Reclaiming the holiday gift-giving frenzy

You know what's more fun than stuff you buy at a store? Stuff you make at home
By Joshna Maharaj - Published on Dec 19, 2016
As gifts go, baked goods "may not carry a high monetary value, but they are rich in love and thought," says chef Joshna Maharaj. (Photo by Joshna Maharaj)

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The holiday season is upon us once again, and many people are busily decorating, buying gifts, and making plans to be with loved ones. In stores and online, retailers are offering great deals and a smooth, easy experience. It's a time that can be busy and stressful, and one remedy seems to be giving gifts that don’t require you to do too much. Forget the old days of searching for a perfect present or waiting in endless lineups: now we shop online, or in one stop, and boast about getting it over with. It sounds pretty good, right?

At its best, holiday gift giving is about sharing and celebrating the joys of the season. At its worst, it’s a festival of consumerism that pressures us to spend freely in order to put something into the hands of each person on our list, and perhaps to spend more if it'll help us do that faster. And while these time-saving, one-size-fits-all retail blitzes appear to be helpful, they actually contradict the very idea of giving gifts in the first place.

The real generosity is not so much the thing that has been purchased and wrapped up, but the time and thought that went into the choosing. Giving a gift is about being generous precisely with the diminishing resources those spending sprees are meant to conserve: time and attention.

In the interest of minimizing the amount of “stuff” that changes hands during the holidays, I choose to give consumable gifts, and for this crafty chef, that means packages of handmade treats. They may not carry a high monetary value, but they are rich in love and thought.

Now, I can see the eye-rolling already. There’s a loud chorus of people who tell me that they don’t have time to bake, or who can’t be bothered with all of the fuss of it. But it needn't be a chore. Whether I’m trying a new recipe or revisiting an old favourite, the scene is the same: cold winds bluster around outside while I have my favourite holiday movie on, a little something to sip on, and bags of flour and sugar waiting patiently to be transformed. I promise you, if you take the time (and a few deep breaths), this process can be joyful.

It’s true that this works for me because I’m a chef. Maybe baking isn’t your thing: a quick internet search will produce countless options for handmade gifts that suit a wide variety of talents, aptitudes, and budgets. They work at any time and for any reason — this idea isn’t exclusive to the holiday season, or to the idea of holidays at all. And they work for anyone: there’s a wonderful satisfaction in making something indulgent for yourself, too, whether you're party-hopping your way through the holidays or staying cozy at home.

If you are open to experimenting in the kitchen, or love the idea of edible gifts but don’t know where to start, here's a gift that will require only one shopping trip. This recipe for chocolate truffles is one I’ve used for years. It’s incredibly easy and reliable, requiring minimal kitchen gear and using ingredients you can get at a convenience store.

Simple Chocolate Truffles

chocolate truffle cookies

Makes 24

These are very easy to make and require only a small pot on the stove. Powdered cocoa and sugar are classic coatings, but you can experiment with whatever you like just make sure whatever you use is finely chopped, so it sticks to the truffle.

8 oz. of good quality bittersweet chocolate (60 per cent cacao or higher), finely chopped

1/2 cup of heavy cream (35 per cent)

Optional items for coating:

Cocoa powder

Icing sugar

Finely chopped nuts

Toasted coconut

Chocolate sprinkles

Method:

1. Line a loaf pan with a piece of plastic wrap large enough to hang over the sides and set aside. Place chocolate in a medium mixing bowl.

2. In a small pot, heat cream on medium-high until bubbles form around the perimeter of the pot. Remove from heat and pour over chocolate. Allow the mixture to sit for two to three minutes, then whisk until smooth and homogenous.

3. Scrape mixture into prepared loaf pan, cover lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours or until firm, like Play-Doh.

4. Remove plastic wrap and cut mixture into 24 even squares. Working quickly so you don’t melt the truffles with your hands, roll the squares into balls, then roll each ball in your topping of choice.

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