The Tasteful Gift

Let your imagination take flight with inspired ideas for presenting homemade cookies and treats, the most timeless of gifts. Delicious is elevated to delightful when surrounded by silk or floating in glass, nestled in a copper votive or cradled in an exquisite antique dish. The thrill of the treat may be fleeting, but the sweetness of the expression endures.

Apees German Spiced Butter Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces

½ cup sugar

1 rounded teaspoon caraway seeds

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ cup dry Sherry

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two baking sheets. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and butter, and blend with a pastry cutter until the mixture is crumbly. Mix in the sugar, spices and seeds. Stir in the Sherry until the dough comes together and is stiff. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, so that it is ¼-inch thick. Using a 3-inch cookie cutter, cut out rounds and place ½-inch apart on the prepared pans. Re-roll any scraps. Bake for approximately 14 minutes, until the cookies appear pale. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool.

Makes 16 cookies

Green Tea and Espresso Bean Shortbread Cookies

For the base shortbread cookie:

1 stick unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces

¼ cup packed light brown sugar

pinch of salt

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons corn starch

2 teaspoons sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter two baking sheets. In a food processor, combine the butter, light brown sugar, salt, and almond and vanilla extracts. Process about 20 seconds. Sprinkle the flour and cornstarch over the top, pulsing 5-6 times until the dough clumps together. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about ¼-inch thick. Cut the dough into desired shapes with a cookie cutter. Place the cookies ½ inch apart on the baking sheets and sprinkle the tops with sugar. Bake the cookies until the edges are golden, around 8-10 minutes. Cool the shortbreads for 2 minutes on the pans, and then carefully remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

For Green Tea Shortbreads: Add 2 tablespoons green tea powder when processing the butter and sugar mixture.

For Espresso Bean Shortbreads: Add 2 tablespoons finely ground espresso beans along with 1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder when processing the butter and sugar mixture.

Makes 30 cookies

Masala Spice Cookies

1 cup almond flour, packed

1 tablespoon garam masala

1 teaspoon curry powder

2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely minced

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons molasses

2 ½ tablespoons honey

1 egg

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place almond flour in a bowl and add the spices and ginger, mixing well. Add the butter and mix until small lumps form and the dough is crumbly. Add vanilla, molasses and honey, mixing well. Add the egg and mix until a batter forms. Pour the batter onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet and spread evenly. Bake for 8 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes, until you can roll it into a ball. Next, roll the dough out flat between two sheets of parchment paper, so that it is ¼-inch thick. Cut out the dough with a cookie cutter, and line cookies on a Silpat baking sheet or a parchment-lined pan with an inch between each cookie and bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating halfway through. Cool cookies for 2 minutes on the baking pan, and then transfer them carefully to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 24 cookies

Miniature fig and Armagnac bundt cakes nest in antique Japanese Maruni lacquerware bowls on a matching tray dressed up with gilded pinecones.

Miniature Fig & Armagnac Bundt Cakes

10 Black Mission figs

¼ cup Armagnac

1 ¾ cups butter, at room temperature

1 ¾ cups sugar

6 eggs

pinch of salt

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups powdered sugar

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

Cut the figs into small pieces and soak in the Armagnac for 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine the butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each and scraping down the bowl. Add the salt after beating the eggs and sugar. Add the vanilla extract and Armagnac and figs, gradually adding the powdered sugar and blending well. Add the flour, mix well, and then spoon into prepared miniature bundt pans. Bake for 15 minutes, and then cool the bundt pans on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Invert the cakes and let cool completely on the rack.

For the pink peppercorn glaze:

1 ½ cups confectioners sugar

¼ cup butter, melted

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

pinch of salt

6 tablespoons heavy cream

1 tablespoon pink peppercorns, crushed

Sift the confectioners sugar into a bowl and add the melted butter, vanilla extract, salt and cream. Blend until very smooth, then add the pink peppercorns. Add 2 tablespoons of water to thin, if needed. Drizzle over cooled cakes.

Makes 16 bundt cakes

Hanging glass terrariums cradle miniature Indian spiced Kashmiri cupcakes set in mounds of sea salt.

Miniature Indian Spiced Kashmiri Cupcakes 

½ cup butter, softened

¾ cup sugar 

2 eggs

½ teaspoon garam masala

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon cardamom

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat the butter and sugar until pale. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each and scraping the bowl down. Add salt, fold in the spices and extracts, mixing well. Sift the flour and baking powder together, then add to butter mixture alternating with the milk until creamy. Grease miniature cupcake pan and spoon in batter, filling halfway. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Let cupcakes cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing.

For the chocolate icing: 

13 cup coconut cream concentrate

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup coconut milk

¼ cup and 2 tablespoons sugar

8 ounces Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate, chopped 

½ teaspoon almond extract

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

13 cup whole milk ricotta, at room temperature

toasted almonds, pistachios and shredded coconut

Mix the coconut concentrate, heavy cream, coconut milk and sugar, and heat just under a boil. Place the chocolate in a bowl and pour the hot liquid over. Mix until smooth, and then add the almond and vanilla extracts. Let the mixture cool slightly, and then fold in the ricotta, mixing until smooth. When the cupcakes are cool, use a small offset spatula to spread the chocolate icing over the top of each cupcake, and then garnish with toasted almonds, pistachios and coconut. 

Makes 16 cupcakes

S’mores Bars with Pine Marshmallow 

For the crust: 

20 full graham crackers

¼ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with parchment paper. Pulse the graham crackers, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add melted butter and pulse until the mixture is moist. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Let the dough cool on a rack.

For the chocolate ganache:

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

¼ cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place chocolate in a mixing bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a boil. Pour the hot heavy cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth. Add vanilla.

For the marshmallow:

1 cup water

3 ¼-ounce envelopes unflavored, powdered gelatin

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon pine extract

powdered sugar 

S’mores bars with pine marshmallow perch atop evergreen pine needles inside hammered copper votives.

Pour ½ cup of water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Sprinkle the gelatin in the water and stir briefly. Combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt and remaining ½ cup of water in a pot and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Use a candy thermometer and heat the mixture to 240 degrees. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool slightly. With the mixer on low speed, pour the hot sugar mixture into the gelatin in a thin stream down the side of the bowl, gradually increasing the mixer speed to high. Beat the mixture until the marshmallow is thick and forms a thick ribbon when the whisk is lifted, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla and pine extracts, stirring until well mixed.

To assemble:

When the graham cracker crust is cool, pour the warm ganache evenly over the top. Place the ganache-covered crust aside to cool and set for about 2 hours. Once completely cool, make the marshmallow. Spread the marshmallow mixture evenly over the ganache. Set aside to cool for at least 4 hours or overnight. Use a sifter to dust the powdered sugar over the marshmallow before slicing and serving. Tip: Before cutting, brush knife with canola oil and dust with powdered sugar as needed to slice.

Makes 16 square bars

This article originally appeared in our December 2017 issue.

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