Homemade Gift Guide

December 20, 2016
easy homemade gift guide

This homemade gift guide is intended to help you make delicious and beautiful treats for the holidays in a shorter amount of time. Everything on this list is created in less than an hour (active time) but may require some cooling or hardening/ set time (with no extra effort required from you).

The recipes are all at the bottom of the post. Packaging of homemade treats can make a big impact so try to give it a little thought. If you want to really wow someone you could add an extra 10 minutes and make your box (like I did with the triangles – super fun!).

easy homemade gift guide - dark chocolate orange bark

easy homemade gift guide - dark chocolate orange peppermint bark

easy homemade gift guide - sugared cranberries

easy homemade gift guide - chocolate covered sugared cranberries

easy homemade gift guide - marshmallows

easy homemade gift guide - marshmallows

easy homemade gift guide - irish cream

easy homemade gift guide - maple candied pumpkin seeds




Dark Chocolate Orange Bark with Sea Salt

Chocolate bark is one of the easiest and quickest desserts to make and you can customize it to anyone's tastes. Growing up we would have chocolate oranges around the holidays so I wanted to create something a bit reminiscent of it. It takes 20 minutes to prepare and then you let it harden. Once it hardens, in a few hours (or overnight), you break it apart or can gently cut it into shapes.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 24 pieces


  • 8 oz dark chocolate good quality
  • 1 orange for zest
  • sea salt for sprinkling on top


  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

  2. Melt the chocolate: Simmer water in double boiler and melt the dark chocolate. Stir frequently to ensure it's not overcooked.

  3. Prepare the orange: While melting the chocolate, prepare the orange. Using a vegetable peeler gently remove the zest from at least half of the orange trying to get longer sections. Then thinly slice the zest creating long thin strips.

  4. Create the bark: Once chocolate is melted spread into an even layer on a parchment lined baking sheet (about ¼” thick). Immediately place the zest on top and sprinkle with sea salt. Have fun with this step and create patterns with the zest and salt. I have found it's best to aim for some zest in each bite. Let harden and then break apart into pieces.

Recipe Notes

You can make as much as you like by increasing the amount of chocolate you use. In order to get the best flavor I like to think about each bite having a piece of orange zest on it.

I have also shown peppermint bark above. Just replace the orange zest and sea salt with crushed candy canes.



Dark Chocolate Sugared Cranberry Baubles

These started as just sugared cranberries but when I had some chocolate left over from another experiment I decided to make little baubles and I really like how these came out. The shape is fun and I could fit 4 into one of my smaller triangle boxes. You could just use the sugared cranberries for eating or decorating other desserts too.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 12 oz cranberries


  • 12 oz fresh cranberries
  • 1+ cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 6 oz dark chocolate optional


  1. Make sugared cranberries: Make a simple syrup by combining 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water in a pot until sugar dissolves. While it's heating, rinse cranberries getting rid of any broken or damaged ones and put the good ones in a bowl. Set up a cooling rack (preferably with smaller holes) over a piece of parchment. Once sugar has dissolved remove from heat and pour over the cranberries. Gently mix to ensure all cranberries are completely covered. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cranberries to the cooling rack. This step allows the excess simple syrup to drip off and create a tacky surface on the cranberries. 

  2. Roll cranberries: Allow cranberries to sit about an hour. Put remaining sugar in a small bowl and in batches roll the tacky cranberries in the sugar to coat them. You can put these on a cooling rack to set completely. If you are using them like this or as decorations they are finished. If you want to make chocolate baubles keep going.

  3. If making dark chocolate baubles: Melt the dark chocolate in the top of a double boiler until smooth. While heating chocolate, arrange cranberries on a sheet of parchment in groups of 3. Be sure to reserve some as toppers. Remove chocolate from heat and using a small spoon, spoon chocolate over the cranberries. You want to be sure it drips between them all as this holds them together. Place a reserved cranberry on top of the chocolate and continue process until all are created. Let harden before packaging.

Recipe Notes

I did also try just dipping the sugared cranberries one at a time in the chocolate but I didn't like that result as much. When they are in little clusters it looks a bit more appealing and has a better chocolate to cranberry ratio. This look great to top a wintery cake or other desserts like a cranberry creme brulee, yum!



Vanilla Marshmallows

Making the marshmallows only takes about 20-30 minutes and then you let them set a few hours or overnight. Once ready it takes about 15 minutes to cut and sugar them (making them less sticky). For this recipe you do need a candy thermometer but it makes it very easy. You could try all different flavors in these too. They are great for snacking on or in hot chocolate! The quantity below varies greatly depending on the shape/ size you cut (mine were about 1" square).

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 117 marshamallows


  • 3/4 oz unflavored geltin powdered
  • 1 cup cold water divided into 1/2 cup + 1/2 cup
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar for dusting marshmallows


  1. Prepare gelatin: Using a stand mixer with whisk attachment, mix together the gelatin and ½ cup cold water until combined.

  2. Heat remaining ingredients: In a small saucepan with high sides, mix together ½ cup cold water, sugar, corn syrup and salt. Heat over medium until sugar has dissolved, stirring constantly. Turn heat up to high and put a candy thermometer on the side. Don’t mix and just watch the thermometer. Once it reaches 220 deg. F remove from heat. 

  3. Create marshmallows: Turn mixer back on at low speed and slowly add the hot sugar mixture to the gelatin/ water. The gelatin will look a bit crystallized/ chunky and this is ok it will mix up with the hot sugar. Once incorporated, turn mixer up to high and allow to keep mixing until thick and fluffy. During this step grease a 9” x 13” pan. The marshmallow mixture will get closer to room temperature as you keep beating/ whipping it. Add this point add the vanilla and continue mixing. Once thick and close to room temperature, pour marshmallow mixture into greased pan. Smooth over the top and using a fine mesh sieve coat the top in confectioner’s sugar. Let side at room temperature for a few hours or overnight, until set.

  4. Cut marshmallows: Once the marshmallows have set long enough you should be able to pull them from the pan easily in one large block. Set this on a butcher's block/ cutting board with confectioners' sugar side down (less sticky on your cutting surface). Set the remaining confectioners' sugar in a small bowl, to the side. Using a large knife begin cutting the marshmallows into the shapes you want. I find it's easiest if the knife can reach the full width (versus needing to drag it through or making multiple cuts). This keeps it the cleanest. Once you have some cut put them in the bowl of confectioners' sugar and coat completely. Place these in a fine mesh sieve and shake the excess sugar off back into the bowl. Set finished marshmallows aside and continue process for all marshmallows.

Recipe Notes

Try experimenting with the flavoring. The quantity above for vanilla just gives a subtle flavor but you could add more.

I used parchment paper the first time as it is my go to for most recipes (like a sling in the pan covering 3 sides). Don't make this mistake. I could get them off but it is much easier/ cleaner when coming from a greased pan. 

Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.



Irish Cream

This homemade Irish cream is a delicious alternative to purchasing pre-made. It does need to be refrigerated (be sure gift recipients know that). It is great added to a warm drink such as coffee or hot chocolate or even on it's own cold over ice. You could make the marshmallows above and give these together. 

Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Servings 4 cups (many servings)


  • 1 cup light cream
  • 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 tablespoons chocolate syrup I use extra dark
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder or an instant coffee/ espresso
  • 1 1/2 cups Irish whiskey
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. Blend ingredients: Put all ingredients in a blender and mix until thoroughly incorporated. (If you have an immersion blender it works well for this.) Use a funnel or bag with a corner cut off - pour the drink into containers and put in the refrigerator. It can be used right away.

Recipe Notes

Recipe is from Denise Curran.



Maple Candied Pumpkin Seeds

These maple candied pumpkin are delicious on their own as a snack or gift. I included them as a topping on these pumpkin chocolate chip cookies in a previous post.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 1 cup


  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds shelled pepitas
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup 100% pure
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice


  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.

  2. Coat the pumpkin seeds: Combine the pumpkin seeds, olive oil and maple syrup in a bowl. Combine the brown sugar and pie spice in a separate bowl and sprinkle over the top of the pumpkin seeds. Toss to evenly coat the seeds. Spread these out into a single on your baking sheet.
  3. Bake the pumpkin seeds: Bake the pumpkin seeds for 20 minutes making sure to flip them halfway through. Once cool these are ready to be put on your cookies and in a sealed container for snacking or gifting.

Recipe Notes

Recipe previously posted with pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. The containers of the shelled pepitas I get are about 2 cups so doubling it could typically work and would make for more gifting or snacking!