In a typical year, shipping myself across the country to see my family is normally my “gift” (and offering to be my grandma’s bartender at the holiday party, free of charge). This holiday season, spreading cheer in person isn’t going to be doable for many (myself included), but that doesn’t mean you can’t show friends and fam they are on your mind. Bespoke care packages filled with baked goods and thoughtful gifts is the way to show `em you love `em — and all you need is a carton of eggs and a little time to pull them off. (Stick with me, I’ll explain.) From travel-friendly recipes to shipping deadline hacks, here are seven holiday care package tips to consider.
Know your shipping deadlines
Don’t be the person at the post office trying to ship out homemade cookies the day before you want it to arrive at your aunt’s house. Whether it’s for Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Year's, or your high school friend’s annual ugly sweater party, you should check with the carrier what the deadlines are to get it there on time. Luckily, most major carriers do all the work for you so it will be hard to mess this up. USPS has a handy schedule that’s easy to follow, as well as FedEx and UPS. Remember that the weight and contents of the care package will affect the travel time, too.
Keep baked goods fresh
There’s nothing like diving into a dessert you just pulled out of the oven, but you can get pretty close to oven-ready with these hacks. According to UPS, you should expect food to be in transit for a maximum of 30 hours (but with COVID-related delays, prepare for a few extra days). To keep food fresh, the trick is creating an air-tight seal. Tin cans are actually great for sealing in flavor, and they look great, too. Line the tins with plastic, wax paper, or colored cellophane and then fold the paper over the cookies before you put the lid on. If you’re looking for good-for-the-environment options, go for beeswax single-use plastic. Does your dessert require isolated foam? Dry ice? Unless it’s ice cream, you can probably avoid both. If you’re unsure, call or email your local carrier and get their thoughts on what you are sending.
Give your gift box a theme
If you’re worried sending a fruit cake or apple pie isn’t enough to say “thank you” to your best friend for being there for you all year, think of small gifts that pair with the treat. You can easily tie them all together with a theme. Think stay-at-home activities like game night and arts & crafts, or build a self-care package based on their interests (your dad who likes to unwind making homemade pasta, for example). You can even create the illusion of a cozy night next to a fire. Throw in a few mugs with hot chocolate packets, a pair of cozy socks, playing cards, and a mini bottle of coffee liquor to set the mood. Incredible Egg's pecan bars are a tasty mix of sweet and salty with subtle hints of caramel and vanilla, and they’re travel-friendly (and perfect for snacking on next to a fire!) thanks to a strong crust that’s topped with a sweet mixture of brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and pecans. This is also a great gift for a new homeowner or newlyweds on your list.
NUTCRACKER’S SALTED CARAMEL PECAN BARS
¾ cup + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and divided
½ cup sugar
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
18 caramel candies (individually wrapped)
2 tablespoons milk
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 eggs, large
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans
Pinch kosher or sea salt (to serve)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9-inch x 13-inch baking dish with aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on the edges for easy removal.
In a medium bowl, use an electric hand mixer to cream together ¾ cup butter and sugar. Add flour and mix until combined.
Firmly press mixture into the prepared baking dish. Bake 15-20 minutes, until edges are just starting to brown.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over low heat, add caramels, milk, and 2 tablespoons butter. Cook until caramels are smooth and melted. Allow to cool slightly.
In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Gradually mix in the caramel mixture, then stir in pecans. Pour filling over warm crust.
Bake 25-30 minutes, until filling is set. Allow to cool completely, then refrigerate 1-4 hours.
Sprinkle with flaky salt and serve. Refrigerate leftovers up to 3 days.
Pick treats that can go the distance
A treat that relies on airy texture may not translate well upon arrival, especially if it’s traveling from New York to California. Denser baked goods will hold up to a longer trip in the mail and still be chewy and tasty upon arrival. These chocolate sprinkle cookies are decadent, use pantry staples like eggs, sugar, flour, and unsweetened cocoa powder, and can last in an air-tight container for up to five days. Once the cookies and your other gifts are packed in the box, give it a gentle shimmy to see what areas need more cushion to prevent them from breaking. If you are determined to send a loved one something gooey and soft, consider doing a curbside dropoff if they are close enough, or pay for overnight shipping.
CHOCOLATE SPRINKLE CRINKLE COOKIES
1 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup nonpareils, in desired colors
In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter, until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla extract.
Sift in cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, and salt to the bowl and stir until just combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Place nonpareils in a shallow bowl. Use a 1½-inch cookie scoop to form dough into balls. Roll balls in nonpareils and place on the prepared cookie sheet.
Bake 10-13 minutes, then allow to cool on the cookie sheet slightly before moving to a cooling rack.
Serve and store leftovers in an airtight container up to 5 days.
Embrace curbside drop-off
A little late on getting your edible gifts together? If your recipient lives a reasonable distance away, take a note from retailers and restaurants and send your package via “contactless drop-off.” Protect it from the elements with an airtight lid and check the weather before you swing by, then let your recipient know to collect their items right away. (Also, wear a mask when you drop them off!) Curbside delivery also allows you to bake treats that wouldn’t travel well by mail, like these savory jalapeno egg muffins, which are a nice contrast to all the sweets they’re sure to consume around the holidays.
CHEESY JALAPENO BREAKFAST EGG MUFFINS
10 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 jalapenos, 1 minced and 1 thinly sliced, divided
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ cup cooked bacon, chopped
Preheat oven to 375°F. Prepare a standard muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. Add minced jalapeno, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, and bacon.
Divide mixture equally into prepared muffin tin. Top each muffin with a few jalapeno slices.
Bake 20-25 minutes, until eggs are set. Allow to cool slightly, then remove from muffin tin.
Serve and refrigerate leftovers up to 3 days.
Personalize the outside of the box
These days, everyone is shipping everything, from toilet paper to printer ink. So make your boxes stand out by decorating them on the outside. Even if you’re shipping separate boxes, a theme will pull them all together when the loved one receives them. Cut out snowflakes, print out inside jokes or memes to tape on — whatever will make your family and friends smile despite you not being there with them. Just remember to keep the outside-of-the-box decorations mail-friendly. Every carrier has different weight limits and dimension restrictions, so be sure to put in your due diligence before you spend time hot glueing ornaments onto the box. If you’re nervous about the decor getting messed up during transit, package each baked good or gift as if it were a holiday gift you were giving to them in person.
Don’t forget a card
The food may only last for an hour before the receiver devours it, but a heartfelt card will live on their fridge for a long time. Mix it up this year and turn the card into a recipe card they can pass on to other family members and friends. Beyond the actual ingredients and instructions, tell them about the first time you made the recipe and why you wanted to make it for them. It makes the gift more personable and starts a conversation. Who knows — this could start a holiday tradition of sending each other holiday care packages long past 2020.
Photo Credits: Photographer - Matthew Zach; Associate Creative Director - Colleen Lennon; Prop Stylist - Nicole Louie; Food Stylist- Micah Morton; Producer - Alex Friedlander