This time of year, I always feel like I am running my own chocolate bakery!
I've been baking most of my life. My grandmother and mom started teaching me when I was very young. I've always enjoyed the creative outlet of making my own home made items from the kitchen. My baking may not always be visually spectacular, but when you bite into it there is the taste sensation that instantly says this is homemade with love!
The insanity of my holiday baking frenzy started innocently enough. Many years ago, I did some Christmas baking to give as gifts to friends who didn't bake and to those who didn't get to go home at Christmas. The reviews were raves. Months later, I was still getting comments of how good it was and how thoughtful to get homemade baking rather than something from a store. The main question was; "Are you going to do that again this year?"
Well, I decided to keep going - and I'm still going more than 25 years later! The packaging has changed several times and the variety of goodies inside has also changed a lot over the years! I used to do a wider variety of treats - sometimes up to 9 or 10 different items, but I was only doing a dozen or so packages back then. I do so many now, that I've had to narrow it down to 6 varieties just to keep it within reason and to keep me somewhat sane!
Ever since I was a kid, I had almost always done a bit of baking around the holidays. There were always recipes that I helped my mom make every year. My own specialty was "Whipped Shortbread" - a delicately light, mouth watering treat that literally melted in your mouth! My "Double Chocolate Almond Shortbread" is a modern version of that recipe that I have pretty much perfected over the last few years!
I started doing this year's Christmas baking just over a month ago. I do massive quantities to package into gifts for the special people in my life - the family, friends and people who make my life easier throughout the year. By the time I am done in mid December, I will have made:
- 4 Chocolate, Cherry Pound Cakes
- 30 dozen (360!) Double Chocolate Almond Shortbread
- 270-290 Almond Crunch (almond filling dipped in dark chocolate)
- 270-300 Peanut Butter Bars (peanut butter filling dipped in dark chocolate - Reese's eat your heart out!)
- 270-300 Cherry Brandy Chocolate Truffles (dark chocolate centers with a hint of cherry brandy, then dipped in milk chocolate)
- approx. 9 pounds of a white chocolate bark that my mom and I created over 25 years ago that we named Boo Boo Candy!
That will all be divided up into 3 dozen gift bags of varying sizes. I only keep about 5% of each for myself. I know that sounds like a ridiculous amount of time, effort and cost - and maybe it is - but I like the more personal and creative gifts to express my love and appreciation for the people in my life.
Every year, I keep threatening to stop the madness of my baking frenzy, but I know how much people look forward to the home made treats. When I tell people that I don't know how much longer I'll be able to keep doing this, there is a look of horror on their faces as they contemplate the thought of Christmas without my "goody bags"!! One year, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to afford all the supplies and at least three people offered to help pay for them - just so I could keep the tradition going. Yup, I have definitely created a monster of a Chocoholic lovers fantasy here!
In the long run, this really is cheaper than buying gifts or giving cash. How much cheaper may surprise you. I did a rough estimate of the cost of all the baking supplies including packaging and it came to about $160.00 - or about $4.44/package not counting labour. It takes me about 60 hours to prepare and package all of the goodies. That is not counting about 6 1/2 hours of oven time for the shortbread and pound cakes OR the nearly 60 hours to chill all of the hand made chocolates.
It does get a little frantic around my apartment this time of year, as I do all the prep, packaging and triple check my lists to make sure I have sufficient supplies to make enough for all the people I want to give to. I also make sure that I have a couple of extra packages in case of emergency!
I also feel like I've given up my fridge and freezer space for a few weeks while I'm making and storing all the "Chocolate Treats". It takes some careful planning for my grocery shopping and menu planning to ensure that I have sufficient space to store any items that need to be in the fridge or freezer. As much as I love doing all the baking for gifts, there is always a part of me that breathes a sigh of relief when it is done and I have full use of my fridge and freezer again!
Over the next two days, I'll share a couple of my favourite Chocolate recipes that have been part of the "Goody Bags" for years. I hope you enjoy them!
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to "DN's Chocolate Bakery"!!