You can never go wrong giving someone something sweet for the holidays. Sweet things make people happy. Not just chocolate or cookies or cake either. Perfectly ripe fruit brings a smile to my face as well. Here's our guide to sweet things to give and get for the holidays. Prices don't include shipping unless otherwise specified.
Caramel Almond Sticks
Charles Chocolates owner and chocolatier Chuck Siegel has taken the salted caramel to new heights with his caramel almond sticks. He takes his fleur de sel caramels, enrobes them in 65 percent bittersweet chocolate, and coats them in toasted almonds. $11 for 4.5 ounces
A few years ago I had the privilege of working in the kitchen of the Grand Traverse Pie Company. I got to watch some talented pie bakers make pie after pie by hand. Unfortunately I still cannot make a good crust on my own. The double-crusted pies that come out of the Grand Traverse ovens have a flaky, tender exterior and firm, nongoopy fillings. The local Michigan Montmorency cherries (either fresh or quick-frozen) make a particularly fine pie. Grand Traverse's crumb pies aren't too shabby, either. $24.99 for one pie
Conserves and Fruit Butters
There are so many mediocre imported and domestic jams, jellies, and preserves it's almost a relief to come across June Taylor's beautifully crafted conserves and fruit butters made from ripe local northern California produce. The traditional method used in producing these conserves results in a soft set texture. These conserves have a very low sugar content and no commercial pectin. Her Damson plum conserves are a perfectly balanced blend of sweetness and acidity. $12 to $13 for 8 ounces
Everyone seems to have a favorite buttercrunch maker, and I'm no different. Roni-Sue's buttercrunch is made from handmade caramelized butter toffee made from pure European cultured sweet cream butter and sugar. Roni then hand-dips it in milk chocolate and hand-rolls it in toasted walnuts. $25 for 12 ounces; call 212-260-0421 (online ordering not available)
Valencia Oranges, Red Star Ruby Grapefruits, Mandarin Oranges
There's a lot of citrus fruit flying all over the country this time of year, but I've yet to taste to equal the juicy sweetness of Polito Family Farms' varied citrus crops. The Valencias are great, and so are the Red Star Ruby grapefruits, but the Satsuma Mandarins will make you forget all the awful clementines shipped in from Morocco and Spain. $27 for ten oranges including shipping; call 760-749-1636 (online ordering not available)
Having done quasiscientific taste tests with frozen custards shipped in from all over the country, I can tell you with absolute certainty that Kopp's from Milwaukee, the epicenter of frozen custard activity in the country, is terrific frozen custard. What's truly amazing is how well it comes back to life after being deep frozen and shipped. Just leave it out of the freezer for 20 minutes, and it's as creamy and delicious as you would like it to be. $75 for 10 pints
Peanut Butter Cups
The Peanut Butter Company's Ultimate Peanut Butter Cup Collection features dark, milk, white, and inside-out peanut butter cups. They're all good, but I'm partial to the dark chocolate and the inside-out varieties. The inside-out features a fudge interior and a soft peanut butter exterior. $15 for 16 peanut butter cups
Cream-Nut Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Clusters
I love peanut butter cups (see above) but these peanut butter clusters are even better. They feature a rich, silky peanut butter and white chocolate center on a bed of fresh pecans, coated in fine dark chocolate. Koeze, a family-run peanut butter, nuts, and candy company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, makes these dark chocolate peanut butter clusters, which are crazy good. $16.25 for 8 ounces
Ultimate Nougat Bar
Garrison Confections' Ultimate Nougat Bar is, to my way of thinking, the ultimate adult candy bar. What's in it? Rich chocolate nougat with roasted pistachios and hazelnuts, topped with a creamy and soft caramel, enrobed in dark chocolate. $ from Garrison Confections.
Mariebelle Lieberman fell in love with the hot chocolate she drank at Cafe Angelina in Paris, and that devilishly rich concoction inspired her to start her own hot chocolate company. MarieBelle Aztec Hot Chocolate is made with rich, single-origin Colombian cacao. I like the Aztec Dark flavor, which, when mixed with water, makes a smoky, perfectly smooth hot chocolate. $18 for 10 ounces
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