People tend to give me a lot of baking mixes because I write this column. When they see a mix, they think of me. Every year on my birthday and for the holidays, I can count on getting at least one—for pancakes, cookies, cupcakes, and once even for huevos rancheros. Some I use immediately, while others languish on the shelf. It got me thinking: what makes a mix good for giving?
First and foremost, a giftable mix should contain only top-quality ingredients. While it should be easier to prepare than making the recipe from scratch, it should taste homemade; not chemical or artificial.
Second, the mix should be unique. White chocolate brownies, bacon ranch dressing, and salted caramel gelato are all good choices. Regular chocolate brownies, chocolate chip cookies, or plain pancakes...not so much.
Finally, the mix should come in an attractive package. It doesn't have to be fancy, but a thick cardboard box or glass jar is definitely preferable to a paper or plastic sack.
This week I tested out Crate & Barrel's Santa's Elves Cookie Mix ($11.95). At first glance, it fit the bill: it was made from gourmet ingredients, the inclusion of coconut and Cornflakes made it unique, and it came in a festive mason jar tied with a bright green ribbon. But would the taste be gift worthy?
Preparing the mix was relatively simple: I beat together 12 tablespoons of softened butter, an egg, and 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla, and then I stirred in the contents of the jar. The instructions said to add a few tablespoons of water if the mix seemed dry. I added only one tablespoon and my mix was the perfect cookie dough consistency. After 10 minutes in a 350° oven, my cookies emerged with lacy, thin edges and soft middles studded with chocolate.
Flavor-wise, these cookies were indistinguishable from homemade. The flavor was first and foremost of oats, brown sugar, and chocolate. I could detect a hint of coconut, but only because I knew it was there—I would have preferred a little bit more. The texture of the cookies was crunchy yet tender, and the Cornflakes provided an extra crackly, crispy component that reminded me of a whimsical Christina Tosi creation.
While the price is a bit steep for me to recommend this mix wholeheartedly, it certainly was delicious, and would make a lovely gift for the cookie-baker in your life.
About the Author: Lucy Baker is a food writer and the author of The Boozy Baker: 75 Recipes for Spirited Sweets. She is currently at work on a second book about homemade food gifts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and dachshund.