Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Boxes full of deliciousness

 Merry Christmas Eve, readers!  Here comes your daily dose of holiday cheer in the form of the insane amount of baking I've done in the last two months.

Every year since Fuzzyhead and I have been together, we've given gifts to all of our extended family at Christmas time.  You may know from your own experiences, that buying presents for aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents is murderous awful work, because you see these people twice a year and have no idea what they want/need or what they would appreciate.  We've opted for consumable homemade gifts every year, because who doesn't love to stuff your face at Christmas?

In the past, I've made red pepper jelly for everyone, an assortment of jams (where everyone got one big jar and one little jar of different types of jams), and a mix of different tasty things, including homemade marshmallows, chai tea concentrate syrup, a spice rub trio, and tea blends.  This year, I went the baking route and made up boxes of tasty treats for everyone.  I can tell you right now, I will probably never do this again.

I started the process in October, when I chose all the recipes I wanted to make, based on things I've made in the past, and various other recipes from my favourite magazines and websites.  My all-time favourite magazine is the 2011 Better Homes and Gardens special holiday release called Food Gifts.  It's amazing.  You can find most of the recipes online, but the magazine is so nicely put together with lots of ideas for presenting the food in bags, boxes, and containers.  Martha Stewart is my other go-to, since it's rare that I come across a bad recipe from her.

My baking list included:

-Gingerbread men (Martha Stewart)
-Chai spice sugar cookies with vanilla glaze (Better Homes and Gardens website)
-Classic shortbread (Martha)
-Decorated sugar cookies (Martha)
-Peanut butter marshmallow squares (general internet search, it's only three ingredients so any recipe will do)
-Toffee-topped chocolate ganache tarts (BHG magazine)
-Lemony-glazed shortbread (BHG magazine)
-Pink Lady Squares (general internet search, these are also so common that any recipe will do)
-Homemade marshmallows (BHG magazine)
-Snickerdoodle thumbprint cookies with apple butter (a Martha recipe, but I added the snickerdoodle part and the apple butter)
-Red velvet whoopie pies with cream cheese icing (BHG magazine)
-Pumpkin spice cookies with brown butter icing (Martha Stewart website)

That's twelve different types of cookies.  And it took me months to get it all done.  I started making the doughs, for the ones I could make ahead and freeze, in late October.  I banged out the sugar cookie, chai spice cookie, gingerbread men, and the pumpkin cookie doughs and wrapped them up in the freezer.  Next I started making the other things that could just sit in the freezer, like the marshmallows, the lemon shortbread, and the red velvet cookies.  In the last two weeks, I really kicked it up a notch and was making or baking something almost every night.

I bought 5 dollarstore containers that were long and flat to stack cookies in the freezer, and those are all full.  I have a few things stored in the fridge, and a couple on the counter in other containers (the regular shortbread and the thumbprint cookies, which are fine at room temp).  I've only handed out 6 of the boxes so far, and I made enough for 25 of these little treat collections.  I'm looking forward to a time when my freezer will be empty again.

Now, let's stop worrying about the process, and enjoy the final product:

Clockwise from top left - marshmallows, lemon shortbread, chair sugar cookie stars, regular decorated sugar cookies, peanut butter marshmallow squares, chocolate tart (no toffee), gingerbread men, and pink lady squares.

The liners I picked up by chance at Michaels when I was buying bakers' twine.  They were from their "Celebration" line of accessories, and it was the only one on the shelf.  They're grease-free, and came in two different pretty patterns.  There were 25 sheets in the package, and it was only $5.  It was fate.

This box is mostly the same as the one above, except it has thumbprint cookies in the bottom left corner.

Again, mostly the same, but this one has red velvet whoopie pies in the top middle, and pumpkin cookies with brown butter icing in the bottom middle.

These first four boxes were for my co-workers, who all appreciate my baking throughout the year.

I hummed and hawed long and hard about the perfect container for the cookies.  I wanted something with a clear window in the top, but that would have cost more than it was worth.  I started my search online at places like the Container Store, but their boxes would have cost me upwards of $30, before shipping.  I only needed 25 boxes, and many places forced you to order by the 100's to get the best price.

My solution was G.T. French paper here in town.  They sell wholesale to all sorts of places, but they're also open to the public.  I walked in there one day after work and bought thirty 9"x"6"x2" boxes for a whopping $6.  The man who helped me was hesitant that the size I chose would be big enough, but I knew I wasn't cramming them full to the brim, and I made small-ish sized cookies for that very reason.

I used various stamps from my collection to decorate the plain white boxes, and tied them closed with bakers' twine.

I also added a little "from the kitchen of..." sticker (I have a few different stamps that say things like that, so I stamped out a few onto mailing labels) so everyone knew they weren't junky store-bought cookies that I jumbled together in a box.  Fuzzyhead was concerned that some people might not appreciate all the work I did if they didn't realize they were all made by me.

In total, I made about 615 cookies/bars/tarts.  Phew.  And a Merry Christmas to one and all.



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