From gorgeous and deceptively simple chocolate wafers to homemade apricot-chile hot sauce, here are terrific hostess gift ideas.
Food & Wine
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Chocolate Wafers with Ginger, Fennel and Sea Salt
For this ingenious gift, Grace Parisi coats wafer-thin crispbreads in dark chocolate so that they seem like candy bars studded with flaky Maldon sea salt, chewy crystallized ginger and candied fennel seeds.
Rachel Saunders has developed hundreds of recipes over the years simply by flavoring her jams with different herbs and spices. To vary the pear jam here, for example, add a split vanilla bean or a cinnamon stick in place of the cardamom.
“Fig-flavored balsamic vinegar is pretty common, so I thought, Why not make my own?” says Ernest Miller. It was a great idea: This recipe creates not only that delicious vinegar, but also all the tender whole figs that are infused with it. To guarantee that the figs remain whole, Miller suggests using firm fruit, since the double cooking process would break down very ripe figs.
Some vanilla extract recipes call for rum or brandy, but Rachael Narins and Suzanne Griswold prefer vodka because the neutral spirit lets the vanilla flavor shine through. Their bean of choice is Mexican. “It’s more local for us,” says Narins. “It also has a spicy, robust flavor that’s great in extract.”
To add complexity to her apricot hot sauce, Chef Minh Phan uses multiple chile varieties. “I like to feel the heat all over, not just at the back of the mouth, and each chile brings its own flavor and heat to the sauce,” she explains.
Emily Kaiser Thelin devised this simple, fail-safe recipe while living in Oakland, California, with two excessively productive Meyer lemon trees. Likely a cross between an orange and a lemon, the Meyer lemon give this sweet-tart marmalade a bright citrus flavor.
According to chef Ernest Miller, a conserve is a jam-like condiment made from two or more fruits, including dried fruit or nuts. He especially likes their complex flavor and texture. In this conserve, he uses an iconic California trio: figs, oranges and pistachios.
Linton Hopkins’s aunt Julia—“my paternal grandmother’s sister-in-law,” he says—made giant vats of this barbecue sauce on her farm in Alabama, then drove around delivering it to everyone in her extended family. Hopkins likes to spoon it over coffee-cured pork shoulder. “To have a meal in the South without roast pork is not really a meal,” he says.
Tina Ujlaki adapted this crunchy, buttery, slightly salty brittle from a recipe by pastry chef Karen DeMasco. When her children were younger, Tina would make it as a holiday gift for their teachers. As she recalls, “Come November, I’d start getting these looks from teachers who were hoping for the brittle but too shy to ask me about it.”
Fromager Tia Keenan of New York City’s Casellula Cheese & Wine Café pairs her crunchy sunflower-seed brittle with 5 Spoke Creamery Tumbleweed cheese or other semi-firm cow’s milk cheese, like sharp cheddar.