The homemade gift that feels personal, but is completely universal

The homemade gift that feels personal, but is completely universal
Image: Sarah Dennis for Quartz
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This story is part of our guide to five gift-giving philosophies to help you find the perfect gift.

My friend Nicolette’s Christmas party is easily my favorite of the season. It’s a stand-up, cocktails-in-the-kitchen kind of affair, with a huge spread on the dining room table: ham, gherkins, an embarrassment of charcuterie and cheeses, bourbon bread pudding, and these spicy-and-sweet roasted nuts that make whiskey punch even more satisfying.

To this party, I always bring the same gift: a tin—or in a pinch, a Tupperware or a parchment-wrapped bundle—of Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies. If you have already encountered these cookies you know, they are a thing—deep chocolate sablés (think shortbread, but sexier) are studded with chopped dark chocolate bits and flakes of fleur de sel (think sea salt, but Frenchier) that sparkle as the chocolate melts on your tongue. A neighbor of Greenspan’s was convinced a daily dose of the cookies could “ensure planetary peace and happiness,” and so they got their name.

When I come inside and pass Nicolette this container, she regards it like an illicit package. She glances around, dashes to the kitchen’s highest cabinet, and tucks it in inside. I’ve since realized—after behaving similarly with a jar of my friend Emily’s beet muhammara—that stashing a food gift away from hungry guests is a high compliment indeed.

The day after the party, I’ll inevitably receive a text from Nicolette, nursing a hangover while her husband watches football: “omg. these cookies.”

Image for article titled The homemade gift that feels personal, but is completely universal
Image: Food52/James Ransom

The cookies feel like a special bond between Nicolette and I. But to be honest, she’s far from the only one who has received them. Over the years, I’ve delivered cookie parcels to countless recipients. They’re the rare gift that is equally appropriate for your best friend, your lover, your lover’s mom, your office doorman, and the laundromat manager you practice Spanish with. Forgot someone? No problem, just bundle a pile of cookies in parchment, tie it up with baker’s twine, and Bob’s your uncle.

This is the magic of the homemade gift. It’s deeply personal—you made it with your own hands, after all—but it’s widely applicable. And because it’s not terribly expensive, it lets you be a generous giver. I could never give all those people, say, fancy candles. It wouldn’t be affordable, and to be honest, I don’t think the doormen at my office would be that thrilled. And while the holiday season may seem too busy to hole up in the kitchen baking cookies, it’s precisely the seasonal crush of social events, shopping, and work to be done before Christmas that make turning one’s kitchen into a cookie factory for the evening a welcome reprieve.

On a particularly delightful episode of This American Life (you could even listen to it while you bake), the late writer and avid crafter David Rakoff expounds upon the joys of homemade gifts, admitting that his handmade tchotchkes may bring him more joy than the recipients.

“On some level, me giving somebody something that I’ve made is almost the equivalent of your fitness-nut friend coming into your living room, dropping and giving you 25, and then shouting ‘Happy Birthday!’” He says. “Who’s really gotten the gift in a transaction like that?”

When it comes to the cookies, I’d go out on a limb and say we both have.

But you need not be an expert baker. Considering the impact and sophistication of the World Peace cookie, it’s a fairly easy one for the entry-level enthusiast. Part of Greenspan’s genius is that she writes her recipes in anticipation of anxieties and snafus. “This is an unpredictable dough,” she writes. “Sometimes it’s crumbly and sometimes it comes together and cleans the sides of the bowl. Happily, no matter what, the cookies are always great.”

What’s more, they don’t require ingredients any more exotic than some high-quality cocoa and dark chocolate. They’re what’s known as an icebox cookie, meaning the dough can be frozen in logs, and then thawed, sliced, and baked at will. Come Christmastime, I feel better knowing my freezer houses several of these Saran-wrapped cylinders.

The World Peace cookies don’t have to be your thing. (To be honest, I’ve mixed in ginger snaps in recent years.) Maybe yours is beet muhammara, home-made granola, or pickled green beans. My mom has taken to mixing and bottling a fierce mocha-tinged concoction of whiskey, sweetened condensed milk, and cream of coconut, which she labels with her surname: “Flannery’s Irish cream.” (Pretty cute, mom!)

The key is to find something delicious that can be easily made in generous batches. And this year you too, might receive a morning-after text along the lines of “omg. these cookies.”