By Julia Pantoga
I always give baked goods as gifts. The hardest (and usually most expensive) part of giving away baking goods is packaging them. You can come up with something more festive than baggies.
Suppose you know that you are going to give away cookies. Start thinking now about how you are going to present those precious treasures. You need containers that are big enough to hold at least one dozen cookies, but not so big that you have to bake a double batch for each gift. Containers will probably be cheaper if you stay away from holiday merchandise. To wit: one year I was at the hardware store and ammunition boxes were on sale for some crazy-low price, like 50 cents each. I bought ten of them and fake pebble spray-paint, laid them out on my garage floor, painted them, then filled each with bags of cookies. I hope that these ammunition boxes were useful to my friends and family after the cookies are eaten—for storing sand paper, for example.
Some things that you will give away (like spiced nuts or homemade candy) need smaller containers. My favorite small container is a coffee mug. I begin shopping in October for inexpensive coffee mugs (my local Goodwill sells brand new coffee mugs for $1 each. Department stores donate them when they don’t sell at $6-10 each.)
You will find small gift bags in the candy-making section of a craft store. I must warn you though that going into a craft store is risky business—financially, at least. These stores have so many adorable gift containers that you may forget that one of the reasons you are giving away baked goods is to save money on holiday gifts and spend way more than you ever thought you would on containers.
Another tip for buying containers is to shop for them all year around. I often find great plain red, silver and gold containers on sale right after Valentine’s Day.
Finally, you will need is ribbon. I find that if I combine a red or green ribbon with a gold or silver ribbon, I can tie a simple bow and the result is quite elegant. If you are trying to save money, buy your ribbon at the craft store and don’t tempt yourself to do more spending in the fabric store.
Here’s how it all works together:
1. Throw a handful of nuts (or homemade candy) into a small plastic bag
2. Secure the bag with two ribbons that you hold together
3. Put one little bag in each coffee mug.
I make a dozen of these early in December and keep a paper grocery bag of them in the back seat of my car, so I always have little gifts ready for people who help me all the time, like the clerk at the post office.
Another category of baked goods to give away are those that need to be baked in pans. A great discovery I made last year was the Paper Gift Bakers from The Baker’s Catalogue. These, combined with the medium size Clear Gift Bags that they sell also, have made my gift-giving-life a lot easier. I bake my gift cakes right in the pan. Once frosted, I pop them in the gift bags. I secure the bags with a silver twist tie, then stick a bow on top of the package. Voila! A beautiful gift!
I make six gift cakes at a time and store them in the freezer once they are completely wrapped. One of the tricks to baking with disposable pans is to place all the pans on a pre-heated cookie sheet before you bake them. That way, there is only one thing to put into the hot oven and one thing to take to the porch to cool.
Usually, I don’t start baking for the holidays until mid-November (although this year I did some early to get photographs for you). October is really best spent starting to accumulate packaging materials. In early November I’ll give you the recipes for foods that I like best for giving as gifts.