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Shortbread mix-in cookies
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Decorative, colored sugar (optional)
1 cup dried cranberries, zest of 2 oranges and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 cup dried bananas and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped, peanut butter cups
1 cup chopped, toasted pecans and 1/2 cup finely, chopped dark chocolate
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until fluffy. Add the egg and beat until combined. Beat in the milk, vanilla and salt. Beat in the flour until the mixture forms a smooth dough.
Stir in the mix-ins of your choice. You can divide the dough in half and do a different mix-in for each portion. If you do split the dough, divide the suggested mix-in amounts in half also.
Split the dough between two sheets of waxed paper, placing half of the dough onto each sheet. Using your hands and the paper, form each batch of dough into a log about 2 inches. Wrap the paper tightly around the logs, then twist the ends to seal.
Refrigerate or freeze the dough logs until ready to bake. When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat 2 baking sheets with cooking spray. Remove the logs from the refrigerator, or freezer and unwrap. If the cookie dough was stored in the freezer, let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before unwrapping.
If desired, roll the log in decorative colored sugar. Using a sharp knife, slice the log into rounds about 1/4 inch thick.
Place the rounds on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 1-inch apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden around the edges and slightly firm to the touch. Let cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheets before using a spatula to transfer the cookies to a cooling rack. Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container.
Blondies (jar recipe)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup butterscotch-flavored chips
1/4 cup melted butter
2 slightly-beaten eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Jar instructions: In a 1-quart container, layer the brown sugar, chocolate pieces, flour, baking powder, salt, nuts and butterscotch chips. Fasten lid. Include baking instructions.
Card instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-by-8-by-2-inch baking pan. In a bowl, combine the melted butter, eggs and vanilla. Stir in the contents of the jar. Spread batter into prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until set and golden-brown and edges begin to pull away from sides of pan.
Hot cocoa mix (jar recipe)
2 cups nonfat dry milk
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup nondairy creamer
1 dash salt
Jar instructions: Mix ingredients well and place in a 1-quart jar. Seal. (If adding marshmallows, use a little less creamer).
Card instructions: Add 4 to 5 tablespoons of mix to a mug and fill with hot water or milk. Stir.
If unexpected names pop up on your gift list, or if you're interested in giving something more thoughtful than a store-bought gift, baked goods may be the way to go.
If you're short on time, or even baking know-how, cookies are a nearly fool-proof option. They're easy to make in bulk, can be mixed in advance and are easy to transport.
One of the easiest ways to make a crowd-pleasing array of goodies is to find a single recipe that you can create variations of, like our recipe for the shortbread mix-in cookies.
These cookies start with a simple recipe — only eight basic ingredients — that can be altered a countless number of ways.
By adding ingredients like dried fruits, nuts and additional spices, you could make a bountiful platter of goods with minimal effort.
Another simple baking option is to make cookie bars — think blondies. The only technical capabilities that these goodies require is a little hand-eye coordination to work a mixer. You simply make the batter, pour it in a pan, bake and then slice them into pieces once they cool.
If baking just really isn't your cup of tea, you can still give the gift of home cooking. You'll still do the measuring and pouring, but you can leave the baking to the recipient.
Simply layer the dry ingredients in a see-through container, such as a canning jar. Seal the container, cover the lid with a piece of festive fabric or tissue paper, and secure with a ribbon.
On a decorative card, attached to the ribbon, include the wet ingredients that they will need to add to the mix and baking instructions. You'll also want to add a complete list of ingredients.
This is also a great option for long-distance relatives who can't make it home to sample your world-famous snickerdoodles in person.
While packaging the ingredients, you'll want to keep a few things in mind:
n You should blend items like flour, salt and baking powder before packaging.
n To reduce chances of the ingredients blending, pack the ingredients in the container as tightly as possible before adding the next layer.
n White sugar, cocoa and flour tend to seep down to other layers, so it's best to put those ingredients at the bottom.
n For the most visual impact, pack contrasting colored ingredients next to each other.
If stored in a cool, dry place, most mixes will last at least six months. If the mix contains nuts, which can go rancid, it should be used sooner.
Besides cookie mixes, jarred recipes work well with other items like soups, cocoa and specialty coffee.
McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this article.