Last Christmas, I decided to make a lot of my extended family gifts in order to stay on budget. I gave each person the same gift basket filled with goodies.
I found a good sale on hardback cookbooks for $5 each, bought Christmas towels from a dollar store and then added jars of homemade jam and truffles to each basket. Everyone who received a basket raved about the truffles and jam. It made me really happy that they enjoyed something that I had made myself.
It didn’t hurt that it also made me look like a domestic superhero, either.
Using sales, coupons, and local fruits, I was able to make each gift basket for less than $15! Jam is really simple to make. It only requires three ingredients: juice or fruit, sugar and pectin. You also need some basic equipment; a very tall pot (or boiling water canner), canning jars (about $1 each for small jelly jars), and tongs to grab the jars out of the water.
Small boxes of pectin can be expensive. If you plan on making several large batches, you might want to consider bulk purchases to find the best deal. If you plan to only make one or two batches, then boxed pectin is fine. The boxes also contain exact instructions for many types of jam, including low-sugar versions and freezer jams that will not need to be set in canning jars (you must refrigerate instead).
Even now, one can still take advantage of seasonal produce with jams and marmalades featuring lemons, oranges, and pears.
My second homemade gift was cake truffles. There are many different ways to make truffles, but I used a cake pops recipe. Cake pops are a great beginner’s baking project.
There are several versions online that you can try, all requiring the same things: cake mix, a small amount of frosting and chocolate coating.
Here is a basic recipe from www.cakepops.org: You will need one box of cake mix, 1/3 cup of frosting, and a 1 pound package of candy melts.
First, make the cake according to package instructions in a 9x13 pan. Allow cake to cool completely. After the cake is cooled, crumble it into fine pieces. You could use a food processor to speed up the process.
Once your cake has been crumbled, add the frosting and mix well. Put the mixture in the fridge for at least 30 minutes (or overnight) to set. After it has set, shape some into a ball using a cookie scoop or a melon baller (makes a perfect truffle size).
When the shapes have been made, then melt the candy melts according to the instructions. To make cake pops, dip a lollipop stick into the melted chocolate and immediately insert it into the cake pop. Let the chocolate harden for a few minutes before returning the pop to the chocolate so the pop doesn’t slide off the stick. Dip into chocolate and cover completely; decorate while the chocolate is still wet with sugars, candies, sprinkles or different-colored chocolate coatings.
If you wish to make truffles, leave out the stick and dip using forks and place on wax paper to dry.
If you shop with coupons, this is a very frugal gift. Cake mixes and frostings can be bought for just 75 cents each and by using the craft store 40 percent off coupons, a smart shopper can snag Wilton candy melts for just $1.80 per bag. One batch of cake mix, frosting and candy melts will make 40 to 50 large cake pops or about 80 small truffles.
Presentation is the secret to making a homemade item look amazing. I found mini cupcake liners for $1 that doubled as “paper” for my truffles. I also put the truffles into inexpensive Christmas tins. To fill up the tin, I used up some old cardstock to make a divider for a second layer of truffles.
Cake pops are perfect for parties. At my daughter’s birthday party, we made a wonderful display by using a floral foam base covered in glitter and arranged the cake pops as you would a flower arrangement. By simply changing colors to red and green, you have an amazing Christmas party centerpiece.
Next week we will look into our stockpiles to make different themed gift baskets. Until next time, happy shopping!