The 2020 holiday season, sure to be one like no other, has arrived. Among many other changes, fewer friends and family will be gathering for traditional, full-sized holiday celebrations. But that doesn’t mean you have to forgo baking treats for special people in your life. These recipes are designed to survive the challenges of delivery — whether being dropped off or shipped through the mail — and each one comes with a tip to help protect it in transit. Any gift from the kitchen will brighten someone’s holiday season regardless of how it got there.
SALTED CARAMEL NUT TARTLETS
Makes 24 2-inch tartlets
This time-tested, simple recipe is an updated version of one handed down by the bakers in my family — my talented grandma and mom. Grandma called them “Those Little Things.” Hopefully, you’ll call them delicious.
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature; plus 2 tablespoons, melted
4 ounces cream cheese (half package), at room temperature
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg
¾ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped or whole nuts (such as pecans, walnuts, almonds, or cashews)
Coarse sea salt, for topping
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the stick of softened butter and cream cheese on high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. In a small bowl, combine the flour and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, scraping down the sides.
Spray a 24-count mini-muffin tin with nonstick spray (skip the spray if using a nonstick pan). Divide the dough into 24 pieces (about 1 tablespoon each), roll into balls, and refrigerate while making the filling.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, then add the sugar, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and vanilla and combine. Stir in the nuts.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and, using the heel of your hand, press each ball into a 2-inch circle. Lay each circle in the pan, and, using your fingertips, shape it into a shell, pressing the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the cups.
Using a small spoon, divide the filling into the prepared shells.
Bake for about 13 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the surface of the tartlets lightly with coarse sea salt. Rotate the pan and place back in the oven to finish baking, another 12 minutes or until the pastry is pale golden brown and the filling is puffed and looks dry on the surface.
Let stand in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer the tartlets to a rack to finish cooling. You may need to use a dinner knife to gently separate them from the pan. Store in an airtight container for up to 7 days.
Ship tip: Any crust-based treat has a better chance of surviving travel in the pan it was baked in. Consider baking these in a muffin tin that you gift to the recipient. But be sure to remove them from the pan to cool, so the crust doesn’t get soggy, then return them to the pan.
BANANA-CHOCOLATE CHIP TOFFEE BREAD
Makes 2 large (5¼-by-9-inch) or 8 small (4¾-by-2¾-inch) loaves
Think of this recipe as a blank banana canvas to spotlight the flavors of your choice. You can swap the chocolate chips for any combination of add-ins, such as other chips (white or dark chocolate, cinnamon, butterscotch) or nuts (walnuts, pecans, etc.) to make it your own.
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
4 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 2 cups)
½ cup canola oil
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
4 large eggs, beaten
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup toffee chips
¼ cup coarse sanding sugar, for topping
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat loaf pans with nonstick spray. In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder, and reserve. In a mixing bowl, combine the bananas, oil, and sugar, and mix well. Add the eggs and combine again, mixing until homogenous. Add the dry ingredients and, using an electric or stand mixer, mix on low to medium speed until just combined. Fold in the chocolate and toffee chips. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Transfer the batter into the prepared pans, filling each about two-thirds full. Sprinkle with the sanding sugar. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time to brown evenly (2 loaves will take about 50 to 60 minutes; 8 mini-loaves about 35-40 minutes). The banana bread is done when the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let stand 10 minutes before removing from the pans to fully cool. Stored in plastic wrap, the loaves will keep for up to 7 days.
Ship tip: These loaves will stay fresher if you don’t slice them before shipping.
Makes about 20 ounces (2½ cups)
Jam-packed with all the warm spices of the colder months, these preserves pair well with toast, English muffins, and toasted croissants, or can even accompany a savory dish. If you have lots of recipients on your gift list, no problem: this recipe doubles easily.
2 cups apple cider
3 whole cinnamon sticks
15 whole cloves
15 whole allspice berries
3 medium McIntosh apples
12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries (about 3 1/3 cups)
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
In a medium, non-reactive pot, bring the apple cider, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and allspice to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until the cider reduces by about half. Meanwhile, peel, core, and cut the apples into 8 slices each. Rinse the cranberries (remove any stems and squishy ones) and reserve.
After 10 minutes, strain the spices from the cider and discard them. Return the cider to a simmer over medium heat and add the apple slices. Cover and cook the slices until tender, about 5 minutes. Roughly mash the apples in the pot with a potato masher.
Return the mixture to medium-high heat. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve. Add the cranberries and the kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. As the mixture begins to thicken, reduce the heat to medium and stir more frequently. Cook an additional 5 minutes until the mixture is reduced and thickened, and most of the cranberries have burst open.
Off the heat, gently mash the mixture with the potato masher, leaving as much texture as you prefer. Transfer to clean, heat-proof glass jars, wiping the rims and glass threads with a wet paper towel. Screw the caps on. Cool completely and store in the refrigerator for up to several weeks.
Ship tip: Be sure to package your preserves in tempered glass containers. Not only will they withstand the heat and pressure of the cooking process, they’ll be sturdier for transit. The preserves don’t need to be refrigerated during shipping.
MINTY MOLTEN CHOCOLATE MUG CAKE
Makes 12 cakes
This gooey, rich dessert includes a make-ahead part, but finishes in the microwave — perfect for when the holiday mood strikes. For the mint truffles, feel free to substitute gingerbread, snickerdoodle, or other truffle flavors; even two thin chocolate mints will work.
½ cup Mug Cake mix (see following recipe)
3 tablespoons water, milk, or nondairy milk
1½ tablespoons canola oil
1 mint truffle, about 1-inch diameter
Candy, such as sprinkles or crushed candy canes, for garnish
Coat a 12- to 14-ounce coffee mug with nonstick spray (wider mugs work a little better), then add ½ cup of the Mug Cake mix. Combine the water (or milk) and oil and slowly add to the dry mix, stirring with a fork and digging to the bottom to make sure the ingredients are evenly incorporated.
Microwave on high for 45 seconds. Add the truffle (or two thin chocolate mints side by side) to the center, pressing the chocolate just below the surface if possible. Place any candy toppings on the surface. Return the cake to the microwave and cook another 30 to 45 seconds. You’ll want to experiment with cooking times and toppings. Candy cane melts quickly, but some sprinkles don’t. Like anything in a mug, these cakes are best enjoyed warm.
Mug Cake mix
2¼ cups cake flour (or substitute 2 cups all-purpose flour plus ¼ cup cornstarch)
1½ cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
¾ cup powdered buttermilk (available in the baking aisle of most supermarkets)
1½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
In a large bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients except the chocolate chips. Pass the mixture through a sieve onto a large piece of parchment paper, using a spoon to break up ingredients. Discard anything that remains in the sieve. Curving the sides of the parchment paper, slide the mixture back into the bowl, then whisk in the chocolate chips. Mix can be stored in an airtight container for up to two months.
Ship tip: Package a festive mug along with a cellophane bag to hold ½ cup of the mug cake mix, a mint truffle, candy toppings, and baking directions, and voilà, a thoughtful, homemade gift that brings holiday cheer from afar.
NO-BAKE MAPLE NANAIMO BARS
Makes three 7½-by-5-inch pans or two 8-by-8-inch pans
This decadent, three-layer bar cookie is named for the West Coast city in British Columbia. Authentic bars use Bird’s Custard Powder, which is sometimes available in the international aisle of supermarkets, but regular vanilla pudding mix will do the job.
Raw egg whites should not be used in place of the pasteurized ones, but a good substitute is 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of powdered egg or powdered egg white plus ¼ cup of water.
For bottom layer:
14.4-ounce box of graham crackers
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups sweetened coconut flakes
1/3 cup cocoa powder
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup pasteurized liquid egg whites
Grease three small aluminum grill drip pans (see ship tip) or two 8-by-8-inch baking pans with nonstick spray and reserve.
To the work bowl of a food processor, add the graham crackers and pulse into fine crumbs (a plastic bag and mallet works great, too). You should have a scant 3½ cups. Add the kosher salt, coconut, and cocoa powder. Pulse a few times, just to combine and slightly break down the coconut, then reserve.
In a heat-proof bowl over a double-boiler, melt the butter. Whisk in the sugar until it dissolves. Quickly whisk in the egg white. Using a rubber spatula, immediately stir in the graham cracker mixture, stirring for about two minutes to blend and dry out.
Divide the crust among the pans, and using your fingertips, press the crust firmly on the bottoms of the pans. Place in the freezer.
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
4 tablespoons water or milk
5 tablespoons vanilla custard / pudding mix
½ teaspoon kosher salt
18 tablespoons (2¼ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners' sugar, plus more if needed
In a small bowl, use a fork to combine the maple syrup, water or milk, pudding mix, and salt. Reserve.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the flat beater/paddle attachment, cream the butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and on medium speed, gradually add the pudding mixture. Beat on high for 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, then add the confectioners' sugar. Gradually increase the speed to high and beat an additional 2 minutes until you have a smooth, stiff buttercream. Add more confectioners' sugar if too thin or water if too thick.
Using an offset spatula, divide and spread this layer on the first layers and return pans to the freezer while preparing the final layer.
12 ounces dark chocolate chips (about 2 cups)
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Optional toppings: sea salt, sprinkles, M&M’s, etc.
In a microwave-safe bowl, combine the chocolate and butter. Heat in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring between intervals. Continue until the chocolate mixture is thickened and almost homogenous. Near the end, the chips might not be fully melted, but stirring will help them along.
Using an offset spatula, divide and spread the ganache over the middle layer of each pan. If adding decorations to the top, do so before the chocolate sets.
Place in the refrigerator to set. Once the ganache is firm, but still pliable, cut the bars into 1-inch squares. Or if you aren’t eating immediately, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve to preserve freshness. Bring to room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.
Ship tip: Consider making this recipe in 7½-by-5-inch disposable aluminum Weber grill drip pans. Why? The pan fits perfectly into a small US Postal Service flat-rate shipping container. Some big-box hardware stores stock the pans all year, or order them online. The bars will stay fresher if you don’t slice them ahead of shipping.
Denise Drower Swidey is a regular contributor to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to email@example.com.