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4 Delicious Hostess Gifts You Could Whip Up Yourself

And they are so easy to make!

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Photographs by Danielle Sykes (Food Stylist: Sheila Jarnes; Prop Stylist: Suzanne Lee)
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Please join us! The Ethel is hosting a virtual Zoom holiday party on Dec. 20 from 8 to 9 p.m. ET. It's free but you need to register. There will be breakout rooms so that you can meet other "Ethels" in your state.

As a longtime chef and creator of the cooking blog Once Upon a Chef, I  know your holiday calendar is filling up with small dinners, large parties and perhaps a cookie exchange. I've often been in that last-minute scramble for a hostess gift, wondering if that re-gifted bottle of wine will do.

Though what I love most is to bring a homemade gift — no chef wants to show up to a party with a store-bought pie. The silver lining? Favorites like candied pecans, pumpkin bread, granola and biscotti are easy to whip up and they are also crowd-pleasers.

The beauty of a homemade gift is that it's made with love and thoughtfulness, the very essence of the holiday spirit. And to make it even more special, you can write the recipe on a personalized note card. Once your treats are ready, pack them in mason jars or other elegant containers, tie it up with a bow and voilà — a gift from the heart! This approach is kinder on your wallet and also adds the touch of warmth that store-bought can't match.

And just a heads up: you won't find fruitcakes on my list. As much as I'd love to create a universally adored one, remember — I'm a chef, not a magician!

Danielle Sykes

Candied Pecans
Serves 8

½ cup Confectioners' sugar

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 teaspoons water

2 cups pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F and set the oven rack in the middle position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, salt, cayenne pepper, and water. Add pecans to the sugar mixture; stir until the nuts are evenly coated.

Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and arrange in a single layer. Make sure the nuts are evenly spread out. Scrape out all of the glaze from the bowl and drizzle over nuts. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until pecans are caramelized and the caramel on the baking sheet is a rich brown color but not burnt (watch closely so they don't burn).

Immediately slide the parchment off the hot baking sheet and allow it to cool completely on the countertop. Once cool, remove pecans from the parchment, breaking apart any clusters if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Danielle Sykes

Pumpkin Bread
Serves 24

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1½ sticks (¾ cup) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

1 (15-ounce) can 100 percent pure pumpkin (I use Libby's)

Preheat oven to 325°F and set an oven rack in the middle position. Grease two 8 x 4-inch loaf pans with butter and dust with flour (alternatively, use baking spray with flour in it). In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Whisk until combined; set aside.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium until just blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in pumpkin. Add flour mixture and mix on low until combined. Turn batter into prepared pans, dividing evenly, and bake for 65 to 75 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn loaves out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Danielle Sykes

Serves 10

2½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats

½ cup sliced unsalted almonds

½ cup coarsely chopped unsalted pecans

½ cup coarsely chopped unsalted walnuts

½ cup unsalted sunflower seeds

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

½ cup toasted wheat germ

1 cup shredded sweetened coconut

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Scant ½ teaspoon salt

½ cup vegetable oil

⅔ cup honey

1 cup dried fruits (such as cranberries, raisins, cherries, etc.)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix together oats, almonds, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, wheat germ, coconut, cinnamon, and salt.

In a small bowl, whisk honey and oil until emulsified. Pour over the oat-nut mixture and mix well. Spread mixture evenly onto the baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring and re-spreading a few times, until the mixture is medium golden brown. Watch carefully towards the end; granola burns quickly.

Toss granola with a spatula and mix in dried fruits. Spread and press into an even, compact layer, then let cool on the rack to room temperature. Break granola into large clusters. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks.

Danielle Sykes

Chocolate Biscotti
Serves 30 (1 each)

1¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl and mixing well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Add dry ingredients and chocolate chips and stir on low speed until just combined.

Dust a work surface with flour. Using a rubber spatula, scrape the sticky dough out onto the surface and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour. Using your hands, shape the dough into a rough ball (if still too sticky, dust it with a bit more flour) and cut it in half. Form the pieces into two short logs by rolling them back and forth. Place logs onto the baking sheet and shape them into longer logs about ¾-inch high and 2 inches wide. Allow enough space for logs to spread a few inches while baking. Bake for about 35 minutes, until firm to the touch. Let logs cool on the pan for about 5 minutes, or until just cool enough to touch (if you wait any longer, the biscotti will be difficult to cut); then, using a sharp knife, slice logs diagonally into ¾-inch slices (I do this right on the baking sheet). They will crumble a bit; don't worry. Turn biscotti on their sides (so cut sides are down) and place back in the oven for 10 minutes to crisp up. Let cool on the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

What do you typically give as a hostess gift? Let us know in the comments below.

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