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Home-Baked Holiday by Karen Tedesco

Like a pair of woolly mittens on a cold day, sweet treats go hand in hand with the holidays.


Whether or not your family traditions involve epic baking sessions, elaborate decorative icings or something more straightforward, now’s the time to think about making your favorite homemade creations and packaging them as gifts.


What’s that expression? Oh, yes – "It’s the thought that counts." Giving someone a fresh-baked batch of cookies isn’t just an act of generosity, it also counts as a deliciously personal gesture.

Plus making something with your heart and hands has a magical way of jump-starting that often elusive holiday spirit.


Pile a bunch of cookies in a box and hand them off with a bow on top – it’s not exactly rocket science, but the secret to transforming an otherwise humble package of baked goods into something memorable lies in the presentation.


You don’t need to go full-on Martha Stewart to make a package that shines with care and attention. Even adding a handwritten tag to a plain brown paper bag of homemade cookies adds a warm touch, making that gift much more special.


Cookies freeze well, so bake some batches in advance if that saves time. Then follow these simple tips for cookie gifting.


The best types of cookies for gift-giving:

  • Choose cookies that aren’t too delicate. Variety in shape and size is ideal. Include a few different ones to mix things up. Try making two, three or more different kinds:

  • Crunchy and sturdy – Biscotti, shortbread, gingerbread

  • Dense, chewy – Chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal, sugar cookies.

  • Bar cookies – Brownies, blondies, fudge, nut bars.

Tips for packaging:

  • Choose a sturdy container – a covered tin, wooden box or heavy cardboard.

  • Line the container with parchment or wax paper. If you can find food-grade tissue paper, use it for wrapping stacks of cookies.

  • If you’re shipping the cookies, put a sheet of bubble wrap in the box first, adding more if you’re layering cookies.

  • Use large muffin or cupcake liners or other

  • dividers like pieces of cardboard to organize the cookies.

  • Fill spaces in between the cookies with crinkled gift basket paper, crumpled foil or tissue.

  • How to dress up your package:

  • Make your gift look festive by embellishing with a few inexpensive items easily found in stationery or craft stores.

  • Fabric ribbons and twine

  • Plain gift tags or labels to write on

  • Tissue paper (if you’re wrapping cookies directly in tissue, use food-safe paper)

  • Small tins, wood or cardboard boxes

  • Kraft paper and bags

  • If your container has a lid, tie a ribbon around it and add a cute gift tag attached with a piece of twine or colorful string.

  • For containers without a lid, securely wrap in plastic or cellophane before adding a ribbon.


To make charming hostess gifts, pack cookies in fun containers like cake or loaf tins, vintage bowls or mugs and wooden storage boxes – it’s like giving two gifts in one.

Source creative cookie packaging supplies at these local stores:

  • Kitchen a la Mode (19 S. Orange Avenue, South Orange, 973-821-5145) Baking pans, equipment and parchment paper.

  • No. 165 (165 Maplewood Avenue, Maplewood, 973-821-4852) Distinctive household items, cards and accessories.

  • A Paper Hat (94 Baker Street, Maplewood, 862-250-3129) Craft yarn, decorative paper, washi tape, stamps.


Rosemary Cornmeal Cookies with Lemon Glaze

Lightly sweet butter cookies scented with fresh rosemary and lemon

  • Makes about 3 dozen cookies

  • Ingredients:

  • 10 tablespoons butter, softened

  • ¾ cup granulated sugar

  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest

  • 2 eggs, at room temperature

  • ¼ teaspoon lemon extract (optional)

  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour

  • ¾ cup coarse ground cornmeal (polenta)

  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, plus a few sprigs for garnish

  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

  • ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt

  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts

  • Glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar

  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream

  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

Instructions:

Beat the butter and sugar in a standing mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on medium high speed. Add the lemon zest and the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated. If using lemon extract, stir it in now.


Mix the flour, cornmeal, rosemary, baking powder and salt in a bowl until blended together.

Add the dry mixture to the butter on low speed in two parts, just until the dough comes together. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for one hour.


Heat the oven to 325 degrees and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop the dough into tablespoon-sized balls and arrange on the cookie sheets.


Bake 12 minutes, or until the cookies are puffed and slightly golden on the edges. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.


To make the glaze, stir together the powdered sugar, cream, lemon juice and zest until smooth. Spread some glaze on each cookie. Put a few rosemary leaves and a pine nut on the top to decorate. If packing as a gift, allow the glaze to set for a few hours at room temperature.


Karen Tedesco is a recipe developer, food stylist and photographer living in Maplewood. For seasonal recipes and more, visit her website Familystylefood.com