Easy salty, sweet and spicy homemade holiday gifts

Homemade gifts
Get packaging for homemade gifts at craft stores or online.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

I always want to make homemade edible gifts for family and friends, neighbors and teachers. But in this busy season, it can feel impossible to find the time. These three easy recipes require minimal active time and deliver maximum pleasure. Also, they keep well and yield big batches so you can share the love with lots of people.

For anyone with a sweet tooth, there’s butter toffee. A topping of bittersweet chocolate with toasty nuts and black sesame seeds balances the sugary goodness. Tea biscuits form a base that keep fingers from getting sticky.

Give the gift of a savory break from all the holiday candy with Crispix Arare, a homemade Japanese-style snack. A maple-soy blend coats crunchy cereal and helps salty seaweed flakes and sesame seeds stick to the mix. After a few minutes of mixing, you simply slide the pan into a low oven to hang out and crisp into an irresistible munchie.

Ginger-chile simple syrup is ideal for cocktail lovers, but everyone will appreciate this lightly spiced mixer. Not only does it work in mocktails too, it’s a great after-dinner digestif: Simply top some off with bubbly water and sip after a big holiday feast.

Black Sesame Butter Toffee with Hazelnuts
Toasted hazelnuts and black sesame seeds coat chocolate-covered toffee.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Black Sesame Butter Toffee with Hazelnuts

1 hour. Makes one 12- by 17-inch sheet.


  • 30 to 40 tea butter biscuits, such as Leibniz
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ cups unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ cups hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup toasted black sesame seeds


  1. Line a half-sheet pan or two quarter-sheet pans or other rimmed baking sheets with a nonstick baking mat (Silpat) or nonstick or regular foil. If using regular foil, lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Arrange the crackers decorative side down (flat sides up) in a single layer with no gaps on the prepared pan, breaking crackers if needed to fit.
  3. Combine the sugar, butter, and corn syrup in a large saucepan and set over medium heat. Cook, occasionally stirring gently, until the butter and sugar melt. Brush the insides of the saucepan with a pastry brush dipped in water to eliminate any sugar crystals. Continue cooking until the mixture starts to brown around the edges of the pan. Insert a candy thermometer and continue cooking, carefully stirring occasionally, until the candy is at the hard crack stage (the thermometer should register 310 degrees).
  4. Remove the thermometer and immediately and carefully pour the toffee evenly over the crackers. If needed, gently spread in an even layer. Let cool for 2 minutes, then sprinkle the chocolate evenly over the toffee.
  5. Let stand until melty, 1 to 2 minutes, then spread in an even layer. Scatter the hazelnuts evenly over the chocolate, then sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Press the nuts gently into the chocolate.
  6. Carefully transfer the pan to the freezer and freeze until the toffee and chocolate are set, 10 to 15 minutes. Break into shards and serve.

Welcome to our comprehensive gift guide for the 2019 holiday season. This list encompasses the most popular and best gifts for everyone in your life.


  • Black and White Sesame Butter Toffee: Omit the hazelnuts. Scatter ½ cup white sesame seeds all over the chocolate along with the black sesame seeds.

Make ahead: The toffee can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Crispix Arare

Crispix Arare
Bits of seaweed add an umami savory hit to this cereal mix.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

1 ½ hours, largely unattended. Makes about 9 cups.

This crunchy snack is usually sweetened with corn syrup (you can try that option below), but this version has the more measured sugary taste of pure maple syrup. It pairs well with nori furikake, which is a savory blend of seaweed and sesame seeds and can be found in most supermarkets and online. It takes only 10 minutes to prep this simple gift and gives you a huge batch that you can divvy up among friends.


  • 4 tablespoons salted butter
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 12 ounces Crispix cereal
  • 1 jar nori furikake (1.7 ounces)


  1. Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the butter, oil, syrup, sugar and soy sauce in a small saucepan. Set over medium heat and stir until the butter melts and the sugar dissolves. Stir until well-mixed.
  3. Spread the cereal in an even layer and drizzle the butter mixture all over. Fold gently on the pan until evenly coated and spread in an even layer again. Sprinkle the furikake evenly over the cereal.
  4. Bake, stirring once or twice, until dark golden brown and crunchy, 1 hour to 1 hour, 15 minutes. Stir once, then cool completely on the pan.


  • Sweet Crispix Arare: Substitute light corn syrup for the maple syrup and increase the sugar to 1/4 cup.
  • Chex Arare: Substitute rice Chex for the Crispix.

Make ahead: The mix can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Start shopping for holiday gifts early, writes columnist Chris Erskine. Try decorating a cactus instead of a typical Christmas tree. Explore local holiday pop-ups and craft fairs.

Ginger Chile Simple Syrup

Ginger Chile Simple Syrup
Storing the chiles and ginger in the syrup infuse it with heat.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

15 minutes. Makes 4 cups.

Steeping chiles and fresh ginger slices in basic simple syrup infuses it with a kick ideal for the holidays. You can add more of one or the other if you’d like more warm gingery heat or chile spice. Once made, you can simply mix some with sparkling water for a spicy ginger ale or stir or shake into any cocktail or mocktail that calls for simple syrup to give it a bright taste. It’s especially good with citrus and spices.


  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 6 slices fresh ginger
  • 4 hot red fresh chiles, slit


  1. Combine the sugar and 1 ½ cups water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
  2. Add the ginger and chiles, reduce the heat to medium, and boil for 2 minutes longer. Remove from the heat. Divide the ginger and chiles among 2 pint jars or 4 half-pint jars, then pour the simple syrup into the jars. Seal the jars and cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until ready to use.

Make ahead: The simple syrup can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.