Not Your Mother's Handmade Christmas

How did your mama share at Christmas?

Mine used to make and deliver fresh bread to our neighbors early on Christmas morning. Back in the days before bread machines and long before dough hooks showed up on home mixers, this required a very early  morning and some serious elbow grease, but I can't imagine a better gift, myself. To have a toasty loaf of her pull-apart bread delivered in time to relish with a second cup of coffee while watching the kiddos play with their new toys? Christmas bliss.

Not that she limited herself to bread, of course. Like me, her creativity's playground was the kitchen. Maple, chocolate or peanut butter fudge nestled on wax-paper circles inside huge tins. Alongside there'd be some noodlestacks and stained-glass cookies and whatever new thing she'd found to try. Like me, she was always on the lookout for the next recipe. (These days, at nearly 80, she's baking fruit bread in jars, etching plates for her Sunday school class, and itching to make --and share--vanilla extract.) As always, the best new recipes showed up as gifts at Christmas.

And, I guess it stuck. We saw our moms do it and the compulsion drizzled down over our generation, because food gifts are still pretty normal down here in the South. With an eye to waist-lines and budgets, the honking 12-inch tins have shrunk considerably and the contents have changed from hand-made delicacies to slice-and-bake cookies, but the thought remains the same.

We want to share, 
to bless others from what we have, 
to take a minute at the end of the year 
and name our blessings 
then tell them that we're glad for them.

I can't remember all the goodies I've sent around the neighborhood or shared at church, but I don't think any have received as much pre-Christmas interest as this year's offering, when I decided to branch out into homemade liqueur.  The lemon-limecello was a failure (alcoholic Sprite, anyone?) and the limoncello is still in progress even though I started it at the end of September. But the dark rum coffee liqueur?

A terrible late-night picture because that's
when we were doing--er--quality control.

Oh, yes.

It's about as easy to make but a bit more memorable than those sugar cookies from a roll. And it's a versatile gift, too, since it will be wonderful as a flavor shot in coffee or more rum, just topped with a dollop of heavy cream, over ice cream, or as a flavoring in cooking (see a few ideas here), too.

The labels (which I'll share tomorrow after my birthday brunch at Brennans!) has a QR code that'll take the recipient to the list of recipes.

The ever-amazing is the source for the basic recipe I used as a springboard, but it's a tad technical if you're just looking to make a gift. If you run into a question or want to know the science behind the recipes, put your waders on and follow their link. These folks? They are serious brewers, and I recommend their site if you want to be one, too. If you just want to make some gifts, you're good right here.

In about an hour total time (spread out across a few days) this rich coffee liqueur can be ready to bottle, and it will only get better with time.

Oh, and do yourself a favor and order or find some bottles now, as you start the process, so you won't be handing out presents or samples in jelly jars like we are. (I feel a little like I'm hawking "The Recipe" on The Waltons!) Just yesterday Chet choose some 15-ounce bottles from here, but there are plenty of sources online. Like these beauties:

The bottle in my picture at the top is from the sweet olive oil we used up at our Pinterest Party last week while making something like 40 gift jars of citrus hand scrub. It's pretty, but I have more gifts to give than empty bottles. If you're looking at making these for Mardi Gras or something, you can start saving now.

Here's how easy it is.
(You can do Days 2-4 all at once if you'd rather.)

DAY 1:
Infuse your spirits
(10 minutes)

DAY 2:
Make caramel syrup 
(20 minutes)
This is a double batch and it's the color you're going for.
The bowl in the background is caramel syrup mixed with
standard sugar syrup.

DAY 3:
Make standard bartender's syrup
(20 minutes)

DAY 4:
Strain and blend your liqueur 
(15 minutes)

This will fill eight 15-ounce bottles with a little left over for your quality control efforts. That a little more than 8 minutes spent per person for a memorable gift. Not bad.

Click on the "Get the Recipe" link to get a printable Google document with step-by-step instructions. (If that doesn't work, let me know!) Start today and in a few days, you'll have about 128 ounces of dark and rich Christmas cheer to share!

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