Don't Let Christmas Break Your Budget
by Virginia Brucker
Don't let Christmas break your budget. Give family and friends a batch of delicious cookies or candy this year. Your homemade baking is never the wrong color or the wrong size, and it doesn't clutter up people's homes after the holidays.
Pick up Christmas tins and baskets all year long at garage sales or thrift stores for under $1. Jumbo coffee cans can be covered with paper or painted and stenciled. (Look for the kind with a safety lip inside.) Colorful gift bags from your favorite dollar store can also be used. Place the cookies inside a clear plastic or cellophane bag, tie it up with curly ribbon, and tuck your package inside a tissue-lined gift bag for an easy presentation. Dollar stores also have Christmas boxes, which make a beautiful presentation for homemade candy, especially when tied up with some beautiful ribbon. Attach a holiday "pick" to the top or tie on a candy cane or two with lots of curling ribbon.
If you are even a little bit "crafty," you can decorate a plain brown bag with handles (found at most craft stores) to suit the cookies. A bag decorated with hearts can be filled with heart-shaped sugar cookies. A bag decorated with gingerbread men can be filled with a fresh batch of cookies. Cut motifs from gift-wrap and glue them on or make a stamp using some miracle sponge (also found at craft stores.) Use some checked fabric for a bow. Then attach a recipe card and a heart or gingerbread man cookie cutter for an attractive gift.
Recycled cards can be used to decorate bags or boxes. Glue on some buttons or ribbon, too.
It's easy to make your own holiday gift bags for cookies from white or brown lunch bags. Decorate the bags using holiday rubber stamps, stickers, stamps, craft paints or designs from last year's Christmas cards. Fold the top over about an inch and punch two holes in the folded portion of the bag. Thread curling ribbon through the holes, tie a knot, curl the ends of the ribbon, and you've made an attractive, reusable gift bag for pennies. Bags can be decorated with fabric appliqués or Christmas designs cut from wrapping paper or cards. Use fusible interfacing to attach fabric, and a good glue stick for paper appliqués.
Here are some simple recipes to tuck inside those bags and boxes, guaranteed to please the lucky recipients.
Double Delicious Chocolate Cookies
1 1/4 cups softened butter 3/4 cup cocoa 2 cups sugar 1 tsp. baking soda 2 eggs 1/2 tsp. salt 2 tsp. vanilla 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips 2 cups flour
Cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat well. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Blend into creamed mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 9 minutes. Do not overbake. Cookies will be soft and will flatten while baking. Cool slightly and then remove from cookie sheet. Makes bout 4 to 5 dozen cookies.
Fabulous Ginger Crinkle Cookies
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour 3/4 cup margarine or butter (softened) 2 tsp. ground ginger 1 cup white sugar 1 tsp. baking soda 1 egg 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon 1 Tbs. water 1/2 tsp. ground cloves 1/4 cup molasses 1/4 tsp. salt 1 tbs. white sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. In a large bowl, cream together margarine or butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat well. Stir in the water and molasses. Gradually stir in dry ingredients. Roll dough into balls and then roll balls in remaining 2 Tbs. of sugar. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, until tops crackle.
Best Ever Sugar Cookies
Try these sugar cookies. You won't believe how easy, yet delicious, they are! A tin full makes a wonderful gift. You can also make the dough and put it in a resealable bag. Tucked in a basket along with a tub of icing, some sprinkles, and a few cookie cutters, it makes a great family gift. Dough should be stored in the fridge until used.
1 cup white sugar 1/2 tsp. vanilla 1 cup butter 1 egg yolk 3 oz. softened cream cheese 2 3/4 cups flour 1/2 tsp. almond extract
Combine butter, cream cheese and egg yolk. Beat until fluffy, by hand or with a mixer. Add sugar very gradually and continue beating. Blend in vanilla and almond extract. Mix in flour gradually. Dough should be chilled for at least one hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out dough on a lightly floured board, one third at a time, until it is about l/8th of an inch thick. Cut out. Scraps re-roll beautifully. Bake 7 to 10 minutes. This dough always works well.
Kids (and grownups) love these. They make a terrific gift for a family when presented in an attractive tin. These are a drop cookie. You won't need to grease the cookie sheets. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1 cup shortening 1 cup brown sugar 1 cup white sugar 2 eggs 1 tsp. vanilla 2 cups flour 1/2 tsp. salt 1 tsp. baking soda 1 tsp. baking powder 2 cups regular rolled oats 2 cups gumdrops, cut in small pieces (remove black ones) 1 cup coconut
Cream shortening and sugars together. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Stir into creamed mixture. Stir in rolled oats. Fold in gumdrops and coconut. Drop by teaspoonfuls, 2 inches apart, onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for about 12 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on wire racks. Makes about 6 dozen cookies.
Try some of this super-easy fudge for a delicious gift that children can give their music teacher, coach, or favorite aunt and uncle. Teens can make it themselves; younger children will need your help.
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips 1 can sweetened condensed milk 1/2 tsp. vanilla 1/2 cup chopped nuts pinch of salt
Mix condensed milk and chocolate chips in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium-high for one minute. Stir and microwave again for another minute. Stir until blended. Add vanilla, nuts, and salt. Stir gently again just until mixed. Turn into waxed paper-lined 8" by 8" pan. Refrigerate until firm. Cut in squares and keep in fridge in an airtight container. Put in a doily-lined tin for an inexpensive Christmas gift. Makes 1 3/4 pounds. This same recipe can be used to make truffles. Chill it well, roll it into small balls, and roll each truffle in chocolate sprinkles. You can flavor it with liqueur instead of the vanilla.
This is a truly fabulous gift. Make sure you buy a candy thermometer. This mixture can really bubble. Make sure you wear a long-sleeved shirt and an oven mitt the whole time you are stirring. Be careful!
3 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed 1 cup milk (or use 1/2 cup evaporated milk and 1/2 cup water or 1 cup cream) 2 Tbs. white corn syrup 2 Tbs. butter 1 tsp. vanilla 1 cup chopped nuts
Combine first 3 ingredients in saucepan. Cook stirring constantly to 236 degrees on candy thermometer (or until a little mixture dropped in cold water forms a soft ball). Remove from heat. Drop in butter and do not stir. Without stirring, set aside to cool to 110 F. or until lukewarm. Add vanilla. Beat until mixture loses its gloss and a small amount, dropped from a spoon, will hold its shape. Stir in nuts. Pour into lightly greased 8" by 8" pan. Cool. Cut in squares. Makes 1 1/3 lbs.
You may substitute mini marshmallows, raisins, dates, figs or crystallized ginger for nuts. For maple walnut fudge, substitute maple syrup for corn syrup and use maple flavoring rather than vanilla. For Sour Cream Penuche, substitute 1 cup of white sugar for one of the cups of brown, use heavy sour cream rather than milk, and omit the corn syrup.
© Virginia Brucker is the author of Gifts from the Heart: 450 Simple Ways to Make Your Family's Christmas More Meaningful. After print costs, Brucker donates her portion of the book's sales to the Canadian Cancer Society for research. By this December, Gifts from the Heart will have raised over $80,000 for the CCS and an additional $110,000 for the schools, daycares, churches, service organizations and other groups who have used the book as a fundraiser. News of the project has been shared by CBC Radio, Canadian Living magazine and Canadian Living Online as well as The Canadian Centre for Philanthropy. Janice Kennedy of the Ottawa Citizen says "Gifts from the Heart" is a "miracle disguised as a book." You may reach Virginia at vlbrucker @telus.net or visit her website at