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Gifts from your kitchen.

More than two dozen delicious ways to say, "Have a merry holiday"

* For gifts in good taste, what better place to start than where good tastes reign: the kitchen. In minutes or a few hours, your home-based Santa's factory can produce tender, flavorful cake and quick breads; beautiful fruit vinegars or liqueurs in glass; candies and confections with grown-up tastes and humorous shapes; gingerbread for cookies, thin and crisp, and centerpieces that glow; and spice blends assembled into simple works of art.

So step away from the hurly-burly and spend a morning in a warm kitchen full of wonderful fragrances, with music to keep you company, and enjoy creating a steadily growing lineup of gifts you know won't have to be returned.

fruit under glass

Faz Poursohi, a Northern California restaurateur, displays dramatically scaled, bulbous jars filled with fruits in vinegars in many of his establishments. In clear jars, the beauty of the fruit is magnified by the liquid. And as it stands in the jars, the fruit becomes pickled and perfumes the liquid.

Poursohi's technique, which he brought from his homeland, Iran, works well with a wide variety of fruits and vinegars.

Recipients can use the flavored vinegars and chopped pickled fruit in salads and as seasonings. Or cook pickled fruit with some of the vinegar and sugar to make glistening sweet-sour relishes that complement meats and poultry. - L.L.A.

Citrus Vinegar and Pickled Fruit

PREP TIME: 5 to 10 minutes

NOTES: Lime and lemon vinegars develop a pleasant, slightly bitter flavor after a month or so. In addition to using the vinegar in salads, add a little of the chopped pickled fruit, peel and all. MAKES: 2 to 6 cups vinegar and 4 to 7 cups fruit; jar sizes can vary, but liquid must cover fruit

1. Rinse 5 to 15 limes or lemons (2 1/2 to 3 in. long), or 5 to 7 cups kumquats; if waxed, rub with a cloth under hot running water. Also rinse 3 to 6 fresh unsprayed citrus leaves (optional). In a 6- to 8-cup widemouth clear decorative jar with lid, tightly pack fruit, fitting leaves between fruit and jar.

2. Mix 4 cups distilled white vinegar and 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar until clear. Pour into jar, filling to cover fruit. (If you need more liquid, blend each additional I cup vinegar with 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar.) If fruit floats above liquid, push a wad of clear plastic wrap (large enough to reach the rim of the jar) on top of it. Close jar airtight.

3. Let stand until vinegar is aromatic, at least 2 weeks or up to 3 months. (Limes and citrus leaves turn yellowish green as they stand.) Check occasionally to maintain liquid level; if it evaporates enough to expose fruit, the exposed parts discolor dramatically.

Per tablespoon vinegar: 7.8 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0 g protein; 0 g fat; 2.3 g carbo (0 g fiber); 0.2 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Estimated per tablespoon chopped limes: 4 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0.1 g protein; 0 g fat; 1.4 g carbo (0.7 g fiber); 0 mg sodium;0 mg chol.

Cranberry. Vinegar and Pickled Cranberries

Follow directions for citrus vinegar and pickled fruit (page 80), but instead of citrus, use 6 to 8 cups fresh or frozen cranberries. Sort, discarding bruised and decayed fruit. Rinse cranberries.

Per tablespoon vinegar: 7.8 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0 g protein; 0 g fat; 2.3 g carbo (0 g fiber); 0.2 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Estimated per tablespoon chopped fruit: 3.4 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0 g protein; 0 g fat; 0.9 g carbo (0.1 g fiber); 0 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Persimmon Vinegar and Pickled Persimmons

Follow directions for citrus vinegar and pickled fruit (page 80), but instead of citrus, use 4 to 6 firm-ripe Fuyu persimmons (2 1/2 to 3 in. wide). Discard stems and leaves; rinse fruit. Persimmon skins stay firm, but interiors get soft.

Per tablespoon vinegar: 7.8 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0 g protein; 0 g fat; 2.3 g carbo (0 g fiber); 0.2 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Estimated per tablespoon chopped fruit: 24 cal., 3.8% (0.9 cal.) from fat; 0.2 g protein; 0.1 g fat (0 g sat.); 6.2 g carbo (0.5 g fiber); 0.6 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Pickled Fruit Relish

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 15 minutes

NOTES: Serve with roasted or grilled meats, poultry, seafood, or curries.

MAKES: About 1/3 cup

1. Use pickled citrus, cranberries, or persimmons (preceding). Chop limes or lemons, thinly slice kumquats (discard seeds), use cranberries whole, or scoop persimmon pulp from tough skin (discard skin and seeds).

2. In a 6- to 8-inch frying pan, mix 1/2 cup fruit with 2 to 4 tablespoons sugar, or to taste. Shake pan often over medium-high heat until mixture boils vigorously and fruit turns shiny and slightly translucent, 5 to 12 minutes. Serve warm or cool.

Per tablespoon with citrus: 27 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0.1 g protein; 0 g fat; 7.6 g carbo (0 g fiber); 0.4 mg sodium; 0 mg chol. Per tablespoon with cranberries: 28 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0 g protein; 0 g fat; 7.3 g carbo (0.4 g fiber); 0.2 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Per tablespoon with persimmons: 43 cal., 2.1%-(0.9 cal.) from fat; 0.1 g protein; 0.1 g fat (0 g sat.); 11 g carbo (0 g fiber); 0.3 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

fruit with spirits

In these easy-to-make spirited infusions, fruit mellows alcohol with sweetness, fragrance, and personality. Dried fruit gives concentrated flavor, lemon brings freshness to vodka, and fresh pear u the roughness out of young brandy. Serve the beverages chilled (over ice if desired) to sip, or add to chilled dry white wine, sparkling wine, or water. - L.L.A.

Peach-Ginger Liqueur

PREP AND COOK TIME: 20 minutes, plus 1 week to stand

NOTES: YOU Can drizzle the liqueur and fruit over ice cream, cake, or sliced fruit.

MAKES: About 5 cups liqueur, 4 cups fruit

4 cups (1 qt.) vodka

4 cups sugar

1 pound (3 cups) dried peaches, chopped

1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger

1. In a 3- to 4-quart pan, combine vodka and sugar. Stir often over medium heat until mixture reaches 125 [degrees] to 130 [degrees] (hot to touch), about 5 minutes. Watch carefully; if overheated, fumes may ignite.

2. Place peaches and ginger in a widemouth glass jar (at least 2 qt.). Pour in hot vodka mixture. Seal airtight. (If seal is rubber or synthetic rubber, cover glass top with plastic wrap to protect seal; alcohol can soften it.) Let stand at least 1 week or up to 2 months.

3. Line a strainer with 4 layers of damp cheesecloth and set over an 8-cup glass measure or bowl with a pour spout. Pour liqueur and fruit, a portion at a time, through cloth. When fruit is no longer dripping, save for other uses; wrap airtight and refrigerate up to 3 months.

4. Pour liqueur into small bottles; seal airtight (if seals are rubber or synthetic rubber, see step 2). Serve liqueur, or store in a cool, dark place up to I year.

Per tablespoon: 64 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0 g protein; 0 g fat; 8.1 g carbo (0.1 g fiber); 0.4 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Cranberry or Cherry Liqueur

Follow directions for peach-ginger liqueur (preceding), but instead of peaches and ginger, use 1 pound (4 1/2 cups) dried cranberries or dried sweet cherries. Dried cranberries may contain a tiny amount of oil; use paper towels to gently blot off any oily film floating on the strained liqueur.

Per tablespoon: 63 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0 g protein; 0 g fat; 8 g carbo (0 g fiber); 0.2 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Italian Lemon Aperitif

PREP AND COOK TIME: 35 minutes, plus 2 days to stand

MAKES: 4 1/2 cups

3 lemons (6 oz. each)

2 cups sugar

3 cups (750 mi.) vodka

1. Rinse lemons; if waxed, rub with a cloth under hot running water. Dry with a cloth. Grate yellow part (white is bitter) from lemons to make 1 tablespoon.

2. In a 2- to 3-quart pan, combine peel, sugar, and vodka. Stir often over medium heat until mixture reaches 125 [degrees] to 130 [degrees] (hot to touch), about 5 minutes. Watch carefully; if overheated, fumes may ignite. Let cool.

3. Meanwhile, cut the grated lemons in 1/2 and ream 8 to 10 tablespoons juice. Add juice to vodka mixture. Pour into bottles; seal airtight. (If seals are rubber or synthetic rubber, cover glass top with plastic wrap to protect seals; alcohol can soften them.) Store at least 2 days or up to 1 week in a cool, dark place. Pour through a strainer lined with 2 layers of damp cheesecloth into an 8-cup glass measure; return to bottles. Serve or seal airtight and store up to i year in a cool, dark place.

Per tablespoon: 43 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0 g protein; 0 g fat; 5.7 g carbo (0 g fiber); 0.2 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Pear Brandy

PREP TIME: 2 to 3 minutes, plus 1 week to stand

MAKES: 3 cups

1 firm-ripe pear

3 cups (750 ml.) brandy

Rinse pear, dry, and place in a wide-mouth decorative glass jar (at least 1 qt.). Pour brandy over pear (pear must be covered). Seal airtight. (If seal is rubber or synthetic rubber, cover glass top with plastic wrap to protect seal from alcohol, which can soften it.) Store at least I week or up to 1 year at room temperature.

Per tablespoon: 37 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0 g protein; 0 g fat; 0.1 g carbo (0 g fiber); 0 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

love 'em from the oven

This golden cake and two spicy breads have in common a sweet tenderness - in taste, texture, and thoughtfulness. For a busy host or hostess, they provide at-the-ready refreshment to share with guests.

The fruit cake, although laden with chunks of dried tropical fruit and crunchy macadamias, bears no resemblance to its denser, traditional namesake; it's a fine dessert topped with scoops of intensely vanilla ice cream or warm caramel sauce. The pumpkin bread and its applesauce variation, full of plump raisins and walnuts, make delightful offerings for breakfast or brunch.

Bake these gifts in sizes to suit the recipients: one large cake or bread in a tube pan, or multiple loaves, big or small. For built-in gift packaging, use paper baking molds available in specialty cookware stores or by mail from Sur La Table; (800) 243-0852. - L.L.A.

Golden Fruit Cake

PREP AND COOK TIME: 2 to 21/4 hours

NOTES: Mile-high bakers need to increase flour to 4 1/2 cups, reduce sugar to 2 cups, and increase applesauce to 2 cups; baking time may be about 10 minutes less.

MAKES: 1 tube cake (12-cup size), 2 loaf cakes (about 4 1/2 by 8 1/2 in.), or 6 loaf cakes (about 3 by 5 1/2 in.)

About 2/3 cup (1/3 lb.) butter or margarine, at room temperature

About 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

3 1/3 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 jar (15 oz.; about 1 2/3 cups) applesauce

1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup coarsely chopped dried mangoes or dried apricots

3/4 cup coarsely chopped dried sweetened pineapple

2/3 cup coarsely chopped salted roasted macadamia nuts

1. Butter and flour baking pans (choices follow).

2. In a large bowl with mixer, beat 2/3 cup butter and the sugar until well mixed. Beat in eggs until blended. Stir in applesauce and lemon peel.

3. In another bowl, mix 3 1/3 cups flour with baking soda, ginger, coriander, and baking powder. Add to egg mixture and beat until blended. Stir in mangoes, pineapple, and nuts.

4. Fill pan (or pans; see following) as directed.

5. Bake in a 325 [degrees] oven (300 [degrees] in a convection oven) until cake is browned, pulling from pan sides, and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (for time, see following).

6. Set cake (or cakes) in pan on a rack to cool 15 to 20 minutes. To remove cake from metal pans, run a thin-bladed knife between cake and pan, then invert onto a rack. Or leave in pans or paper baking molds. Let cake stand until cool. Serve or wrap airtight and chill up to 2 weeks; freeze to store longer.

Per 2-oz. piece: 195 cal., 28% (55 cal.) from fat; 2.3 g protein; 6.1 g fat (2.7 g sat.); 34 g carbo (0.7 g fiber); 134 mg sodium; 33 mg chol.

To make 1 tube cake (4 1/4 to 4 1/2 lb.): Follow directions for golden fruit cake (preceding), using a nonstick 10-inch-wide (12-cup) tube pan. Scrape all the cake batter into pan. Bake as directed, about 1 1/2 hours.

To make 2 loaf cakes (2 1/8 to 2 1/4 lb. each): Follow directions for golden fruit cake (preceding), using 2 loaf pans (metal or paper baking molds), each about 4 1/2 by 8 1/2 inches. Divide cake batter equally between pans. Bake as directed, about 1 1/2 hours.

To make 6 loaf cakes (about 3/4 lb. each): Follow directions for golden fruit cake (page 83), using 6 loaf pans, each about 3 by 5 1/2 inches (metal or paper baking molds). Divide cake batter equally among pans. Bake as directed, about 50 minutes.

Pumpkin Bread

PREP AND COOK TIME: 2 to 2 1/4 hours

NOTES: Mile-high bakers need to increase flour in bread to 4 1/2 cups, reduce sugar to 2 2/3 cups, and increase pumpkin to 2 cups. Baking time may be about 10 minutes less. Bake as directed for golden fruit cake (page 83), in pan sizes desired.

MAKES: 1 tube bread (12-cup size), 2 loaves (about 4 1/2 by 8 1/2 in.), or 6 loaves (about 3 by 5 1/2 in.)

About 2/3 cup (1/3 lb.) butter or margarine, at room temperature

About 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

3 1/3 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 can (15 oz.; about 1 3/4 cups) pumpkin

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 cups raisins

2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1. Butter and flour baking pans (for sizes, see preceding recipe).

2. In a large bowl with a mixer, beat 2/3 cup butter and the sugar until well mixed. Add eggs and beat until well blended. Stir in pumpkin.

3. In another bowl, mix 3 1/3 cups flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking powder. Add to egg mixture and beat until blended. Stir in raisins and chopped walnuts.

4. To bake, serve, and store, follow steps 4 through 6 (page 83).

Per 2-oz. piece: 192 cal., 27% (51 cal.) from fat; 2.6 g protein; 5.7 g fat (2.5 g sat.); 34 g carbo (1 g fiber); 122 mg sodium; 33 mg chol.

Spicy Applesauce Bread

Follow recipe for golden fruit cake (page 83), but omit ginger, coriander, dried mangoes, dried pineapple, and macadamia nuts. Instead, use 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 1/2 cups raisins, and 2/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans.

Per 2-oz. piece: 196 cal., 26% (50 cal.) from fat; 2.3 g protein; 5.6 g fat (2.5 g sat.); 35 g carbo (0.9 g fiber); 122 mg sodium; 33 mg chol.

gumdrops for grown-ups

The secret to the vibrant, chewy character of these fresh candies is real fruit: pure peach, mingled berries, and pineapple with a ginger kick. Simmer the pureed fruit with sugar and gelatin until it's concentrated into a thick paste. Let the paste stand long enough for the surface to feel only slightly tacky to touch; gelatin helps the mixture hold its shape. Coat the cut candies with sugar for sparkle and to keep the pieces from sticking together.

The concept may be adult, but the results suit all who are young of heart. - E.J.

Peach Jelly Chews

PREP AND COOK TIME: 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, plus up to 24 hours to firm

NOTES: If pan is narrower than suggested, mixture cooks longer and is darker in color. Use a pan with a light interior so you can see color changes that indicate doneness.

MAKES: 49 pieces

Salad oil

2 packages (1 lb. each) frozen unsweetened sliced peaches

About 3 3/4 cups sugar

3 envelopes (2 tablespoons total) unflavored gelatin

2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Oil an 8- or 9-inch square metal pan.

2. In a 6- to 8-quart pan, preferably 11 inches wide, combine peaches and 1/3 cup water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until fruit mashes easily, 10 to 12 minutes.

3. Whirl fruit mixture in a blender or food processor, a portion at a time, until smoothly pureed. Return to pan.

4. In a bowl, mix 3 1/2 cups sugar with the gelatin. Add to fruit mixture.

5. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often. Stir and boil 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and stir often until mixture is thick enough to leave a trail when the spoon is drawn across the pan bottom and juices in the trail are just beginning to turn a darker gold, 25 to 35 minutes. At once, remove from heat.

6. Stir lemon peel and lemon juice into peach mixture, then scrape mixture into the oiled 8- or 9-inch square pan. Let candy dry, uncovered, for 16 to 24 hours; it should feel firm and not sticky when touched.

7. On a board, coat a 10-inch square area with about 1/4 cup sugar. Invert pan to release candy onto sugar; if it sticks, use a metal spatula, dipped in sugar, to ease from pan. With a long, sharp knife, dipped in sugar to prevent sticking, cut candy into 49 equal pieces (make 6 cuts lengthwise and 6 crosswise). Coat each piece with sugar:

8. Serve candies, or arrange in a container with plastic wrap between layers and seal airtight. Store up to 1 month at room temperature.

Per piece: 70 cal., 1.3% (0.9 cal.) from fat; 0.5 g protein; 0.1 g fat (0 g sat.); 17 g carbo (0.3 g fiber); 1.1 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Apple-Cranberry Jelly Chews

Rinse 1 3/4 pounds Granny Smith apples and cut into wedges; discard stems; don't core or peel.

Sort 2 cups (1/2 lb.) fresh or frozen cranberries, discarding bruised and decayed fruit. Rinse and drain cranberries.

Follow directions for peach jelly chews (preceding), but instead of peaches, use apples and cranberries.

Rub pureed fruit (step 3) through a fine strainer back into pan, pressing firmly to extract liquid; discard residue.

Reduce sugar in fruit mixture (step 4) to 3 cups.

The cooking time (step 5) is 15 to 25 minutes.

Per piece: 72 cal., 1.3% (0.9 cal.) from fat; 0.4 g protein; 0.1 g fat (0 g sat.); 18 g carbo (0 g fiber); 1.1 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Pineapple Jelly Chews

Cut 2 peeled cored pineapples (3 lb. total) into 2-inch chunks (7 cups total). Rinse and coarsely chop 1/2 pound fresh ginger (1 1/2 cups).

Follow directions for peach jelly chews (at left), but instead of peaches, use the pineapple and ginger. Omit lemon peel.

Simmer (step 2) until pineapple breaks easily with a spoon, 20 to 25 minutes.

Rub puree (step 3) through a fine strainer back into pan, pressing firmly to extract liquid; discard residue.

Reduce sugar in fruit mixture (step 4) to 3 cups, and increase unflavored gelatin to 6 envelopes (4 2/3 tablespoons).

Increase lemon juice to 1/3 cup and stir into uncooked pureed mixture (step 4).

The cooking time (step 5) is 20 to 30 minutes.

Per piece: 78 cal., 2.3% (1.8 cal.) from fat; 0.5 g protein; 0.2 g fat (0 g sat.); 19 g carbo (0 g fiber); 1.9 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Raspberry-Cranberry Jelly Chews

In a bowl, thaw 6 cups frozen sweetened raspberries, saving juice. Rub raspberries and juice through a fine strainer into another bowl; discard residue.

Sort 2 cups (1/2 lb.) fresh or frozen cranberries, discarding bruised and decayed fruit. Rinse and drain cranberries.

Follow directions for peach jelly chews (page 84), but instead of peaches, use strained raspberries and whole cranberries. Simmer (step 2) until cranberries are soft when pressed, 3 to 5 minutes. Omit lemon peel and lemon juice.

Reduce sugar in fruit mixture (step 4) to 3 cups and increase unflavored gelatin to 5 envelopes (3 2/3 tablespoons total).

The cooking time (step 5) is 15 to 20 minutes.

Per piece: 84 cal., 1.1% (0.9 cal.) from fat; 0.8 g protein; 0.1 g fat (0 g sat.); 21 g carbo (0.2 g fiber); 1.9 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

gingerbread enlightenment

Cast a colorful glow on holiday tables with light that shines through the shimmering candy windows of gingerbread luminarias. These durable gifts are easily assembled. And the same spicy dough, rolled thin, makes very crisp, traditional gingerbread cookies. You might want to fill the box-shaped votive with cookies as part of your gift. When the candle is inside and aglow, set a plate of cookies alongside for nibblers who might otherwise be tempted to break off tasty corners. - E.J.

Gingerbread Votives

PREP AND COOK TIME: Starting with prepared dough, about 4 hours, plus 3 1/2 hours for candy and icing to harden

NOTES: You'll need sturdy cardboard for patterns; dowels for rolling dough so cookies will be evenly thick; hard, transparent candies to melt for windows (such as red or green fruit-flavor balls or Jolly Ranchers); and 2 votive candles, each in a 2- to 3-inch-wide holder. Do not use larger candles; they can melt or scorch candy or gingerbread.

For the votive base pattern, cut a 5 1/2-inch cardboard square. For the wall frame pattern, cut a 5-inch square, then cut out the center to make a 1/2-inch-wide border. For gingerbread shapes to center in the wall frames, use a 3-inch-wide star (or other holiday shape) cookie cutter. If you want an open-center star, use a similar cutter that is no more than 1 3/4 inches wide. Or cut cardboard stars to use as patterns.

The votives retain their shape and color for up to 2 weeks if stored airtight (in a large plastic bag); unwrapped, the candy windows are inclined to get sticky or drip if weather is damp. Although edible, the votives are very hard.

MAKES: 2 votives; use extra dough for gingerbread people (recipe follows)

Butter or salad oil

All-purpose flour

1 recipe's worth of gingerbread dough (recipe follows)

2 dowels (each 1/4 in. thick and about 12 in. long; see notes) Cardboard patterns (see notes)

2 cups (1 lb.) transparent red or green hard candies (see notes)

1 recipe's worth of cement icing (recipe follows)

1. Butter and flour 3 baking sheets, each 12 by 15 to 17 inches.

2. For each votive, make a base, 4 wall frames, and 4 stars, using a total of about 1/2 the dough: Place 3/4 cup dough on a baking sheet. With a flour-dusted rolling pin supported on each end by dowels, roll dough into a square. Lay flour-dusted 5 1/2-inch square cardboard base pattern on dough and neatly cut around it with a long, flour-dusted knife. Lift off scraps and save to reroll with remaining dough.

3. Near the end of another baking sheet, repeat to roll another 3/4 cup dough into a square. Lay flour-dusted wall frame pattern on dough. Neatly cut around inside and outside edges; lift off and save dough outside the frame. Then, with a flour-dusted 3-inch star cookie cutter (sec notes), cut a star in the center of the frame. Lift out dough around the star; save scraps. If desired, use a flour-dusted smaller cutter (see notes) to cut out the center of the cookie: lift out center anti save. Repeat to make another frame on the other end of baking sheet.

4. Repeat step 3 to make 2 more wall frames, each with a star in the center.

5. As pans are filled, bake cookies in a 275 [degrees] oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, let cookies firm for 3 minutes, then place patterns and cutters on cookies, and, with a sharp knife, neatly trim all edges; discard scraps. Return to oven and bake until cookies are slightly darker at edges and give only slightly when lightly pressed, 16 to 20 minutes more for frames and stars, 22 to 28 minutes more for base. When more than 1 pan is in the oven, switch positions about every 10 minutes for even browning.

6. Remove cookies from oven and slide a long, slender spatula under them to release. Let stand about 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool.

7. Wash, dry, butter, and flour baking sheets. Repeat steps 2 through 6 to make base, frames, and stars for second votive.

8. To make colored windows, lay all the cookie wall frames in a single layer, slightly apart, on lightly buttered foil. Center a star cookie in each frame.

9. Place 1 cup candies (1 color) in a 2-cup glass measure. Heat in a microwave oven on full power (100%) for 2 minutes; stir. Heat on full power until candy is melted and bubbling, 10 to 15 seconds more; watch to avoid scorching. Quickly pour candy into openings around stars in frames (take care - it's very hot), filling frames to about 1/2 their thickness. As candy in cup hardens, reheat it in the microwave for a few seconds to soften. Add remaining 1 cup candies (don't mix colors), melt, and use to fill remaining frames. Let cookies stand until candy is cool and hard, about 30 minutes.

10. Gently lift wall frames from the foil.

11. To assemble each votive, pipe cement icing through a pastry bag fitted with a plain or star 1/4-inch tip, or spread with a small spatula. Pipe (or spread) a 1/4-inch-wide strip of cement icing along the top or side of 1 edge of a cookie base. Set an edge of a wall frame in icing and hold in place until icing firms a little, about 1 minute. Pipe icing along the edge of the base adjacent to the mounted wall. Also pipe icing onto 1 edge of a second wall. Press iced edge of second wall against the mounted wall, and a plain edge into the icing on the base. Repeat to mount and join remaining walls.

12. If desired, use the edge of a knife to trim icing flush with walls and base. Or decorate votives with more icing. Let stand until icing is hard, about 3 hours. Use, or wrap airtight, but loosely (to avoid touching candy windows); see notes.

PREP TIME: About 15 minutes

NOTES: If making up to 4 days ahead, cover and chill.

MAKES: About 4 1/2 cups

1 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 cup whipping cream

3/4 cup light molasses

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

In large bowl, mix sugar, baking soda, ginger, and cinnamon. Add cream, molasses, and vanilla. Beat with a mixer on low speed until blended. Add 2 cups flour and beat slowly until well mixed. Add remaining flour; mix well or squeeze dough with your hands until thoroughly blended.

Cement Icing

PREP TIME: About 15 minutes

NOTES: If you are concerned about egg safety, rehydrate dried egg white as the package directs and use instead of the raw egg white.

MAKES: About 1 cup

1 large egg white

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

In a deep bowl with a mixer on high speed, whip egg white, cream of tartar, and 1 teaspoon water until frothy. Add powdered sugar, mix, then beat on high speed until mixture is very stiff but still spreadable, 5 to 8 minutes. Use, or cover airtight and store at room temperature up to 8 hours; to prevent drying, keep covered except when using.

Per tablespoon: 45 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0.2 g protein; 0 g fat; 11 g carbo (0 g fiber); 3.5 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Gingerbread People

PREP AND COOK TIME: Starting with prepared dough, about 2 hours for 1/8-inch-thick cookies

MAKES: 4 1/2 dozen 1/8-inch-thick, 7 dozen 1/16-inch-thick people-shaped cookies (5 in. tall, 3 1/2 in. wide)

Butter or salad oil

All-purpose flour

2 dowels (each 1/8 to 1/16 in. thick and about 12 in. long)

1 recipe's worth of gingerbread dough (recipe on page 90)

1 recipe's worth of cement icing (optional; recipe on page 90)

1. Butter and flour 2 or 3 baking sheets, each 12 by 15 to 17 inches.

2. With a flour-dusted rolling pin supported on each end by equal-size dowels, roll dough a portion at a time on a floured board.

3. Cut dough with flour-dusted cookie cutters (any shape you like). With a wide spatula, transfer cookies to baking sheets, spacing about 1/4 inch apart. Add scraps to remaining dough and repeat to roll dough and cut remaining cookies.

4. As pans are filled, bake cookies in a 275 [degrees] oven until they give a little when pressed in center and are slightly but evenly browned, 15 to 18 minutes for 1/16-inch-thick cookies, 20 to 25 minutes for 1/8-inch-thick cookies. Let cool on pans 5 minutes. With spatula, transfer to racks to cool. If needed, wash, dry, butter, and flour baking sheets to fill again.

5. If desired, decorate cookies with icing piped through a pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/4-inch tip; let stand until icing is dry and hard, about 30 minutes.

6. Serve cookies, or wrap airtight and store at room temperature up to 2 weeks; freeze to store longer.

Per 1/8-inch-thick cookie: 82 cal., 15% (12 cal.) from fat; 1.2 g protein; 1.3 g fat (0.7 g sat.); 16 g carbo (0.3 g fiber); 76 mg sodium; 4.1 mg chol.

candy-clad whimsies

At Napa Valley Chocolates in St. Helena, California, Candy Dreyer delights in creating special holiday sweets, often with a touch of humor that brings out the smiles. Favorites with her customers are these marshmallow snowmen, and chocolate-dipped peppermint canes. - L.L.A.

Marshmallow Snowmen

PREP AND COOK TIME: 30 minutes

NOTES: Buy candy designed to melt for coating or dipping; it's usually found beside cooking chocolates at the supermarket. For easy dipping, melt more than needed to coat the marshmallows; save the extra for other uses. Candies suited for decorations (whole or cut in pieces) include orange, green, or red gumdrops, black licorice sticks or thin black licorice whips (or strings), small colored candies, miniature chocolate chips, and colored sugars.

To make a drying rack for snowmen, cut top flaps from a corrugated cardboard box, leaving a neat edge. Make holes in the corrugated edge by pushing a craft or lollipop stick into the edge at 4-inch intervals. Place a couple of food cans (3 to 4 lb. total) in the box so it will sit steady. Push snowman-filled sticks into prepared holes to hold confections vertically while candy firms.

MAKES: 6 marshmallow snowmen

Candies for decorating (see notes) or dried currants

1 cup (6 oz.) chopped red, green, or brown candy chips or chunks made for melted coatings (see notes)

18 marshmallows (1 in. wide)

6 wood craft sticks (3 1/2 in.) or cardboard lollipop sticks (8 in.)

2 cups (12 oz.) chopped white candy chips or chunks made for melted coatings (see notes)

1 to 2 teaspoons solid shortening (optional)

6 cellophane bags (4 by 8 in.)

Red or green ribbons (1/4 in. wide)

1. Assemble candies for decorating by colors. If desired, cut orange gumdrops into slender wedges for carrot-shaped noses, green gumdrops into leaves, red gumdrops into berries, licorice sticks into twiglike arms.

2. To make hats, heat chopped red (or green or brown) candy chips in a 1-cup glass measure or small, deep microwave-safe bowl in a microwave oven at 50% power until chips are soft, 2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Stir candy until smooth; if lumpy, heat in a microwave oven for 20-second intervals, stirring frequently.

3. Line a 12- by 15-inch baking sheet with nonstick cooking paper, cooking parchment, or waxed paper. Set 6 marshmallows, flat side down, at least 2 inches apart on paper. Spoon about 1 tablespoon melted red (or color of choice) candy onto the center of 1 marshmallow top and quickly, using a small metal spatula or dinner knife, spread candy over top and around side of marshmallow; spread excess that flows onto paper into a 1/2-inch-wide rim for the hat. Add more melted candy, as needed, to make brim even. If desired, while candy is still soft, decorate hat with gumdrops cut to resemble leaves and berries (see notes). Repeat to make remaining hats. Chill hats, uncovered, until firm to touch, about 10 minutes.

4. To make snowmen, line another 12- by 15-inch baking sheet with nonstick cooking paper, baking parchment, or waxed paper. Dip 1 craft stick about 3 inches into water. Slide through the center of a flat end of 1 marshmallow, then into, but not through, a second marshmallow, pushing them together. Repeat to make remaining snowmen; lay on the baking sheet.

5. In a 2-cup glass measure or small, deep microwave-safe bowl, heat chopped white candy chips in a microwave oven at 50% power until chips are soft, about 2 minutes. Stir candy until smooth; if lumpy, return to the microwave oven and heat for 20-second intervals, stirring frequently. If mixture is too thick for dipping (it varies with brands), stir in solid shortening; heat at 20-second intervals and stir often.

6. One stick at a time, quickly dip marshmallows into white candy to coat, using a spoon to pour candy over uncovered spots. Lift stick, letting excess candy drip back into cup. Lay marshmallow men at least 3 inches apart on paper-lined pan.

7. While candy coating is still soft, but not runny, make a face on the side of the top marshmallow of each stick. Use gumdrop wedge (see notes) for the nose, and chocolate chips, currants, or other small candies for eyes. On bottom marshmallow, press tiny candies down center for buttons; use thin licorice strips for twiggy arms or scarves. Pick up a stick and set hat on the snowman's head. If marshmallow coating firms before decorating is complete, glue with more melted candy (reheat in microwave, as needed). Stand snowman upright (see notes for rack). Repeat to make other snowmen.

8. When coating is firm to touch, 5 to 10 minutes, slip a cellophane bag over each snowman. Tie ribbons around bottom to close bag.

Per snowman: 431 cal., 40% (171 cal.) from fat; 0.4 g protein; 19 g fat (17 g sat.); 65 g carbo (0 g fiber); 81 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Chocolate Candy-Cane Stirrers

PREP AND COOK TIME: About 12 minutes

NOTES: To avoid a white "bloom" on cooling chocolate, be careful not to overheat it. If you need to remelt chocolate, add a little fresh chopped chocolate. About 1/2 the chocolate or candy coating will be left after dipping canes, but you need the volume to get a smooth finish. Use leftovers to make another simple confection: Dunk dried apricots into the extra and lay fruit on waxed paper. Chill until firm. Package airtight; keep cool.

MAKES: 50 coated canes

About 1 cup finely chopped semisweet chocolate

50 peppermint candy canes or sticks (2 1/2 in. long)

Cellophane or clear plastic wrap

1. In a 1-cup glass measure or small, deep microwave-safe bowl, heat 3/4 cup chocolate in a microwave oven at 50% power until chocolate is soft, about 1 1/2 minutes. Stir chocolate until smooth. If needed, return to microwave and heat for 20-second intervals, stirring often. Add 1/4 cup chocolate and stir until smooth. Set container in a small bowl of hot water (water should come halfway up sides of cup) to keep chocolate soft; don't get water in chocolate or it will harden.

2. Cover a 12- by 15-inch baking sheet with nonstick cooking paper, baking parchment, or waxed paper. Dip straight ends of candy canes into chocolate, coating 1/2 to 3/4 of the canes; use a spoon to pour chocolate over canes if needed. Lift out canes and lay slightly apart on the baking sheet.

3. If desired, drizzle a ribbon of chocolate from spoon over coated sections of the candy canes. Chill 3 to 4 minutes, then return canes to room temperature until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes. Wrap each cane in cellophane or clear plastic wrap.

Per cane: 39 cal., 14% (5.4 cal.) from fat; 0.1 g protein; 0.6 g fat (0.4 g sat.); 8.6 g carbo (0 g fiber); 4.8 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

stratified spices

Layered in clear jars, these seasoning blends show off the natural hues of their ingredients. Bands of colors range from the stark white of salt and sugar to the rusty reds of paprika or chilies and the bright green of dried parsley, with many subtler shades in between. Each layer, however, contributes its own personality to the mix.

Tie on a tag or glue on a label with suggestions for how to use each seasoning mixture, as noted with the recipe. All the cook needs to do is give the bottle a shake or stir. If you want to make larger amounts, simply multiply the ingredients. - L.L.A.

Indian Masala

PREP TIME: About 5 minutes

NOTES: Rub onto poultry, vegetables, pork, or beef, and roast or barbecue.

MAKES: About 6 tablespoons

In a 1/3- to 1/2-cup tall, narrow clear jar, layer the following, contrasting light layers with dark: 2 1/2 tablespoons paprika, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 3/4 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne. To use, shake jar or stir spices until blended.

Per teaspoon: 5 cal., 36% (1.8 cal.) from fat; 0.2 g protein; 0.2 g fat (0 g sat.); 0.9 g carbo (0.1 g fiber); 1.1 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

California Chili Powder

PREP TIME: About 5 minutes

NOTES: Use to season cooked dried beans (home-cooked or canned), soups, and stews; or rub onto meats, seafood, or poultry to pan-fry, roast, or barbecue.

MAKES: About 7 tablespoons

In a 1/3- to 1/2-cup tall, narrow clear jar, layer the following, contrasting light layers with dark: 1/4 cup ground California or New Mexico chilies (also called California or New Mexico chili powder), 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 to 2 teaspoons cayenne, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, 2 tea spoons onion salt, 1 teaspoon garlic powder. To use, shake jar or stir spices until blended.

Per teaspoon: 6.7 cal., 40% (2.7 cal.) from fat; 0.3 g protein; 0.3 g fat (0 g sat.); 1.1 g carbo (0.5 g fiber); 129 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Mediterranean Herb Salad Mix

PREP TIME: About 5 minutes

NOTES: Sprinkle over green salads as you mix or, to make a dressing, combine 2 tablespoons of this herb blend with 1/4 cup wine vinegar and 1/2 cup olive oil.

MAKES: About 5 tablespoons

In a 1/3- to 1/2-cup tall, narrow clear jar, layer the following, contrasting light layers with dark: 1 tablespoon dried parsley, 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes, 2 tablespoons dried basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon-pepper. To use, shake jar or stir spices until blended.

Per tablespoon: 7 cal., 13% (0.9 cal.) from fat; 0.3 g protein; 0.1 g fat (0 g sat.); 1.7 g carbo (0 g fiber); 559 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.

Five-Spice Sugar

PREP TIME: About 5 minutes

NOTES: Sprinkle liberally onto buttered toast, sliced fruit, or tapioca pudding. Or sprinkle the sugar onto muffin batter in pans before baking.

MAKES: About 5 tablespoons

In a 1/3- to 1/2-cup tall, narrow clear jar, layer the following, contrasting light layers with dark: 5 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander. To use, shake jar or stir spices until blended.

Per teaspoon: 17 cal., 0% (0 cal.) from fat; 0 g protein; 0 g fat; 4.3 g carbo (0 g fiber); 0.1 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.
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Author:Anusasananan, Linda Lau; Johnson, Elaine
Publication:Sunset
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Dec 1, 1999
Words:7012
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