Come December each year, it’s easy to shell out tons of cash you don’t really have on gifts people don’t really need. Which seems silly since, of all the gifts I’ve ever received, the ones that remain most memorable and meaningful aren’t the generous gift certificates or fun baubles. Instead, they’re the personal gifts—the ones that say I put time and effort into figuring this out, because I want to make you happy.
Luckily, making your holiday presents from scratch communicates all that and, with a little planning, costs a fraction of what you might otherwise spend. As with our favorite savory food gifts, the sweet recipes you’ll find below are easy to make in bulk and won’t need to be consumed by the recipient for anywhere from one week to several months.
Whether you’re leaning toward a fresh, fruity syrup, crispy granola, or some rich and nutty homemade Nutella, you can pick one recipe and parcel it out in cookie tins, Ball jars, or cellophane bags as a stocking stuffer, or make a handful of them and design your own gift box or basket for something more substantial. Some pretty containers, ribbon, and tissue paper can go a long way toward making these simple recipes feel festive.
This year, to help things along, we’ve even created printable labels, complete with cooking instructions for your giftee, to plaster on a jar of Stella’s homemade shelf-stable mixes for fudgy brownies (and vegan brownies!), her delightfully fluffy pancakes, and her warming hot chocolate—no visit to the website required!
Gifting a box of store-bought brownie mix would be unimpressive at best, but making your own is another story entirely. As long as your friends have a big jar of this on hand, they’ll be able to make rich, fudgy brownies whenever they please. The mixture combines a blend of dark chocolate and Dutch cocoa, and a tiny pinch of espresso powder to keep the sweetness in check. In theory, it will be good for up to a year, but you can be sure it won’t last that long. For a nice finishing touch, tape on our handy printable label for this brownie mix.
Everything we love about our classic brownie mix, only vegan. Here, cocoa butter and malt extract stand in for malted milk powder, while soy milk powder keeps the batter emulsified for a perfect texture. You can get the label for our vegan brownies here.
This isn’t your ordinary hot cocoa mix. It packs not one but three sources of chocolate: bittersweet dark chocolate, earthy Dutch cocoa powder, and creamy milk chocolate. Instant espresso, toasted sugar, and malted milk powder add complexity to the blend. Transfer it to a glass jar, throw on a printable label for preparing the hot chocolate, and make any chocolate lover’s dreams come true.
This simple pancake mix requires little more than pantry staples, comes together quickly in the food processor, and remains shelf-stable for up to a year. Toasted sugar and malted milk powder add depth of flavor, but the real key ingredient is flavorless: coconut oil coats the flour and helps control gluten formation for a light, airy texture. To further tailor your gift, we have two slightly different formulas, so you can choose between making a mix for thick and fluffy pancakes or light and thin pancakes.
Regardless of which mix you choose, with our printable instruction label attached to the container, your recipient only has to add a splash of milk, an egg, and a touch of vanilla extract for a pancake batter that beats Bisquick any day.
Sure, a fancy bottle of real-deal maple syrup makes a nice gift. But anyone with a whisper of nostalgia for Aunt Jemima or Mrs. Buttersworth will be delighted by this buttery-sweet homemade take on supermarket pancake syrup. Our recipe leans on white and brown sugar for a balanced sweetness, while cream of tartar gives it a wonderfully smooth, luxurious texture—with no corn syrup in sight.
Homemade granola is an ideal food gift—easy on the eyes, designed to be made in giant batches, and shelf-stable for up to six weeks. But all too often, granola recipes create jagged, overly sweetened oats that taste like a sad and stale crumbled cookie. For a lighter, crisper blend, we soak the grain base—a flavorful mixture of oats and flax, nutty-sweet wheat germ, and faintly floral and crunchy chia seeds—in buttermilk and melted butter. Toasting it low and slow builds caramel notes, while pumpkin seeds, almonds, pecans, dried apricots, dried cherries, and dried blueberries add textural interest to the mixture. For a fun twist, try our banana granola instead, which makes use of black bananas and captures the spirit of great banana bread.
This stuff is bananas: a spread with the texture of peanut butter, but the flavor of a nutty-sweet speculoos cookie. For those of you who are addicted to Biscoff (or our DIY version of the Belgian classic), this one’s a no-brainer. For that matter, it should be a no-brainer no matter who you are. Pack it up in jars, and keep it handy to spread on white bread, French toast, fresh fruit, or—gasp—MORE COOKIE.
It doesn’t get much more budget-friendly than a recipe that calls for literally nothing beyond granulated sugar and a stint in the oven. Load up a baking dish with a few pounds of sugar, and let it toast at a low 300°F (150°C) for anywhere from two to five hours, stirring occasionally. The result is a richly caramel-flavored sugar with a subdued, more subtle sweetness. Your recipient can use it as a one-to-one substitute for plain sugar—it’s key to our Perfect Swiss Meringue, but it’ll play just as well in coffee or in their favorite batch of cookies.
Most fruits have a pit, skin, or rind we wind up tossing. But if you’re smart about what you hold on to, you might be surprised by just how valuable some of those discards are. Case in point: stop chucking your lemon rinds and start saving them up for a big batch of brightly tart-sweet syrup. Tossing the used rinds with about half their weight in sugar yields a deeply flavorful, colorful extract—no juice, added flavorings, or dyes required. The resulting syrup bottles beautifully and lasts in the fridge for up to three months. It can be used as a mixer in any cocktail where a hint of citrus would be welcome, or added to an addictive batch of whipped cream.
It takes just 20 minutes and a remarkably short ingredient list to pull together a batch of this silky homemade caramel. A quick simmer of water, sugar, and salt will get you most of the way there, but a cup of cream, a dash of vanilla extract, and an empty vanilla pod give it a smooth texture and complex flavor. Stop when it reaches a pale, honey-colored hue for a simpler, more straightforward sweetness, or keep simmering until it’s a toastier amber shade to coax out a pleasantly bitter edge. You’ll want to jar the caramel promptly, as it will thicken and stiffen as it cools. Though your recipient should use it within a month, chances are it’ll go a lot faster than that.
For something a little more nuanced and, well, gooier than your standard caramel, we turn to this twist on dulce de leche. In place of boiled cow’s milk, cajeta casera embraces the tangy-rich, faintly funky flavor of goat’s milk. One benefit is that the unique cooking properties of goat’s milk allow for a relatively quick stint on the stovetop. The result is a deeply concentrated, intensely flavored topping perfectly suited to drizzling over ice cream, spreading over cakes, adding to cookies, and binge-eating straight from the jar.
If you don’t mind getting your hands a little
dirty slathered in chocolate, chocolate truffles are a surprisingly low-effort undertaking, with serious visual (and gustatory) appeal. The process is simple: Whip piping-hot heavy cream into a bowl of finely chopped dark chocolate, then whisk in some butter and, if you like, a splash of your favorite booze. When the mixture has firmed up in the fridge, just roll it into bite-size balls and coat them in powdered cocoa, ground nuts, or tempered chocolate. Our recipe makes a sizable batch, enough for at least a few small gift sets.
Cookies are the OG of DIY gifts, and we have more than enough options for all your needs. Start with Stella’s tips on how to craft a holiday cookie assortment and then get browsing. From chewy chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons to the best chocolate chip cookies that science (and an insane level of obsessive passion) can produce, you’ll find dozens of recipes on our holiday cookie page to get you started.
This recipe gets a tad messy, but the chewy, chocolaty, caramel-laden results are well worth it. Each caramel is hand-dipped in chocolate, for delicately thin shells with far greater complexity than those of the yellow-boxed originals.
Homemade sweetened condensed milk traditionally requires ultra-low heat and up to six hours of constant stirring, a project that might take up too much of your precious holiday gift-shopping time. But with a splash of heavy cream to prevent scorching, you can crank up the heat and be done in 45 minutes flat. The result is thicker, creamier, and more luscious than anything from a can, with a rich dairy flavor and subtle notes of toffee.
Warm aromatics and a bit of apple cider vinegar set this applesauce apart from the ones that crowd grocery store shelves. Cinnamon, orange peel, and rose water impart a sweet, unmistakably floral flavor, while toasted sugar adds depth. You can be certain that what you end up jarring and giving to friends is no regular old applesauce.
The pistachio lover in your life will swoon over this vibrant green paste, which boasts an intensely nutty, mildly floral-sweet flavor. Yes, it takes a little elbow grease to blanch and peel the pistachios, but the paste’s versatility makes the work more than worthwhile: Spread it on toast or between layers of cake, or use it our recipes for pistachio cream, moist and airy pistachio cake, or these decadent pull-apart pistachio breakfast buns.
Freeze-dried apples add tart, autumnal flavor to the classic combo of cinnamon and sugar. For a bit more oomph, you can swap out the white sugar for caramel-forward toasted sugar and add fragrant fennel pollen to the mix. There’s no right or wrong way to use this powder, but we like it sprinkled over apple cider doughnuts, buttered toast, or a morning bowl of oatmeal.
If store-bought Nutella—with its high volume of sugar and palm oil and minimal amounts of actual chocolate and hazelnuts—is good, just imagine what happens when you make an entire batch of the stuff from high-quality ingredients, instead. Think top-notch melted dark chocolate, toasty hazelnut brittle, and roasty hazelnut oil, all blended together until velvety smooth and insanely rich.
If you like the sound of our homemade Nutella but want to give something a bit more unique, consider this crispy variation, which simply stops a step early to leaves tiny shards of the caramel-y hazelnut brittle intact.
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