One present is perfect for almost everyone on your list - chocolate. Homemade fudgy treats make great gifts and are a welcome addition to holiday get-togethers.
Agnes Tarnowsky took a tray of fudge to a recent holiday party. "It went over really well. It was a big hit," Tarnowsky said.
Fudge is surprisingly easy to make, Tarnowsky said. As the owner of Crafty Confections (128 Crogan St., Lawrenceville, 678-985-0053), a candy supply shop in downtown Lawrenceville, she's a candy professional.
To make fudge, she melts chocolate in the microwave, adds vanilla and sweetened condensed milk and pours into a dish to harden. That's it.
She prefers melting solid chocolate rather than chocolate chips in the fudge she makes. This gives the fudge a smoother texture, she said.
The candy shop owner grew up making sweets with her family for Easter. Now, she creates candy year-round at Crafty Confections, which opened in July. In addition to selling candy and candymaking ingredients, Tarnowsky teaches evening workshops about the craft.
At her shop during this time of year, customers are shopping for supplies for candymaking. They're also looking for containers for their homemade sweets.
When packaging edible gifts, you can think inside or outside the box. Crafty Confections offers boxes, in plain white and holiday patterns, in a variety of sizes.
Author and chef Judith Sutton suggests using cellophane bags or miniature shopping bags in her book "Sweet Gratitude: Bake a Thank-You for the Really Important People in Your Life" (Artisan, $15.95).
Or the container can become part of the gift, Sutton said. She suggests picking up plates, platters or baskets at flea markets or yard sales. Goodies can also be packaged in pie pans or given with kitchen utensils, Sutton said.
But no matter how your edible gifts are wrapped, they will taste just as sweet to those who receive them.
1 pound chocolate
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Melt chocolate in microwave. Start by setting timer at one minute and watch carefully. When chocolate is fully melted, remove from microwave and stir in sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. Pour into pan and allow to harden. Cut into squares.
Note: Nuts, peanut butter or other ingredients can be added to the fudge after stirring in the sweetened condensed milk and the vanilla.
Source: Agnes Tarnowsky, owner of Crafty Confections in Lawrenceville
1⁄2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
6 ounces high-quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 large eggs
13⁄4 cups granulated sugar
1⁄2 cup packed light brown sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
11⁄2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped or cut into shards or 11⁄2 cups semisweet chocolate chunks or large semisweet chocolate chips
Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with foil, leaving a large overhang on the narrow ends.
Combine the butter, unsweetened chocolate and 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate in a medium heavy saucepan and melt over low heat, stirring frequently until smooth. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs and both sugars in an electric mixer on low speed just until smooth. Beat in the salt. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture, then beat in the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat the flour in two additions (the batter will be thick). Stir in the 7 ounces chocolate.
Scrape the butter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes or until the top is set but still soft and the edges are puffed and just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. A toothpick inserted into the center will come out still gooey (be brave! - underbaking the brownies is one of the secrets to their fudgy texture). Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
For the neatest cuts, refrigerate the pan for about 20 minutes before cutting the brownies. Using the foil, lift the brownie slab out of the pan. Carefully peel off the foil and put the brownie on a large cutting board. With a large sharp knife, cut the brownie into 48 squares.
Note: The brownies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days; they can also be frozen, well wrapped, for up to two weeks.
Source: "Sweet Gratitude: Bake a Thank-You for the Really Important People in Your Life" by Judith Satton (Artisan, $15.95)
Brown Sugar Fudge
This treat is well-suited for those who might not like chocolate.
1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons evaporated milk
2 cups packed light brown sugar
11⁄2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 tablespoon vanilla extract
13⁄4 cups confectioners' sugar
Special equipment: Candy thermometer
Combine milk, brown sugar, butter and salt in a 3-quart heavy saucepan and bring just to a boil over moderate heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until mixture registers 228 F on thermometer and a teaspoon of mixture dropped into a small bowl of cold water holds a soft ball when pressed between your fingers (this will take about 30 minutes).
Transfer to a heatproof bowl. Beat in vanilla with a electric mixer at medium speed, the add confectioners' sugar a little at a time, beating until fudge is thick and smooth, about 5 minutes.
Spread evenly in a ungreased 8-inch square baking pan. Refrigerate, uncovered, until firm enough to cut, in about 30 minutes.
Cut fudge into 64 squares with a sharp paring knife.
Notes: If desired, stir in 3⁄4 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped, into the fudge before spreading into the pan.
The fudge keeps, layered between sheets of wax paper, in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to five days.
Source: "The Gourmet Cookbook," edited by Ruth Reichl (Houghton Mifflin, $40)