William Hand

William Hand

When I was just getting started and baking and cooking professionally and living in California for the first few years, I used to make lemon pies and give them as Christmas gifts. I did this not because I thought I was some great baker and my pies were an amazing gift, but because I simply could not afford to give people store-bought gifts.

And so I made something handmade – pun intended. I was in California, so lemons and lemon trees were easy to find. I would make these pies and give them to friends and family – people whose houses I would visit over the Christmas season and people who would come and visit me. I would spend days on end before the holidays making pies.

To my surprise, people loved them and for the next few years, told me they looked forward to getting them each year. And so I made it my own tradition for 15 years living in and around Los Angeles, to make these pies at Christmas – sometimes making 20 or 25 pies in a month.

I know this recipe by heart because I have made it so much and so it took me a minute to stop and think about it and write it down. People often ask me “What is the secret to this recipe?” It’s simple; that’s my secret. And I have only shared it one other time before.

And so along with my own holiday lemon pie recipe, I thought it might be fun this holiday to include other recipes – for food as gifts.

You honestly don’t have to have or spend money to present a gift of love this holiday season. You can simply offer to cook or bake for someone, or present them the gift of any of the 12 suggestions you see here. The best gifts are handmade and homemade gifts – and the best part about giving someone food as a gift – they eat it and it’s gone – nothing to pack away, nothing in the wrong size, and little chance of re-gifting.

Happiest of holidays, everyone!

Bill Hand’s “Famous” Lemon Pie

Nine whole cinnamon graham crackers

¼ cup sugar

1/3 cup butter – melted

One egg

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon lemon peel – grated

½ cup fresh lemon juice

For the crust: Crush crackers until fine, mix in sugar and add melted butter. Press crust into pie pan. Bake at 325 degrees for five minutes or until the crust settles.

For pie mixture: Beat egg. Add lemon peel, lemon juice, and milk until thick. Pour mixture into pie pan. Refrigerate for up to two hours or overnight until firm. Garnish with a twist of lemon.

Chocolate-Covered Cherries

1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon light corn syrup

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature.

32 “Luxardo” cherries

1 cup Tempered Chocolate

In a bowl, stir together sugar, corn syrup, 1 tablespoon water, and butter until a dough forms. Transfer to a work surface lightly dusted with confectioners' sugar and knead until smooth, dusting dough with more sugar as necessary, until no longer sticky. Scoop 1 teaspoon of dough into your palm and flatten into a 1-inch round. Place a cherry in center of round and wrap dough around cherry, pressing with your fingers, if necessary, to enclose. Gently roll between your palms until smooth. Repeat process with remaining dough and cherries. Transfer to a parchment-lined sheet. Let stand, uncovered, until hard and dry, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day. Then… dip each cherry into chocolate, then lift and let excess chocolate drip back into bowl. Transfer to a parchment-lined sheet and let stand until chocolate is hard and dry, about 1 hour. Serve, or store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 month.

Bacon Jam

1 1/2 pounds sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces

2 cups finely chopped shallots

4 small cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground mustard

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/3 cup sherry vinegar

1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar

Spread half of bacon in a single layer in a large skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until browned, 20 to 23 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Remove fat; clean pan. Repeat with remaining bacon, reserving browned bits and 1 tablespoon fat in pan. Add shallots and garlic to pan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chili powder, ginger, and mustard and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Increase heat to high; add maple syrup. Bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. Add vinegar and brown sugar and return to a boil. Add reserved bacon; reduce heat to low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid reduces to a thick glaze, about 10 minutes. Transfer mixture to a food processor and pulse until it has the consistency of a chunky jam. Refrigerate in an airtight container at least 1 hour and up to 4 weeks. Place labels on jars for gifts.

Brownie Mix in a Jar

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 1/4 cups white sugar

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt in a quart jar. Layer remaining ingredients in the order listed. Press each layer firmly in place before adding the next layer. Make sure you wipe out the inside of the jar with a paper towel after adding the cocoa powder, so the other layers will show through the glass. Then simply attach a gift tag with the following directions:

Preheat the oven to 350. Grease and flour a 9x13inch baking pan. Empty jar of brownie mix into a large mixing bowl, and stir to blend. Mix in 3/4 cup melted butter and 4 eggs. Mix thoroughly. Spread batter evenly into prepared baking pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely in pan before cutting into 2 inch squares.

Gingerbread Caramel Sauce

3/4 cup unsulfured molasses

3 cups sugar

2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

Combine molasses, 1/2 cup water, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high, gently stirring, until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil; cook until foaming reduces and bubbles begin to slow, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully whisk in cream, butter, salt, and spices, stirring until butter is melted and combined. Let cool completely. Transfer to 6 seven-ounce jars. Sauce can be refrigerated in jars up to 2 weeks; Attach with a gift tag to tell your recipient to gently reheat before serving.

Peppermint Fudge

Nonstick spray

16 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup round peppermint candies, plus 18 for garnish

3/4 cup heavy cream

3 1/2 cups mini marshmallows

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Lightly coat a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick spray. Line pan with two pieces parchment paper in both directions, leaving 2 inches of overhang on all sides; spray parchment. Place chocolate in a bowl. In a food processor, pulse candies until finely chopped. In a medium saucepan, combine candies, cream, marshmallows, butter, sugar, and salt over medium-high. Whisk until smooth, 5 minutes. Then, pour mixture through a strainer into bowl with chocolate; let stand 1 minute, then stir until smooth. Pour into baking pan and refrigerate until set, 3 hours. Cut fudge into 1 1/2-inch squares. With a sharp knife, cut 18 candies in half; press a candy half into each square before serving or packing.

Classic Christmas Caramels

Vegetable oil, for baking sheet

2 cups heavy cream

2 1/4 cups sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 1/4 cups light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Lightly brush bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet with oil. Line with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on long sides; lightly brush parchment with oil. Bring cream, sugar, butter, and corn syrup to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-high; cook, stirring occasionally, until caramel reaches 248 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes. Immediately remove caramel from heat, and stir in salt and vanilla. Pour caramel onto baking sheet, and let stand, uncovered, at room temperature at least 8 hours and up to 1 day. Lifting by parchment overhang, transfer caramel to a large cutting board. Cut into 3/4-by-1 1/4-inch pieces; wrap each piece in waxed paper or cellophane.

Snowflake Snack Mix

3 cups bite-size rice square cereal

3 cups bite-size corn square cereal

1 cup small pretzel twists or pretzel sticks

1 cup honey-roasted peanuts

2 12 - ounce packages white baking pieces

1 12 - ounce package mint-flavored candy-coated milk chocolate pieces

In a very large bowl combine cereals, pretzels and peanuts; set aside. Melt baking pieces according to package directions. Pour melted chocolate over cereal mixture. Stir gently to coat. Spread on a large piece of waxed paper or parchment paper. Sprinkle with chocolate pieces. Cool and break into pieces. Store in an airtight container. Present in gift bags or foil lines decorative boxes.

Vegan Truffles

8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped

1/4 cup organic unrefined coconut oil

3 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of sea salt

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, for rolling

Assorted toppings: cocoa powder, finely chopped nuts (pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts), and toasted unsweetened shredded coconut

Melt chocolate with oil and the water. Stir in vanilla and sea salt. Transfer to an 8-inch square baking dish, and refrigerate until mixture is set but still pliable, about 2 hours. With a 1-inch ice-cream scoop, make 28 balls, transferring each one to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Coat hands in cocoa, and roll balls to make smooth. Refrigerate on sheet 10 minutes. (Truffles can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 weeks; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before coating.) To serve, roll in cocoa or pat with nuts or coconut.

• • • • •

Spirit-Soaked Gifts

Fruitcake doesn't need to be the only spirit-soaked holiday gift. If someone loves martinis, prepare a jar of vermouth-soaked olives. Make some bourbon-drenched cherries for your friend who drinks Manhattans, and she'll never look at a store-bought maraschino the same way again.

You can even make a bottle of flavored vodka – try tangerine peel, vanilla and cardamom, or pine and juniper). In pretty Mason jars with a hand written note or sticker, and you’ll have a festive presentation.


1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 cup milk

2 cups flour

2 tsp. Baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup whole raspberries or blueberries

1 tbs butter

Mix sugar with eggs. In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients with vanilla. Blend with sugar mixture. Alternate flour mix with milk into a large bowl. Then blend in fruit. Melt butter and set aside. Place batter into an 8x12 inch glass baking dish. Drizzle melted butter over batter. Bake for 60 minutes at 350 degrees. Check with a toothpick at 45 minutes. If toothpick comes out dry (except perhaps for the wet fruit mixture) the cake is finished.


This is a very easy to make treat that actually originated, I am told, in the city of Rottenberg, Germany. Bakers did not believe in wasting any scraps of food when this recipe is said to have originated more than 300 years ago. So, when bakers baked pies they would take all the scraps from the pie dough, roll them into small softball shapes (hence, sneeballe) and then cut them into thin strips. Bake the strips until golden brown, brush lightly with melted butter and roll in powdered sugar. You can also dip them in melted chocolate and then roll them in crushed nuts.

Eggnog Pumpkin Pie

1 can (15 oz) solid pack pumpkin

1 ¼ cups commercial eggnog

2/3 cups sugar

3 eggs

1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 unbaked pastry pie shell

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin, eggnog, sugar, eggs, and pumpkin pie spice. Pour into the shell. Bake at 375 degrees for 60 minutes or until a knife inserted in the centercomes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and serve.

Caramel Pecan Pie

36 square caramels

¼ cup water

¼ cup butter

3 eggs

¾ cup sugar

1 tsp. Vanilla extract

1 1/3 cups chopped pecans

1 unbaked pastry pie shell

In a small saucepan, combine the caramels, water and butter. Cook and continue stirring over low heat until caramel squares have melted. Remove from heat. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla. Add caramel mixture. Stir in chopped pecans. Pour into the pastry shell. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Cran-Orange Nut Pie

12 ounces fresh cranberries

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon orange rind

¼ cup orange juice concentrate

¼ cup walnuts

cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 ½ tbs water

Pastry pie shell – baked according to directions

Boil cranberries, cup of water and sugar until cranberries pop. Add orange rind and orange juice to mixture. On the side, mix cornstarch with 1 ½ tbs of water until runny and then add to cranberry mixture until thick and binding. Pour mixture into pie shell. Refrigerate 2 hour or overnight until mixture firms. Serve with an orange twist garnish.

Key Lime Pie

4 eggs

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1/3 cup key lime juice

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

3 tablespoons sugar

Directions: Beat the yolks of the four eggs and the white of one egg until thick. Add milk. Beat again. Add key lime juice and mix until thick. Pour mixture into a pie shell and set aside. With remaining egg whites, start to beat at high speed with a mixer. Add the cream of tartar and sugar. Beat until fluffy peaks appear. Spoon on top of key lime mixture. Bake at 350 degrees until the top turns golden brown. Chill for several hours before serving.

Faye’s Hard Tack Candy

1 ½ cup of sugar

½ cup Karo syrup

¼ cup water

½ teaspoon flavoring

¼ teaspoon food coloring

Directions: Mix sugar, syrup and water in a medium sauce pan. Cook hard to crack stage. Add flavoring and coloring. Mix well and pour into buttered cast iron skillet. Let cool slightly and then roll into logs and cut into little “pillos” of candies. Sprinkle with powdered sugar to keep the pieces from sticking together.

Anna K’s Peanut Butter Cookies

½ cup shortening

½ cup creamy peanut butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg well beaten

1 ¼ cup flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon vanilla

Directions: Mix peanut butter, shortening, sugar and egg. Beat well. Sift flour, salt and soda together. Add vanilla. Then add to peanut butter mixture and stir until creamy. Pinch off small amounts, roll into balls, place on greased cookie sheet and score with a fork. Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Teri’s No-Bake Cookies

1 cup sugar

2 heaping teaspoons of powdered cocoa

1/3 cup milk

1/3 cup butter

Directions: Place all the ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to boil, stirring frequently. Boil for two minutes then remove from heat and quickly add the following:

¼ cup peanut butter

1 ½ cup quick Oats

Stir well. Drop on wax paper with tablespoons. Allow to cool.

Ruth’s Carrot Pineapple Bread

1 cup oil

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups grated carrots

1 cup crushed pineapple, drained

3 eggs

3 cups flour

Directions: Beat eggs until bubbly, add sugars and pineapple Beat well. Add carrots and oil. Add vanilla. Sift flour and soda and salt. Add flour mixture one cup at a time. Beat well. Pour into two greased and lightly floured loaf pans. Bake at 55 to 60 minutes at 325 degrees. Test with a tooth pick before allowing to cool slightly.

Grandma Shroyer’s Courtin’ Fudge

Two cups white sugar

1 cup marshmallow cream

2/3 cups whole milk

1 cup peanut butter

Directions: Boil sugar and milk to form a soft ball. Remove from heat and add marshmallow cream and peanut butter. Beat until throroughly blended and it begins to thicken. Pour into buttered or greased pan. Allow to set and then cut pieces into squares with a sharp knife.

William Hand is a chef with 30 years of experience in culinary arts. The author, coauthor or contributor to more than five cookbooks, Bill has previously worked for restaurants in California, Hawaii and Ohio. A faculty member and popular cooking class teacher at Allegany College of Maryland, Bill has been a food writer for newspapers and magazines for 18 years. His column “What’s Cooking” appears every month in Allegany Magazine.

Recommended for you