Gift Giving on a Shoestring: Sweet Holiday Cheer

By Beth Engelman

Spread the cheer (and frosting) with these sweet holiday gifts that are easy to make, wallet-friendly and delicious.

Cooking with the Cake Boss Brownie Cookies

This recipe comes courtesy of Buddy Valastro, owner of Carlo’s Bakery and star of the hit series ‘Cake Boss’ on TLC. These cookies are a dream for both expert and novice bakers as they’re made with just a few simple ingredients.

You Need:

  1. 3 Extra-Large Egg Whites
  2. ½ Teaspoon Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
  3. 1 ½ Cups Powdered Sugar
  4. ¼ Cup Unsweetened Dutch-Process Cocoa Powder
  5. 1 ½ Cups Unsalted, Raw Walnut Halves


Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°F. Place egg whites and lemon juice in a bowl and whip on low speed for 2 minutes, then on maximum speed until stiff peaks form (about 5 minutes). Sift sugar and cocoa powder together and fold into batter until batter is smooth and shiny. Fold in walnuts. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper, using nonstick spray or a dab of butter in each corner to glue the paper in place. Drop heaping tablespoons of dough (1⁄2 inch apart) being sure to include about the same number of walnuts (3 or 4) in each one. Bake until the outside has crisped and the bottom starts to pull away from the parchment paper (15 to 20 minutes). Remove cookie sheets from the oven. As soon as clusters can be moved, use a spatula to transfer them to a rack and let them cool.

Reprinted with permission from “Baking with the Cake Boss: 100 of Buddy’s Best Recipes and Decorating Secrets” (Simon and Schuster, 2011).

Chocolate, Oreo and Candy Cane Bark

In a perfect world, Oreos would be a vegetable, but until then we can at least enjoy this festive candy bark.

You Need:

  1. 1 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (melted)
  2. ½ Cup White Bakers Chocolate (melted)
  3. 10-12 Oreo or Chocolate-Sandwich Cookies (roughly chopped)
  4. 4 Candy Canes (crushed)


Cover a baking sheet or shallow pan with waxed paper. Pour semi-sweet chocolate into pan and spread with spatula. Place in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes. Remove pan from fridge and add a layer of crushed cookie and candy cane pieces. Top with a drizzle of melted white chocolate. Place in refrigerator for up to two hours. Break bark into pieces and place on a decorative plate or in a colorful box.

Elf Hat Trail Mix

I love gifting trail mix because it’s a snap to make (no baking) and always looks great in a glass container. To add a whimsical touch, try adding colorful elf hats to your favorite mix.

You Need:

  1. Red Candy Melts (available at most craft stores)
  2. Bugles
  3. Mini Marshmallows


Melt candy melts in the microwave on medium heat for about 1 minute. Stir and continue cooking at 15-second intervals until melted. Stir melted candy well and place in a small bowl. Working quickly, dip Bugle in the melted candy and top with a marshmallow pompom. Place hat on waxed paper and set aside until candy hardens.

Simple (and then some) Cakes

When it comes to giving gifts, it’s the thought that counts and if that thought includes delicious cinnamon swirl cake or pumpkin bread, even better. These days, food companies as well as supermarkets and big box stores are listening to our pleas to help simplify our lives with easy to make (ie: open box and stir) mixes that taste as good as homemade. The key is to wrap them in pretty foil or cellophane and add a festive bow (of course, keeping the “it’s from a mix” part a secret, helps too).