Friday, December 08, 2006

Presentation Points ...

Last Christmas, I was dating a guy who lived in a highrise. Someone on his floor decided that it would be nice for all the "neighbors" to leave little gifts for each other. There were only eight tenants on the floor. And so, every day, he would come home and find something by his door: a bottle of champagne, a box of swizzle sticks from Pottery Barn. Sometimes, there was a little bag hanging on his door handle with treats tucked inside.

It was a very sweet gesture. But as someone who takes great pride not only in the cookies she gives as gifts but also in the way those cookies are presented, I couldn't help but think that the giver could have been a bit more creative with her packaging, which was a Ziploc sandwich bag.

Now, granted, the Ziploc was inside a cute little handle bag. But in my world, if you're going to give cookies as gifts, you have to go the extra mile. Or at least an extra few steps.

I use cellophane. I arrange the cookies in the middle of a big piece of cellophane and gather it up around the cookies and tie it with a piece of ribbon. And I tie on a tag with the name of the cookie. Takes a few seconds. Makes a big impression. When you give many kinds of cookies, people like to riffle through their cookie bundles.

For a freelance client a few years ago, I did a story on cookie presentation, both what kinds of cookies make for good presentation, as well as tips on the presentation itself. (My friend Jeff Phillips shot the photo for the story. He is a much better photographer than this shot allows. I didn't give him very optimal conditions in which to shoot.) Here it is:

"Some might debate me, but I believe it truly is better to give than to receive. And I believe it’s even better to give when what you’re giving clearly demonstrates the time and thoughtfulness you put into the gift.

Baking is part of my holiday tradition. I love making cookies to serve throughut the season and to give as gifts. And my friends and neighbors, especially the ones who aren’t very good friends with their ovens, are happy to be the recipients.

Some cookies are perennial, others rotate through the list, still others have made a single appearance never to be repeated again. One key is to select cookies that are easy to make, bake, and store. Also, I try to create my annual cookie list based not only on flavor (unless you’re giving cookies to a lone chocoholic, for example, you probably don’t want to proffer a plate of nothing but chocolate-flavored cookies), but also appearance and shape. A plate of nothing but drop cookies can end up looking lumpy.

With that in mind, a possible cookie offering might contain:

Russian Teacakes: Easy to make, these powdered-sugar covered cookies melt in your mouth and look like tiny snowballs that can fill in spaces in your cookie offering, making them a nice accent cookie.

Toffee Squares: These square cookies look and taste just like real toffee, without all sugary stickiness, and add another shape to the cookie collection.

Shortbread: Perfect for purists. Flour, butter, and sugar. Cookie simplicity at its finest. You can form these cookies into any shape you like. I prefer traditional wedges for yet another geometric shape. But you could use holiday-themed or even leaf cookie cutters to add a bit of drama.

Oatmeal Raisin: It’s always nice to include a comfort cookie. I can’t think of a single person who doesn’t like oatmeal raisin cookies.

Chocolate Crinkles: Deep, rich chocolate color and flavor (every cookie plate needs a solid chocolate offering), with a powdered-sugar, cracked-top contrast. Small brownies, basically.

Lemon Pistachio Biscotti: A not-too-sweet alternative that’s relatively healthy, to boot. The lemon flavor is nice with coffee, but these biscotti don’t require dunking. Lemon zest in the icing lends tang.

Once the cookies are prepared (all of them freeze well – store them in tins or plastic containers, separating layers with waxed paper, and put a piece of plastic wrap across the top of the container before putting on the lid to help them stay even fresher), you get to take your creativity even further in thinking about how to present them, both at home and when giving them as gifts.

At home, consider the event. If you’re entertaining a crowd, a platter overflowing with cookies will look great on your buffet. If you’re just having a few friends over for a quiet dinner, dessert can be individual plates of treats with a plateful of more cookies in the middle of the table for those who’d like a few extra of their favorites. For my birthday last year, my cousin Patty gave me two beautiful antique plates specifically for displaying my baked goods.

You can also send cookies home with your guests. Find fun little holiday gift bags, wrap a selection of cookies in a piece of cellophane, gather it at the top, tie it with a ribbon, tuck it in the bag, and have a tray of bags waiting by the door to hand to your guests as they leave.

If you’re taking cookies to someone’s home as a hostess gift (let’s face it – there are only so many bottles of wine one party needs), you can take cookies on something as simple as a sturdy clear plastic plate covered with a grease-proof doily. Place the plate in the center of two crossed pieces of cellophane, gather up around the cookies, tie with some ribbon and you’re good to go.

If you have a little more time beforehand, you can scour stores for interesting, inexpensive plates (holiday-themed – buy after the holidays this year to give away next year, when prices are slashed; or open-stock from a dish pattern that you like; maybe a Fiestaware plate in a fun, bold color) or antique stores – a pretty, lone china plate can be had for next to nothing.

I try to vary the presentation from year to year when giving cookies to the same people. One of my favorite things to do is to wrap bundles of cookies in cellophane (like the gift-bag idea above) and tie on small tag, identifying the type of cookie (also a good way to identify cookies with nuts, for those who might be allergic), and pile those bundles into a container, which is often another gift in itself. Almost anything will do.

One year, I bought a large hat box and wrapped the entire thing in a beautiful paper, including the lid, which I pleated from the edge to the center all the way around. Having proved to myself that anyone who pleats wrapping paper on a hat-box lid is insane, I’ve reprised the hatbox idea in later years, but opted for pretty, precovered boxes or plain brown boxes made to be decoupaged or painted, but which I simply dressed up with a lining of crisp white tissue paper and some organza ribbon.

Another year, I bought large serving trays with a crackle finish, lined them with pretty, inexpensive placemats and piled cookie bundles on those, then gathered cellophane around the trays and tied with ribbon again.

But you don’t have to buy special plates or containers or trays. I’ve used the cardboard half-boxes that hold four six-packs of soda as cookie trays. I wrap the outside of the box with a nice paper, line the inside with lots of tissue paper, pile in cookie bundles and call it a day. After all, it’s the thought that counts, and your friends and family will be touched by your effort."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am in the middle of channeling my inner Martha Stewart and baking 600 cookies for my staff. That's 600 cookies in two days. Twelve different varieties. I will not eat a single cookie all season, I'm so sick of them!

1:24 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I completely understand!

It's like the person who makes Thanksgiving dinner having no appetite.

But your staff will *love* you!

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ate 5 cookies ... 4 to taste ones I had never made and one Tollhouse cookie to reward myself. It took me 24 hours, but they're done.

I cooked Thanksgiving dinner this year, too, sat down at the table, looked at my plate and went, "bleah." I'm told it was delicious.

4:09 PM  

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