Hot chocolate mug with marshmallow

Just in Time: Ultimate Last-Minute Holiday Gifts From the Kitchen

Christmas is so near, I can almost taste it! I’d be lying if I said I’m totally prepared. From wrapping gifts, to last-minute decorating, planning our tablescape for the big day, gifts for neighbors and friends, I’m scrambling. Here are some of the last-minute gifts I’m relying on! Care to join in? 

Hot chocolate mug with marshmallow

You don’t need a lot of money nor must you have the gift of craftiness to assemble fabulous gifts in your kitchen, even at this late date. It’s hard to go wrong with a gift meant to be eaten or used up. That gift conveys your love and best wishes without increasing the recipients’ stuff factor.

You will need containers for these gifts, and the possibilities are endless. My favorite: Clear cellophane bags for about 25 cents each (some are printed with holiday motifs). Find these at craft stores like Michaels, JoAnn’s, and Hobby Lobby; at cake and candy supply stores. Think assembly line and you can turn out dozens of gifts in a single day. So gather your supplies, set up your production line, and let the fun begin!

Santa Cookies

Santa Claus Cookies

  • 1 package Nutter Butter (or Vienna Fingers) sandwich cookies
  • 12-oz. white chocolate wafers or chips*
  • Red sprinkles or red-colored sugar
  • 32 vanilla or white chips, not melted
  • 64 mini chocolate baking chips
  • 32 red-hot candies

Melt the white chocolate. Dip one end of each cookie into melted chocolate. Place on wire racks. Quickly sprinkle red sugar on the top part of chocolate, leaving a white band for the fur on Santa’s hat. Press one vanilla chip off-center on the hat for pom-pom; let stand until set.

Dip the other end of each cookie into chocolate for beard, leaving the center of the cookie uncovered. Place on wire racks. With a dab of melted chocolate, attach semisweet chips for eyes and a red-hot for nose in the uncovered area. Place on waxed paper to set. Yield: 32 cookies.

Chocolate-Covered Pretzels

Melt your choice of melting wafers, chocolate bars or chips (*see notes following) according to package instructions. (Or melt chocolate chips in microwave on medium power for 30 seconds at a time. Stir in 1 teaspoon vegetable oil for every 1 ounce of chocolate.) Dip pretzels of any size or shape. Place on wax paper to harden. You’re done. Sample one and you’ll know why this is possibly the best of all edible holiday treats.

Repackage Most Anything

Get a big bag of nuts, candies, or other treats. Repackage into smaller holiday containers, mugs, bags of your choice. Embellish. That’s it, you’re done.

Holiday Hash

Printable recipe HERE

Combine in a very big bowl:
  • 3 cups Rice Chex
  • 3 cups Corn Chex
  • 3 cups Cheerios
  • 2 cups small pretzels
  • 2 cups salted peanuts
  • 1 bag (12 oz.) plain M&Ms
  • 1 bag (12 oz.) peanut M&Ms
  • 2 bags (12 oz.) white melting wafers (or white chocolate chips*)
Pour all dry ingredients into a really big bowl. Melt white chocolate chips or melting wafers according to the package instructions*. Be careful not to overcook as these chips burn quickly. Pour the melted white chocolate over the mixture and with a strong long-handled wooden spoon toss well to coat. Spread the hash on waxed paper and set until the chocolate hardens.
Store in an airtight container or pour into gift bags.
If you get the red and green M&Ms you’ll have a very festive-looking result. This makes a lot. You should be able to make 10 to 15 gifts depending on the size of your containers.

Hot Chocolate Mix

Printable recipe HERE

Super creamy, chocolatey—just the way awesome hot chocolate should be—and so easy to make!

  • 4 cups powdered milk
  • 1 (16-oz.) jar CoffeeMate Original Powdered Coffee Creamer
  • 1 (16-oz.) box powdered sugar
  • 1 (20.1-ounce) box Nestle Nesquick Chocolate Powder (not cocoa)

Dump all ingredients into a very large container (bowl, pan, or plastic bag). Mix thoroughly. Fill individual gift container(s) making sure they are tightly sealed. Add this information to a decorative instruction tag for your awesome gifts: “Measure 1/3 to 1/2 cup mix into a mug and fill with hot water. Mix well. Enjoy!”

Sinfully Easy Fudge

  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 cup pecan or walnut pieces
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (like Eagle Brand)
  • 7 oz. milk chocolate, chopped (or milk chocolate chips)
  • 11 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8x8x2-inch pan with foil and grease well with 1 tablespoon of the butter. Set aside.
  2. Spread nuts on a baking sheet and roast until lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. While nuts are hot, stir in 1 tablespoon butter and sprinkle with salt.
  3. Combine the condensed milk and all the chocolate in a large glass bowl and melt in the microwave at 50 percent power for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently (or on the stovetop over low to medium heat stirring constantly) until chocolate melts.
  4. Remove from microwave and stir in vanilla and roasted nuts. Pour into the prepared pan. Refrigerate to cool and set.
  5. Remove from pan, peel off foil and cut into squares.

Crunch ‘n Munch

  • 1/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 cups Corn Chex, Rice Chex, or Crispix cereal OR 3 cups bran or wheat Chex
  1. Mix sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet. Add cereal and mix well. Heat over medium heat stirring until coated (5 to 6 minutes).
  3. Sprinkle 1/2 of the sugar mixture over the cereal and continue stirring until well-coated. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar mixture and heat for several more minutes. Spread on a layer of wax paper or foil to cool.
  4. Yield: 3 to 4 cups.

This recipe multiplies well if you have a very large skillet.

Pretzel Candy

No recipe here, just an idea with basic instructions! Mix broken pretzel and nut pieces in a bowl. You want small pieces. Pour melted chocolate (white, milk, dark, or what have you) over everything in the bowl and stir. Drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper on cookie sheet. Cool. Yum!


*Chocolate melting notes: Melting wafers are chocolate that’s formulated for making candy. They are inexpensive and easy to use. Melt ‘n Mold is one brand available at grocery stores, cake and candy supply stores, and craft stores. Chocolate bars and bakers chocolate melt well. Chocolate chips, however, are formulated to resist melting. If chips are your only option, you can melt them but it’s tricky. Stir in 1 teaspoon vegetable oil per 1 ounce of chips. Microwave on medium power at 30-second intervals, stirring well after each interval, until the consistency is perfect for dipping.

Caribbean Rum Cake

Printable recipe BELOW

Oh, this is decadent! Whether a gift or special dessert for your Holiday Feast, the adults at your table will go wild for it. It’s that good! This is not diet food, my dear readers. I see it as a once-a-year, celebratory, awesome, delicious treat.

Caribbean Rum Cake (Yum!)

Transport yourself to the sun-kissed shores of the Caribbean or the bustling markets of Italy with this mouthwatering rum-soaked cake recipe. It's absolutely divine! Just a heads-up: this recipe packs a punch, so it's not suitable for teetotalers. Check out the Notes section for a non-alcoholic version if you're steering clear of spirits.
Prep Time35 minutes
Cook Time1 hour
Resting time at room temperature8 hours
Total Time9 hours 35 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Caribbean, Italian
Servings: 16
Calories: 418kcal


For the cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • cups white granulated sugar
  • 1 pkg instant vanilla pudding (see Note 1)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup milk, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup rum, plain or spiced (see Note 2)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon butter-rum flavoring (see Note 3)

For the syrup:

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, 1 stick
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup rum, plain or spiced (see Note 2)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Preheat oven to 325 F.
  • In a large mixing bowl, place flour, sugar, pudding mix, baking powder, salt, butter, and oil and mix at medium speed until everything is thoroughly incorporated and the mixture looks like sand.
  • Beat in the milk. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Scrape the bowl thoroughly and beat briefly to incorporate.
  • Stir in the rum, vanilla, and butter-rum flavoring.
  • Prepare Bundt pan with cooking spray. Pour batter into prepared pan and spread it level with a spatula
  • Bake for 50- to 60-minutes. Test for doneness using a skewer, toothpick, or dry piece of ucooked spaghetti. It should come out clean when inserted into the center area of the cake. Do not overbake. Remove cake from the oven. Leave the cake in the pan while you prepare the syrup.
  • In a medium-size saucepan, combine the butter, water, sugar, salt, and rum. Bring to a rapid boil then reduce to a simmer to cook—without stirring—for 5 to 8 minutes, until the syrup thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  • Using a long skewer or similar, poke holes all over the cake. Pour about 1/4 cup syrup over the cake, while it is still in the Bundt pan. Allow the syrup to soak in, then repeat again and again, until all the syrup has been absorbed. See NOTE 4.
  • Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap, allowing the cake to sit overnight at room temperature to cool completely and for the syrup to soak into all of the cake.
  • When ready to serve, invert the cake over a serving plate. If it won't loosen to fall out of the pan easily, do not force it. Instead, tent the pan with foil, place it in the oven on the bottom rack and turn it on to 350 F. for 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, and now tip it onto the serving plate. Serve and enjoy!
  • If any of this amazing cake remains, put it in a cake saver OR wrap it securely in plastic wrap, storing it at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. You may confidently freeze for longer storage, up to one month.


1. Do not use sugar-free pudding mix. You can use a different flavor pudding mix if you want—banana, caramel, butterscotch, coconut, etc.
2. You can replace 1/4 cup of the rum (or see Note 5) with water if you are concerned about the alcohol content of the cake and the syrup. In this case, increase the amount of butter-rum flavoring to 1/2 teaspoon, in the cake and add 1/4 teaspoon to the syrup, or to taste. I cannot guarantee that the alcohol will "bake out" of the cake. 
3. Butter-rum flavoring is available with the extracts and flavorings in most supermarkets.
4. Using all of the syrup results in a very moist cake. Yummy moist. If you want it less "rummy," use only half of the syrup.
5. For an alcohol-free version: Substitute water for all of the rum, increasing the butter-rum flavoring up to to 1 1/2 teaspoons for the cake and 1/2 teaspoon for the syrup, adding it when you add the vanilla.
I stumbled upon this incredible recipe at King Arthur Flour, a delightful company nestled in Vermont. A few years back, I had the pleasure of visiting their charming test kitchen and store—what an experience! I adore everything about King Arthur Flour, from their top-notch products to their professional strength butter-rum flavoring. While the original recipe captured my heart, I've made a few tweaks to achieve what I believe is the perfect balance of flavors. Now, it's written exactly how I do it, ensuring every bite is pure bliss.


Serving: 1slice | Calories: 418kcal | Carbohydrates: 50g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 72mg | Sodium: 341mg | Potassium: 92mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 37g | Vitamin A: 426IU | Calcium: 42mg | Iron: 1mg


Photo Credit: Taste of Home

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4 replies
  1. Jackie B. says:

    5 stars
    It is so hard to wait overnight for this wonderful beautiful cake!! Thank you, Mary, and merry Christmas! Wish I knew how to post a picture of how pretty it turned out; looks like your picture above. So nice.

  2. Charlotte says:

    Another option I always make at Christmas . Put a glob of peanut butter between 2 wheat thin crackers and dip in melted chocolate . They are easy and delicious ! Everyone loves them !
    Happy Holidays to all !

  3. Deb says:

    I love the Santa cookies! I have made dipped pretzels for many years. I used to find pretzels in Christmas shapes at Walmart but haven’t seen those in several years. I bet you could make the rum sauce and use it to doctor a bought cake to upscale it!
    Merry Christmas, Mary!


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