Questions for Allie: How Should I Package Food Gifts?

Allie Lewis of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food asked for your holiday cooking questions. She's answered your questions on shrinking pie crusts and easy food for last-minute holiday gatherings. Here's the fourth of five questions Allie is answering for us.

Q: This holiday season my friends and I (all struggling students) decided to make baked goods to give to people. We plan on making a variety of different cookies, squares, peanut brittle, and other goodies.

My question is, how soon can we package these items to give out? Our idea was to put them in those cute little Chinese take-out container boxes with cellophane inside. We would like to get started but I was just wondering what kind of expiration date baked goods had.

A: It sounds like you and your friends have a serious cookie-making plan!

The most important part of this exercise (if you want to get ahead of the game), is to choose items that have naturally good staying power. Typically, these items have larger amounts of butter or sugar, both of which are natural preservatives.

Baked goods I recommend for their long shelf-life:

  • Shortbread cookies
  • Brittle
  • Bark
  • Coconut macaroons
  • Biscotti

Baked goods I'd avoid for their lack of shelf-life:

  • Any soft/cakey/chewy cookies (best the day they're made)
  • Any custardy squares (such as lemon bars)
  • Any filled/sandwich cookies (especially if they have a soft or creamy filling)

Baked goods that just need a little strategy for success:

  • Brownies: Bake off then freeze the entire square/rectangle well-wrapped in plastic. Don't thaw them or cut them until you're closer to wrapping/giving time.
  • Quick breads: Banana bread, cranberry bread, etc. Bake off then freeze them well-wrapped in plastic. Defrost them close to wrapping/giving time.

Another important point is how you store your baked goods - both before packaging them and after. One of my favorite tricks is to package goodies in their pretty boxes, and then wrap each of the gift boxes (on the outside, bows and all) in plastic wrap. The prettiest boxes aren't terribly air-tight, and cellophane bags with ties aren't foolproof either - buy yourself just a little more time with extra plastic wrap... just unwrap them before giving!

Don't forget to check out our special "Holiday Baking" issue from Everyday Food magazine - now on newsstands. There are lots of our favorite sweet recipes in it, including a whole chapter on "Home-Baked Gifts" - perfect for giving!

Lastly, if you need any last minute packaging ideas, go to Martha Stewart Crafts for beautiful holiday food packaging kits for cookies, cupcakes, and more.

Happy baking!

Thank you Allie!

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