In kitchen and gourmet stores, you’ll always see a section of premium baking ingredients alongside the pots, pans and other kitchen gear that you might want to add to your collection. Premium baking ingredients might include exotic nuts or chocolate, unusual sugars or cake decorations, or even specialty flours. Lately, this section of the store also usually includes premium cake and other baking mixes. I’m always curious to try these products – especially when they’re branded with a famous restaurant or bakery – because I want to how they stack up to the real thing.
The problem with these premium mixes is that they have a premium price – and that price is high enough to raise some eyebrows and get people wondering if $14-20 is really worth it for a small box of baking ingredients and a recipe.
The premium cake and baking mixes typically include just the dry ingredients for a recipe, along with the instructions for making the cake (or other baked good). Unlike grocery store cake mixes, they typically call for butter (not oil) and milk, as well as eggs. Some will call for other types of dairy, like buttermilk or yogurt, and might use egg yolks or whites in addition to whole eggs. The recipes also tend to be a little more complex than the foolproof grocery store mixes, with multiple steps that mean you get just as much cleanup as you do when making a cake from scratch.
Everyone loves to get something in the mail – particularly when that something is a big, tempting package to open and not just another bill. This is why gift subscriptions make fantastic presents: your giftee will get a new surprise every month when the next package arrives. There are some great services out there – both classic and creative – offering monthly subscription services that are tailored for food lovers of all kinds. The prices vary and you can pick out a short or long term subscription. One other bonus is that, since these gifts are delivered over a period of a couple of weeks or months, you don’t need to worry about rushing to stores and last minute gift wrapping, since your gift comes with direct delivery included – although a card letting your recipient know would be a nice touch.
- The Fruit of the Month Club from Harry and David is a class subscription service and still a favorite for many. They send out huge boxes of premium fruit every month, choosing something wonderful and in-season every time. They even offer an organic fruit of the month club now. My favorite, without question, is their famous Royal Riviera Pears, although I always enjoy their fruit. All of these boxes are hand-packed and they guarantee their products, which means that they will replace anything that isn’t quite right so that you really will always end up with perfect fruit..
- Great Food for A Great Cause Boxes from Love with Food contain a selection of up to eight different gourmet food samples each month, ranging from preserves to cookies to tea. There is a lot of variety here and, as with many subscription services, this is a great way to introduce yourself to some new brands and small producers that you might not already be familiar with. For each box shipped, Love with Food will also donate a meal to a hungry child.
Food-lovers who have been to San Francisco always stop by the Ferry Building, a marketplace that showcases some of the Bay Area’s most well-loved artisan food producers and home to one of the city’s most famous farmers markets. The Oxbow Public Market in Downtown Napa has the same kind of feeling as the Ferry Building, but on a smaller and even more accessible scale. The market houses artisan food producers selling something for just about everyone, whether you want goodies to take home or something to snack on while you’re out, from top-notch cuts of meat to locally produced cheeses to tacos and pastries.
The market is indoors, with about two dozen permanent vendors inside the main court. Some of my favorites include the Oxbow Cheese Merchant, where you can sample and buy all kinds of delicious cheeses, and Whole Spice, which carries more salts and spices than you could know what to do with (although they have plenty of suggestions for great ways to use them). You can pick up some bread to pair with any cheese you get at Model Bakery and some olive oil for dipping at the Olive Press.
If you ever find yourself near Los Gatos, California, a small town in the Silicon Valley just south of San Jose, you should take the time to stop by. The town is charming, full of Victorian houses, a vibrant shop-filled main street and many excellent restaurants. It is also the home of Fleur de Cocoa, a wonderful French chocolate shop and patisserie that is well worth a side trip if you’re in the mood for a little indulgence.
Fleur de Cocoa was opened 12 years ago by Chef Pascal Janvier and his wife, Nicola. It has an extensive menu of handmade french pastries – from simple croissants to elaborate multi-layer mousse cakes – and a wide selection of handmade chocolates. Chef Janvier began his career in France with an apprenticeship at age 12, and followed that up with a Master’s Degree in chocolate, ice cream and pastry and a long career both working with, and teaching the art of the chocolatier. In short: this guy knows what he is doing when it comes to both chocolate and pastry and it shows in every product they sell at the shop.
It always helps to get a few more gift ideas as the holidays approach. Inspiration just might help you to pick out that perfect gift for the cook or baker or foodie in your lift – and might even inspire you to add something to your wish list, too.
Kitchen Gifts for Bakers and Cooks
- A stand mixer is and will always be one of the best gifts that you can get the baker in your life for the holidays. KitchenAids are always a top pick, but I don’t know a baker that would turn down a Breville, a Viking or any other brand. If your giftee already has one, you might consider getting accessories for it, like the Whisk a Bowl or a Flex Edge Beater.
- Pies are a big baking trend right now, so pie making tools are great gifts. The Chicago Metallic Individual Pie Pan allows you to easily make single serving pies. The Breville Pie Maker is a great appliance that makes the pie making process even easier, if you bake a lot of them and have a little extra room in your kitchen.