For those that work day in and day out, and have not found time to shop for everyone on their holiday shopping list, local food professionals offer advice for those last-minute shoppers.
Nancy Cain, co-founder of Against the Grain Gourmet — a Brattleboro, Vt., based company committed to baking gluten-free products — suggests one of her favorite edible desserts as the perfect last-minute or hostess gift: Peppermint Bark.
"The best thing about it, is there is no compromise, you would never know it's gluten-free," said Cain. She explained that often, some gluten-free products have an off-putting taste to them, but this treat is a best-seller and "addictive."
The treat involves a crispy, buttery gluten-free base that is topped with melted chocolate chips. In just over a half hour, you'll have gourmet gluten-free bark in the freezer that has a relatively good shelf life, according to Cain.
"We don't put in industrial ingredients, and everything in there is something you can find in your grandmother's kitchen," said Cain. She also says the bark goes well with Earl Grey tea, and her husband, Tom, co-founder of Against the Grain, enjoys it with a hot cup of coffee.
"As long as you use all-natural recognizable foods, you'll have something that tastes natural to everyone," Cain said.
If you're shopping for an adult friend with a palate for wine, liquor or beer, Kelly's Package Store in Dalton, Mass., may be the place to arrange a tasty gift basket.
At 653 Main St., the store offers arranged gift baskets from $35 to $75. Kollin Kozlowski, wine buyer and certified specialist of wine from society of wine educators, said, for $35, customers can purchase a tall gift basket that includes a basic kind of wine, local cheese, salami and crackers.
"It's a nice hostess gift or something that is ready to go for someone that just pops in," said Kozlowski.
As your budget grows, the basket grows with it. Larger baskets may include more items from their gourmet market, while others may have two bottles of wine or beer as opposed to just one.
Kozlowski also suggests their special, "Wine and Wood," which includes six hand-selected wines presented in wine wood boxes.
"It's very handsome and makes a nice statement to someone who is a wine aficionado," said Kozlowski. For $100 this gift can be purchased and geared toward the palate of the person receiving it.
Courtesy of Nancy Cain
8 Tbs salted butter (or substitute 100g coconut oil)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup (70g) tapioca starch
2/3 cup (80g) light buckwheat flour
1 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup of crushed candy canes or peppermint candies
Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, with a hand mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar, peppermint extract and egg yolk until well blended.
Fold in the tapioca starch and buckwheat flour until they are moistened, and then beat the dough again until it is well blended. The dough may seem crumbly, with the texture of oatmeal, but it will come together when spread and compressed.
Spread the dough evenly in an ungreased 10 1/2 × 15 1/2-inch rimmed baking sheet. Using a rolling pin and your fingers, press down while rolling out the dough until the dough is evenly spread over the entire pan. Make sure there are no holes. At first, it will seem like you have way more surface area than dough, but it will eventually cover the entire pan.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the crust is set and lightly browned. It will look like a gigantic cookie.
Remove the crust from oven, sprinkle it evenly with the chocolate chips, and return it to the oven. Bake the bark for 3 to 4 more minutes, or until the chocolate chips are softened.
Remove the bark from the oven. Working quickly, spread the chocolate chips with a spatula until the surface is evenly and completely coated with chocolate. While the chocolate is still soft, sprinkle the top with crushed candy canes; pat the pieces lightly into the chocolate to anchor them and allow the bark to cool fully.
Place the baking sheet in the freezer for 15 minutes to allow the bark to become brittle. Break it into uneven pieces of bark and store in a cookie tin or any airtight container.
Variations: For cherry bark: use 1 teaspoon almond extract and top with 1/2 cup chopped dried cherries. Orange bark: use 2 teaspoons orange extract and top with 2 tablespoons chopped candied orange peel. Pecan bark: use 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and top with 1/2 cup chopped pecans.