Recipes: How to make edible and drinkable gifts such as baked goods or liqueur

In these challenging times, homemade goodies may be the best ticket when it comes to gift giving. Gifts created in a home kitchen seem to capture the spirit of the holidays in a way no store-bought treasure can. And for the gift giver, there can be comfort in the process.

Liqueur or Flavored Vinegar

Create a homemade liqueur or flavored vinegar and then sit back and enjoy the pleasure that those soul-warming potions can bring as gifts. Tie a bow on the bottle. Done.

Homemade liqueurs don’t take a lot of prep time. However, they do require advance planning and patience during the aging period. My favorite is limoncello, an Italian-inspired liqueur made from fresh lemons, liquor and simple sugar syrup. It has become extremely popular over the past several years and can be used in baked goods and as a cocktail ingredient. But it is most often served ice cold right from the freezer, poured into small glasses. Due to the required aging period, limoncello prep will need to start in the next couple of days to be ready for Christmas gift-giving.

Raspberry-flavored vinegar is another favorite. I use it in vinaigrettes, as well as sauces to accompany chicken, pork or game. It only requires one week of aging, so there is less of a time crunch in its prep.

Quick Bread or Loaf Cake

Or if baking is more your style, how about a loaf-shaped, unfrosted cake or quick bread? They are easy to gift wrap and can be made in advance (see do-ahead tips).

In my book, an apple cider doughnut is one of the best bets in the bakery box, both in flavor (apple and spices) and texture (the crunch, crunch of sugar-salt-cinnamon-nutmeg coating).

An Apple Cider Doughnut Loaf Cake captures those lovely traits.

The apple note comes from reducing apple cider to intensify the sweet-tart beauty; it’s used in the batter, atop the cake just out of the oven (poured into puncture holes made with a toothpick), and again combined with melted butter and brushed on the cake’s exterior. That final flourish helps the sugar and cinnamon mixture adhere to the surface.

Banana bread dotted with semisweet chocolate chips is a snap to prepare. The addition of chocolate chips to a traditional banana bread creates a lovely surprise. The bread stays fresh for at least three days when wrapped airtight, making it a great candidate for gift giving.

My favorite way to gift wrap the loaves is to tie a piece of fabric around them. First wrap a loaf in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil. Set it on a piece of thin fabric (such as organza, voile or handkerchief linen). The cloth needs to be large enough to tie in knots on top of the loaf when pulled from the sides, and then from the ends. Tie those knots and the job is done.

Happy holidays and stay safe.

Apple Cider Doughnut Loaf Cake

Apple Cider Doughnut Loaf Cake boasts delicious taste and texture and makes a wonderful gift. (Photo by Cathy Thomas)
Yield: 8 servings


8 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon butter, divided use, plus more for pan

1 1/2 cups apple cider

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal salt or 1/2 teaspoon Morton kosher salt, plus a pinch more

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, divided use

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, divided use

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar, divided use


1. Place rack in middle of oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Lightly butter an 8 1/2-by-4 1/2 inch or 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Line with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on both long sides (this will act as a sling to remove the cake easily from the pan). Bring cider to a boil on high heat in a saucepan; reduce heat and simmer until reduced to 3/4 cup, about 8 to 10 minutes.

2. Pour 1/4 cup reduced cider into a small measuring glass or bowl and set aside. Transfer remaining reduced cider to a small bowl and let cool 5 minutes. Stir in sour cream and vanilla (don’t worry if there are small clumps of sour cream that don’t blend in — it will all work out in the mixer). Set aside.

3. Melt 8 tablespoons butter on low heat in same saucepan (no need to clean it). Let cool slightly. In separate bowl, whisk flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal or 1/2 teaspoon Morton kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg in a medium bowl to combine.

4. In a stand mixer bowl, add eggs and 3/4 cup sugar; beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down sides if needed. On medium speed add butter in a thin steam, beating until thoroughly combined. Reserve saucepan. On low-medium speed, add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with reserved sour cream mixture in 2 additions; beat until combined, scraping down sides as needed. Batter will be thin. Scrape into pan with a silicone spatula. Place on rimmed baking sheet.

5. Bake, rotating halfway through, until deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 65 to 75 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and poke top of cake all over with a toothpick. Spoon 3 tablespoons reserved reduced cider over (I found that it helped to spread the cider around with a pastry brush); let cool 10 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, mix a pinch of salt (tiny if using salted butter, large if using unsalted butter), remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg in a small bowl. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in the reserved saucepan and mix into reduced cider.

7. Using parchment paper, lift cake onto rack and set rack inside rimmed baking sheet. Peel away parchment from sides. Brush warm butter mixture over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle generously with sugar mixture to coat every surface (use parchment to help rotate the cake and collect any excess sugar). Remove parchment and let cool completely before slicing.

Do ahead: Cake can be made 4 days ahead. Store cool cake airtight at room temperature.

Source: Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine

Homemade Raspberry Vinegar

Flavored vinegar in a fancy decanter is stylish enough to give as a gift. (Photo by Nick Koon)
Yield: About 8 ounces


1 pint fresh raspberries

1 cup (about) good-quality red wine vinegar


1. Fill a clean pint jar with whole raspberries, pressing down slightly to fit in jar snugly. Add enough vinegar to cover raspberries. Cover mixture and let macerate at room temperature for one week in a cool, dark location.

2. Set a strainer over a medium bowl; line with a double layer of cheesecloth. Pour vinegar mixture through strainer. Gather corners of cheesecloth and twist to release juices just until thicker juices begin to strain from cheesecloth. Discard cheesecloth with solids. Pour vinegar into a clean 8-ounce bottle or jar.

Do ahead: Cover; chill up to 6 months.



Limoncello can be used in baked goods and as a cocktail ingredient, but it is most often served ice cold right from the freezer. (Photo by Cathy Thomas)
Yield: 3 1/2 pints


14 lemons

4 cups grain alcohol or high-proof vodka

3 cups simple syrup, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: For simple syrup — combine 2 1/2 cups water and 3 cups granulated sugar in medium saucepan. Stirring occasionally, bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat; simmer about 3 minutes to dissolve sugar. Cool.


1. Wash, dry and peel lemons, using a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler to cut wide strips without much pith (white portion). Put peels in a glass container with a tight-fitting lid. (Juice leftover lemons to use in drinks or in cooking — you can freeze it.)

2. Add grain alcohol or high-proof vodka and seal. Place in cool, dry spot away from sunlight. Let sit for 2 weeks.

3. Add simple syrup; stir and reseal. Return to its spot. Let sit for 1 1/2 to 2 more weeks.

4. Strain liqueur through a double layer of cheesecloth into a pitcher or other easy-pouring vessel. Strain again through two new layers of cheesecloth into one large bottle or several small bottles or jars.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

A loaf of Chocolate Chip Banana Bread is great to give as a present, but you can also keep one for yourself. (Photo by Cathy Thomas)
Yield: 2 loaves


Nonstick cooking spray

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup milk

4 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, see cook’s notes

Cook’s notes: To quickly ripen unripe bananas for baking, bake them unpeeled on a baking sheet at 250 degrees until soft, about 15-20 minutes. Do ahead: Banana bread can be baked, cooled, then wrapped in plastic and left at room temperature up to 3 days, or frozen up to 3 months. The easiest way to mash bananas is to process them in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. I prefer the small semisweet chocolate chips, often labeled “mini.”


1. Generously spray 2 loaf pans (either 8-by-3 3/4-by-2 3/8-inch aluminum pans or 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch glass pans) with non-stick spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of the electric mixer; mix until well blended and light in color. Add milk, mashed bananas, eggs and vanilla; mix until blended.

3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking soda; stir with a whisk to combine. Add dry ingredients to butter-sugar mixture in two batches, mixing just until blended between additions; scrape down sides and bottom of bowl as needed. Stir in chocolate chips. Place in prepared loaf pans. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Do-Ahead: If desired, wrap cooled quick bread loaves in plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Freeze for up to 2 months. Or, cooled and wrapped airtight, it can sit at room temperature up to 3 days.

Have a cooking question? Contact Cathy Thomas at

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