Photo Credit: Small Kitchen College
I've already waxed poetic about my sweet tooth on here, so let's just cut to the chase. Food is one of my favorite ways to show someone I care, period. Friends and family expect boxes of cookies or home-cooked meals to celebrate birthdays, milestones and holidays. But now that these friends and loved ones are spread far and wide, my task has become a bit more difficult. As Valentine's Dayapproaches, I think it's time we take advantage of the good old-fashioned snail mail to send our love. While sweets are never really out of season, they do take center stage for an encore on one particular day in mid-February. As the saying goes, the way to someone's heart is through his or her stomach -- so I've compiled a list of simply delicious treats that act as blank canvases for the personal touches and creativity that make a good gifts unforgettable. They're also treats that send well, so find a shoebox to pack 'em in and get baking!
**Tips and Tricks**
1. Homemade candy. It's no secret that chocolate bark is a small kitchen favorite. Not only is the main ingredient chocolate (automatic win in my book), but you don't even need a full kitchen to make it! The chocolate just takes a few rides in the microwave and is tossed with an endless combination of goodies. Think nuts, dried fruit, spices and even other candies. Of course chocolate is more than a little cliché at Valentine's Day, so the non-conformists among us can make a batch of homemade marshmallows. For a festive touch, drop in a splash of food coloring and flavor extracts to transform the sweet white clouds into more vibrant treats. (If you do plan to ship chocolate bark, you'll need to temper the chocolate when you make it.)
2. Brownies. There is something about a good brownie that leaves me weak at the knees. (If you haven't caught on already, I have a thing for chocolate.) And on the versatility spectrum, brownies score big points. Mocha brownies are only a spoonful of espresso powder away. Looking for a crunch? Toss in a handful of your favorite nuts. Spice up your batter with dashes of cayenne and cinnamon for Mexican-inspired decadence. Not a chocoholic like yours truly? Fear not. They invented the blondie for a reason. Equally infinitely adaptable -- especially with peanut butter and M&Ms. But brownies also rank high in portability, as I find they are just as delicious a day later when the flavors have truly settled in.
3. Cookies. Everyone has a favorite cookie. Maybe it's chocolate chip or peanut butter, lemon or coconut. Or perhaps just some simple, melt-in-your-mouth butter cookies get your heart racing. Like their fudgy bar cousin, brownies, cookies are ridiculously versatile and portable. Swapping add-ins like nuts, candies and spices for the go-to chocolate chip is a no-brainer way to let your creativity reign free. Want to earn extra points with the gift's recipient? Cut your cookies out into letters and write a special note. Sure, brittle sugar cookies may get a bit broken en route, but isn't it the thought that counts?
4. Cake pops. Of all baked goods, cakes are the one of the most traditional modes of sweet celebration. We celebrate birthdays and weddings with cakes, so why not Valentine's day? Because cakes, in all their splendor, can be cumbersome. They are definitely not snail-mail friendly either (just imagine opening up a box to find a smushed and smeared cake). Then along came the cake pop. Starbucks trending aside, these little goodies bring cake into the travelling gift realm. Not only do they travel well, but I think their bite size makes them all the more appealing! So transform your favorite cake recipe (box or from scratch) into a batch of cake balls for a spin on the classic.
5. Flavored Syrups. If baking isn't your calling, you can still send some sweet treats. Look no further than its name to gauge how easy it is to make simple syrup. With a 1-to-1 ratio of water and sugar, you barely need a recipe. Freshen it up with fruits like tart cranberries, and citrusy lemons and limes. Turn up the heat with big hunks of ginger and a cinnamon stick; you can even make chai syrup! Diversify with fresh herbs like mint and rosemary. Mail out mason jars with mixing instructions (champagne, go-to liquors, mulled wine?). No matter the flavoring, it's hard to resist these specialty syrups made for custom cocktails! And who wouldn't want a cocktail created in their honor?!
--Juliana Barton for Small Kitchen College
Juliana Barton is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, who avoided the dining hall by playing lunch lady in her own kitchen. She plans to spend the next week baking her love into cookies to send her loved ones. Read more...