Holiday Gifts, By Hand

Why just make a list, when you can make the presents too? From hot sauce to spice rubs to the cheesiest little crackers, these recipes render the re-gifting question moot.


By SAVEUR Editors

Published on December 17, 2020

No one ever asked if a bottle of tequila hot sauce came with a gift receipt. Same goes for an onion confit so damningly savory, it all but pounds the table and demands to be stuffed inside a turkey sandwich. This year, consider using all that quality time at home to perfect a loaf milk bread. Make a couple, wrap them with bows, and gift one to each of your next-door neighbors. Learn to pronounce “kugelhopf,” then bake several of the fluted Alsatian cakes to say “thank you” to your kids’ teachers. Use sassafras and birch bark to brew root beer, then toast to never again exchanging ill-fitting holiday sweaters. They do say, after all, that the greatest gifts are not wrapped in paper, but in packages marked “Best reheated at 325°F for 20 minutes.” (Fine, that’s not exactly what they say—but it certainly will be after this year.)


A classic 10-inch square cake box ($10.99 for five; will keep the cake safe. Consider including a small bag of confectioners’ sugar with instructions to dust before serving.

Traditional kugelhopf molds are expensive ($67.90 for a 9 1⁄2-inch mold,; in a pinch, a standard fluted cake pan works, too. Note: Don’t rush the mixing and fermentation periods for this dough; the flavor and open-crumb structure of the delicate cake are at their best when allowed to develop slowly.


  • 12 cup raisins
  • 2 Tbsp. kirsch (cherry brandy)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. fresh cake yeast*
  • 23 cup plus 2 3⁄4 cups bread flour (1 lb. total, divided)
  • 2 Tbsp. superfine sugar
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 13 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened, plus more for greasing
  • 14 cup whole almonds
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting


Step 1

In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the kirsch and 2 tablespoons hot water for 30 minutes, then strain, discarding the liquid.

Step 2

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a hook attachment, mix the milk, yeast, and 2⁄3 cup flour on low speed just to combine, about 1 minute. Let stand for 15 minutes, then add the remaining flour, the sugar, and the salt, and mix on low speed until evenly combined, 1-2 minutes. Add the egg and continue mixing on low speed until incorporated, 3-4 minutes. Increase the speed by 1 level and continue mixing until the dough is smooth and elastic (but still a bit sticky), 3-4 minutes more. Revert to lowest speed, add the butter, and continue mixing, using a silicone spatula to occasionally scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, until the butter is incorporated and the dough is very smooth and glossy, 12-15 minutes more. Add the raisins and continue mixing on low speed to distribute them throughout the dough, about 2 minutes more. Lightly grease a medium bowl with butter, then add the dough, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 1-11⁄4 hours.

Step 3

Gently press the dough down to deflate, fold it in thirds, then cover the bowl again. Set aside until the dough has nearly doubled again, 30-40 minutes more.

Step 4

Meanwhile, soak the almonds in hot water for 5 minutes, then drain. Grease a kugelhopf pan (or fluted cake pan, if using) lightly with butter, then distribute the soaked almonds among the grooves of the pan. Using your fist, punch a hole in the center of the dough, then gently lift and position it in the pre- pared pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until nearly doubled, 30-40 minutes.

Step 5

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Transfer the kugelhopf to the oven, then immediately lower the temperature to 350°F. Bake until deep golden brown, 40-50 minutes. Immediately, and gently, invert and unmold the cake onto a wire rack and cool completely.

*Fresh cake yeast, which dissolves well in cool liquid, is the ideal leavening for heavily enriched, high-hydration doughs like this one. Look for it in the fridge or freezer section of well-stocked grocery stores. Can’t find it? Substitute one third the quantity by weight of instant dry yeast; in this case, 1 2⁄3 teaspoons.

Tequila Hot Sauce

Four-ounce glass bottles (with caps) are a buck a piece at But if you're making a lot of this sauce, save big by buying bottles and caps, separately, in bulk ($23.68 for 68 bottles, $14.72 for 64 caps;—or reuse any lidded glass bottle of your choosing.

Makes: Four 4-ounce bottles

Total Time: 1 week

The 2011 Saveur 100 included this recipe for infused tequila hot sauce by Elizabeth Karmel, founding chef of New York City’s Hill Country Barbecue. Karmel puts it on everything: fish, tacos, even grilled peaches. It’s pretty great in cocktails (by the drop or the shot), too.

In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast 1/4 teaspoon allspice, 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, and 1/4 teaspoon cumin, stirring frequently, until very fragrant, about 3 minutes. Divide 2 cups tequila blanco among four 4-ounce glass bottles. Add to each equal parts of toasted spice mixture, as well as 1-2 fresh or dried red Thai chilies (smash with side of knife first).

Milk Bread

A loaf of this milk bread will slide right into a 6 5/16-inch by 13 3/8-inch white paper bag (that's just slighter bigger than the classic brown lunch sack) ($20.99 for 500;

Fluffy like a classic white packaged loaf, yet also chewy like pain au lait, this milk bread is great sliced for sandwiches or pulled apart and eaten as rolls. If you manage to let any go stale, use it to make French toast or bostock.


  • 1 large egg
  • 23 cup whole milk at room temperature, plus more for brushing
  • 1 14 tsp. instant dry yeast
  • 2 12 cups plus 1 Tbsp. bread flour, plus more for dusting
  • 14 cup plus 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter (1⁄2 stick), at room temperature
  • Nonstick baking spray, for greasing


Step 1

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, add, in this order, the egg, milk, 3 tablespoons room tempera- ture water, yeast, flour, sugar, and salt. (Liquids should always go in first when using a stand mixer; they’re incorporated best when in the bottom.) Mix on low speed just until a dough begins to form, about 3 minutes. Increase the speed by one level and continue mixing until dough becomes smooth and elastic (but still quite sticky), 4 minutes more. Revert to the lowest speed, add the butter, and continue mixing, using a silicone spatula to occasionally scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, until the butter is incorporated and the dough is very smooth and glossy, 10-12 minutes more.

Step 2

Transfer dough into a medium bowl lightly greased with non- stick baking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature until significantly puffed, but not quite doubled in volume, about 90 minutes.

Step 3

Meanwhile, use the spray to lightly grease a 9-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom and two longest sides with lightly greased parchment paper, and set aside.

Step 4

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a bench scraper or large knife, divide the dough into 3 equal pieces, then lightly roll each piece into a ball. Cover the 3 balls with a dry tea towel and let rest for 10-15 minutes.

Step 5

Using a lightly floured roll- ing pin, roll out one dough ball into an 11-by-6-inch rectangle. Fold the two short ends in to meet each other. With the seam side facing up and start- ing from one of the shorter ends, roll into a tight cylinder. Repeat with remaining 2 dough pieces. Transfer into the loaf pan, seam-side down, placing the short ends of the dough cylinders against the long sides of the pan, spaced evenly apart. Cover the loaf loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until the dough is just peeking over the rim of the pan, 60-75 minutes.

Step 6

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F. Remove the plastic wrap, brush the top of the loaf gently with milk, and bake until golden brown, 35-40 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before using the parchment paper to lift the loaf out of the pan. Transfer, with paper, to a wire rack to cool completely.

Spice Trio

Each of these rub recipes yield enough to fill one 6-ounce tin ($30.72 for 24; Add a 1-inch-by-11⁄2-inch label ($16.80 for 100; and you're all set.

Of all the spice-rub recipes Saveur has published over the years, these are the three we keep coming back to. The trio includes a New Mexican Chimayó chile mix from Los Angeles chef Adam Perry Lang; a Turkish-style Baharat seasoning by chef Ana Sortun of Cambridge, Massachusetts; and a Southern barbecue rub, courtesy of former test kitchen director and North Carolina native, Hunter.

Chimayó Chile Rub

(from Saveur’s Summer 2016 issue)

Great On: Pork Butt; Grilled Shrimp

Mix together: 1⁄2 cup Chimayó hot chile powder, 2 packed tablespoons light brown sugar, 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon garlic salt, and 1 tablespoon kosher salt.

Baharat Spice Mix

(from Saveur’s Summer 2016 issue)

Great on: Roasted Root Vegetables; Rotisserie Chicken

Mix together: 3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper, 3 tablespoons pickling spice, 3 tablespoons dried spearmint, 1 tablespoon plus 1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon plus 1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground coriander, 1 tablespoon plus 1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cumin, and 1 tablespoon plus 1 1⁄2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg.

Barbecue Rub

(from Saveur’s June/July 2009 issue)

Great On: Smoked Brisket; Buttered Popcorn

Mix Together: 3 packed tablespoons dark brown sugar, 3 tablespoons kosher salt, 2 tablespoons sweet paprika, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon mustard powder, 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon dried thyme.

Cider-Spiked Onion Confit

Expect to fill three 6-oz hexagonal glass jars with this recipe ($7.08 for 12 jars, $2.30 for 12 lids; papermart. com).

Makes: 2 1⁄2 cups (20 ounces)

Total Time: 1 hr. 40min.

This easy, inexpensive, and highly giftable recipe comes from Chef David Nahon, who served it at the the crêperie he used to own in western Brittany. If you’re sensitive to onions, spare your tear ducts by using a food processor with a slicing attachment.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt 4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter. When the foam begins to subside, add 5 thinly sliced yellow onions (about 16 cups) and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted and just beginning to turn a pale blond, 20-22 minutes. Stir in 2 cups sweet, hard apple cider and 2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg; season lightly with kosher salt, then lower the heat to medium, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to melt and the liquid is creamy, 30-35 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced and onions are a few shades darker, 30-35 minutes more. Adjust the seasoning with additional salt to taste, then remove from heat. Cool completely and transfer to clean jars. The confit will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Homemade Root Beer

Great Fermentations ( carries everything you need to make and package your root beer. You’ll need a manual bottle capper ($18.99), clear glass bottles ($20.99 for a case of 24), crown caps ($4.99 for 144 caps), and, if you’d like, a few cardboard 6-pack carriers ($.99 each). The shop also sells Neato Beer Labels ($13.99 for a pack of 40), which includes free access to digital templates you can use to customize your bottles. Get the recipe for Homemade Root Beer »

It’s crucial to sanitize all your gear before tackling this project. The bottles and capper, as well as your kitchen tools (mesh sieve, funnel, long-handled spoon, and stockpot) are easiest to sanitize by running through a dishwasher on its “sanitize” setting. To ready the caps, place them in a pot of cold water over high heat; once the water comes to a boil, let cook for 5 minutes. No dishwasher? No problem. Star San ($7.49 for a 4-ounce bottle; is an acid-based, no-rinse sanitizer that can be used on all of the above, including the caps (just be sure to follow the directions on the bottle exactly).


  • 12 oz. dried birch bark*
  • 12 oz. dried sarsaparilla root*
  • 12 oz. dried sassafras root bark*
  • 14 oz. dried licorice root*
  • 1 2-in. piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
  • 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
  • 4 cups molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 14 tsp. active dry yeast


Step 1

In a large pot, combine the birch bark, sarsaparilla root, sassafras root bark, licorice root, ginger, vanilla bean and seeds, and 4 quarts of cold water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 2 hours.

Step 2

Place a fine mesh sieve over a large (at least 21⁄2 gallons) stockpot. Strain the liquid and discard the solids. Stir in the molasses and 4 quarts of cold, filtered water, then let cool to 75°F. Sprinkle in yeast and stir to combine; cover and let ferment for 15 minutes.

Step 3

Stir the mixture once more, then funnel into sanitized bottles, filling to within 2 inches of the top, but no higher. Cap using the bottle capper (follow the manufacturer’s instructions). Leave bottles to ferment in a cool place (65-75°F) for 12 hours, then refrigerate for 5 days to let the flavor develop before gifting.

*Because this recipe calls for steeping and straining the botanicals, coarsely chopped varieties are preferred. Measurements are listed by weight, which is more accurate than volume when dealing with chunky ingredients.

Cheese Crackers

This recipe makes enough to fill two 33⁄8 by 73⁄4-inch tin-tie kraft paper bags ($14.99 for 100; with about 60 crackers each. hold about 60 crackers. Don't worry if that sounds like a lot— giftees will be grateful.

Shane Mitchell warns against cheating with pre-shredded cheese, which usually contains anti-caking agents that will keep the dough from baking properly, and recommends using super-finely milled, bleached flour from the White Lily brand to achieve the crackers’ signature delicate crumb.


  • 1 12 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 34 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 12 Tbsp. unsalted butter (11⁄2 sticks), softened
  • 6 oz. sharp white cheddar, finely grated (about 11⁄2 cups)
  • 12 oz. parmesan, finely grated (about 1⁄4 cup)


Step 1

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and cayenne pepper, then stir in the salt, and set aside. In a large bowl, use an electric hand mixer on high speed to beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the cheddar and parmesan and continue beating until combined. Add the reserved flour mixture, then use your hands to incorporate it, without overworking. If the texture remains crumbly, stir in up to 2 tablespoons of ice water to bring the dough together.

Step 2

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, then divide the dough into quarters, form into 4 disks, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Step 3

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Meanwhile, lightly flour a clean work surface and rolling pin. Working 1 disk at a time, roll out the dough to a 1⁄16-inch thickness. Use a 11⁄2-inch round cutter to cut out the crackers, and space them 1⁄2-inch apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Combine all the dough scraps, re-roll them once and cut out more crackers.

Step 4

Bake until the crackers are puffed and golden, 6-8 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through. While still hot, slide the crackers from baking sheets onto clean paper towels, which will absorb extra grease, and allow to cool completely. The crackers will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Want more SAVEUR?

Get our favorite recipes, stories, and more delivered to your inbox.