Sunday, December 19, 2010

Gift Giving for a Baker

5 shopping days before Christmas!  Are you done with shopping or still trying to brave the crazy crowds and the feeding frenzy at the malls?  Do you have a baker in your life that you need to buy a gift for?  I think bakers (and cooks) are some of the easiest people to buy gifts for.  Those who are not of a culinary bent would probably disagree with me but let me offer some ideas for anyone still looking for last-minute gifts.

But first, what not to buy a baker:
Gadgets and baking "stuff" - some people may disagree with me as they think of course a nice set of  mixing bowls, a nut grinder, a food scale, baking pans and various other accoutrements are the perfect gifts for a baker.  And they might be...if your baker doesn't have several of them already.  If your recipient has been baking any length of time, trust me, they have it all.  If you're absolutely sure they don't have any of the above or are looking to get new ones to replace what they already have, then by all means, buy it for them.  But otherwise, save your money.  Us bakers love our hobby enough that we'll buy what we need.  I went through an acquisitive phase myself and, after having moved households, I'm convinced I have every baking pan known to baking mankind.  I even have several mini cheesecake pans.  And I don't even like cheesecake!  Nor do I bake it.  But I'm of an acquisitive bent and every baking thing fascinates me so - ooh, look, shiny object!

Another suggestion of what not to get a baker: specialty pans.  You know the ones I mean - the ones shaped like a giant cupcake or Barbie's face.  Your baker may use it once (if that), curse how hard all the little nooks and crannies are to clean, wonder when on earth they'll be able to make that shape cake again and give up.  Don't do it.  Put that pan back on the store shelf.

Cookbooks can be a great idea for a baker or chef but only if you're absolutely sure they don't already have that particular one you're about to give them.  Either that or include a gift receipt.

If you really feel like you want to get your baker something, regardless of whether they have it or not, here are some of the safer items to get, i.e. most bakers wouldn't mind having extras of these because they'll use the extras:
  • Measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • High heat spatulas
  • Wooden spoons
  • If you know if they have a Kitchen Aid, an extra mixing bowl for their mixer is always handy.
  • Simple baking pans - bakers can always use an extra 8" or 9" square pan, light metal cookie sheets (light metal is important as dark cookie sheets can burn your cookies), and 9 x 13 pans.  If they make a lot of cakes, 8" or 9" round cake pans also make good presents.
  • Oven mitts
  • small metal spatula

If you truly want to play it safe and give your baker something useful, then the best present you can give them is ingredients.  Yup, you read that right.  Now I don't mean butter or eggs.  Besides being logistically impractical to wrap and have them wait until Christmas to open it (ewww), that'd just be weird.  But you can give:
  • Chocolate - baking chocolate such as the 3-oz bars of Valrhona or Lindt bittersweet chocolate. You can get them at Trader Joe's for $2.99 a bar.  World Market also carries chocolate bars that are great for baking.  But please buy the good chocolate.
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder: Pernigotti cocoa from Williams Sonoma is good and so is  Scharffenberger
  • Chocolate chips (I received the Costco-sized 72-ounce bag a couple of weeks ago and let me tell you that's one of my favorite presents this year)
  • Cacao nibs - can be used in addition or instead of chocolate chips in cookies and brownies
  • Nuts (Trader Joe's and Costco are a good source for these)
  • Vanilla extract - not the little bottles of Schilling at the grocery store, that'd just be cheesy.  Try Madagascar pure vanilla extract, aka the good stuff.  If you don't want to spend $19 at Williams Sonoma for the large bottle, try TJ Maxx's packaged food section.  They generally carry them for $12.99 or so
  • Jars of dulce de leche and/or Nutella
  • Parchment paper - every baker goes through rolls of parchment paper like no tomorrow, especially if they bake a lot of cookies
  • If you're feeling adventurous or daring, look for hard-to-find ingredients that can be special-ordered.  The Baker's Catalog has a nice selection of uppity cinnamon, whole nutmeg, blocks of caramel, black cocoa, etc.
Why ingredients?  Because it's something they'll actually use.  Even if they buy it themselves and already have, bakers can always use ingredients.  It's the tools of their craft and something they invest in regularly.  I've been known to spend more on baking ingredients than I do on real food.  And if your baker recipient is known for making a particular delicacy or makes something you particularly like, try to get them something that uses that ingredient in that recipe.  It's a very sincere compliment that you like what they make and want them to keep making it.  So if Aunt Martha is known for her pecan pie, make her a present of a bag of whole pecans in a pie pan or tied to a pie server.  Love someone's baklava?  How about a bag of nuts and a jar of honey?  Put in a gift bag with a complimentary note of what you like that they make and you'll make a baker's day.

Disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with any of these stores or products.  I'm just telling you what I use and, by trial and error, have found to be useful.

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