
In microwave, heat butter and milk until butter melts. Add melted butter and milk to mixture and stir until combined and dough forms a ball.
Add a bit more flour if dough is too sticky or a bit more warm water if dough is too dry. Knead dough for five minutes. On a lightly floured board, roll out dough to 9-by-21-inch rectangle.
Brush dough with melted butter. Sprinkle ham and then cheese over dough. Cut dough into three equal rectangles, each about 3 inches by 7 inches.
Take one rectangle at a time and bring edges together, pressing to seal. Repeat for other two rectangles. You now should have three long dough ropes.
Braid the three ropes together and place on greased baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes until golden. Bread can be cooled, wrapped tightly in foil and frozen for gift giving at this point.
Slice and serve hot out of the oven. Or, wrap in foil and reheat briefly in 350° oven.
SLICE-AND-BAKE COOKIES FOR SANTA
¾ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
3¼ cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 375°.
Using electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until well mixed. Add eggs and beat until fluffy. Add almond extract.
Stir together dry ingredients and add to butter mixture, mixing just until combined.
Gather dough into a ball on a lightly floured board and cut dough in half. Form each half into long logs, about 15 inches long. Flatten sides of each dough log to make triangular shaped logs.
Freeze for 30 minutes or until ready to bake.
At this point, you can wrap tightly in plastic wrap for gift giving later.
Remove from freezer.
Roll dough logs in green sprinkles to coat outside. Slice into ½inch cookies and bake in preheated oven for about six minutes until lightly browned on the edges.
Makes two logs of cookie dough, yielding two dozen cookies each.
2 cups warm water
1 tsp. honey
2 tbsp. yeast
5 cups flour
½ tsp. salt
½ cup olive oil
Stir together warm water and honey to dissolve. Sprinkle yeast on top of water and stir to combine. Let yeast proof, or rise and get foamy.
In large mixing bowl, add flour, salt and olive oil. Stir to combine. Add yeast mixture and work into ball.
If dough is too dry, add a bit more warm water. If dough feels too sticky, add a bit more flour.
Knead dough on lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about five minutes.
Coat mixing bowl with olive oil and place dough back into bowl.
Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 20 to 30 minutes.
Divide dough in half. Wrap tightly in plastic or in a Ziploc bag and freeze until ready to use or give as a gift.
Make the pesto.
HOMEMADE PESTO SAUCE
4 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves, stems removed
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic minced
½ cup walnuts (or pine nuts, if desired)
1 cup olive oil (plus 2 tbsp.)
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until basil is finely chopped and ingredients are mixed.
You will have a thick paste texture when finished. Add additional olive oil, if necessary.
Transfer pesto mixture to two small jars, leaving ½ inch of room at top of jar.
Pour about 1 tbsp. olive oil on top of pesto in each jar.
Cover with lids and store in refrigerator until ready to use (or gift). Makes two pint jars of pesto.
ROASTED TOMATO MARINARA SAUCE
14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tbsp. olive oil
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with basil
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 350°.
Brush baking pan with olive oil. Spread diced tomatoes and garlic on pan and roast in preheated oven for 30 minutes, stirring if necessary.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine remaining ingredients and simmer while tomatoes are roasting.
Add roasted tomatoes when they are lightly browned and stir to combine.
Divide into two quart jars.
Cover and refrigerate until ready to use (or gift).
To assemble pizzas: Remove pizza dough from freezer and let thaw for about 30 minutes before assembling.
Roll pizza dough out on lightly floured surface.
Spread dough with a light layer of marinara or pesto sauce or try half on one side and half on the other.
Customize your pizza with your favorite toppings.
We had shrimp on hand, so I lightly sauteed them and added artichoke hearts, too.
Top with sliced fresh mozzarella or grated mozzarella and bake in 450° oven for about 10 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly.
Sydne George is a freelance writer specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography.