Every year I make a mess of my kitchen. I actually have to purchase brown sugar, and I start stockpiling butter in the freezer beginning in October (hey, butter is expensive! Buy it on sale and store in your freezer.) I make a serious Christmas Treat Box, my friend, and my family loves it. I absolutely love making them. I’ve been doing this going on 8 years now for 4-10 people, depending on the year. Some multi-year hits and sources:
-Small jars of Kimchee
And… Homemade Candied Orange Peels
Want to make your own treat boxes? It’s easier then you think! You need to think about a few things though…
What to make:
The thing is, the last two years my family really loved my mix of sweet AND savory items in the treat boxes. It’s a great break from all the candy and peppermint lattes. So I try to do some of each. A little savory cracker, a little chocolate truffle (packaged separately, of course!).
Or make a theme! Like everything white, or all things nuts… whatever your audience likes, tailor it to them. Maybe they want all chocolate-dipped stuff? Go wild with it. (p.s. dipping things in chocolate is about the easiest way to dress up a plain old pretzel or regular potato chip).
If you are making for about 10 people or less, you don’t really need to worry too much about doubling recipes, because just a few cookies or a couple chunks of brittle get used in each Treat Box. Unless you want to really impress someone and give them a whole sheet pans worth, just make the normal sized batch. This will save you baking time and precious grocery money.
If you are going to make something like candied orange peel, you might as well make the orange compote and save the orange syrup (or gift them both in a trio) because you end up with the materials to make all three anyways!
If you want to tackle homemade marshmallows, why not dip some of them in chocolate or flavor half the batch with peppermint? You now have two or three kinds of marshmallows and you only had to make it once. Another trick with this recipe is at the end, roll the cut marshmallows in cocoa powder instead of powdered sugar = chocolate + vanilla marshmallow!
Package It Up:
I tend to over make and over bake! So I end up with a good size pile of treats per person. This means I always need a bigger box/bag/basket then I realize. So what do you use to package up all this good ness into one major Christmas Treat Box??
-Bakery boxes: in the early years I went to a grocery store bakery and asked if they had a couple extra bakery boxes I could use. Then I used wrapping paper to cover up the areas of the box that had the store name on them. It’s low-tech, but it works!
-Tins and Baskets: I love Goodwill and other thrift stores for this. I go a few weeks before I start baking and check out what they have in the home decor aisle. Sometimes they have great Christmas cookie tins, sometimes I have better luck with baskets of various sizes, whatever you do, keep an open mind and a keen eye. And get a cart.
-Purchased “fancy” boxes: I try to use this as a last resort, or only invest in them when they are on sale. I will use purchased clear bags, paper bags, labels and stuff like that, but the larger boxes are usually a bit more expensive.
-Paper Bags or other items you already have: This is also key! Reuse what you have already. The best part is what’s inside the bag anyways. I add a bow or some ribbon to the paper bag handle or draw on the outside to make it a little more festive.
-Clearly label each item, add a pretty ribbon or bow, and be sure to mark if it’s gluten free, nut free, vegan, or any other special dietary requirement
***Remember, if you are making things that will need to be refrigerated, label that clearly on the item. I have found that packaging multiple things that should go in the fridge together is easy for the recipient to just pop in there later.***
Okay! Now you are ready to get cooking! Here’s a family favorite that was requested this year. It’s a bit labor intensive, but unlike any store-bought candy you will ever have. AND it’s a 3-in-1 recipe. You will end up with Orange Compote and Citrus Black Pepper Syrup. The compote (great on pancakes, oatmeal, and yogurt) and syrup (fabulous in cocktails and iced teas) should be refrigerated, but the orange peels will be fine at room temperature. The syrup lasts forever, really, in the fridge.
Candied Orange Peels:
Here they are, ready to start simmering.
Drying slightly and scraping…
Meticulous scraping of pith…but very worth the end result!
Ready to be sliced into strips:
Simmer the strips in the syrup until they are thin and opaque:
Roll them in sugar after they cool down in the fridge overnight. Let them dry out on wire racks for another day or so:
Package them up!
Recipe adapted after many years of trial and error from Martha Stewart.
- 6-8 organic oranges, with good looking peels
- 6 cups sugar
- Sugar for rolling the peels in
- melon baller or spoon
- wire rack
- sauce pan
- large bowl
- Slice off ends of the oranges. Following curve of fruit, cut a slit down the peel, end to end, on opposite sides. Use these as finger holds to rip off large sections of peel, leaving the peel in large half moon shapes. Don't worry about the pith right now. (if making the Orange Compote, reserve a couple tablespoons of zest from one of the oranges, and save all the orange fruit until ready to make the compote).
- Place the peels in a large pot and fill with enough cold water to cover the peels. Bring it to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the peels to a large bowl of cool water, until they are cool enough to handle with your hands. Spread out on a rack set over a large baking sheet to dry. Working with one piece of peel at a time and using a spoon or melon baller, scrape the white pith away and discard. You want as much of the white removed as possible. If the peels rip, it's okay, any shape these are in is delicious. Slice your pieces of scraped peel lengthwise in to strips, ¼ to a ½ inch wide.
- In the pot (old water discarded) stir together the 6 cups of sugar and 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved (about 8 minutes.) Add the strips and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer about 40 minutes. You want the strips to be translucent and the syrup to thicken slightly. Turn off the heat and let the syrup cool. I like to place it in the fridge overnight (I think this helps infuse the syrup better) but about 3 hours should be enough if you want to speed things along. (You can also make this recipe, up to here, about 3 weeks ahead, and just leave the peels in the fridge until you are ready to move on.
- When you are ready to sugar the peels, set out a large wire rack, the kind used for cooling a cake, over a large sheet pan or work surface with a piece of parchment or wax paper under it. In a small bowl or plate, pour some sugar into it for dipping the peels into.
- Working with one peel strip at a time, slip off the extra syrup with your fingers and place it in the bowl. Roll it around in the sugar, and place on the wire rack to dry. Let them dry overnight before packaging up into bags or a plastic container.
- Save the leftover syrup for the Citrus Black Pepper syrup recipe.
Check out the recipe for Orange Compote!