Even the best of us can be hard-pressed to concoct the perfect homemade holiday gift that’s heartfelt, creative, and won’t drive us bananas in the process. Add the demand of concocting something stunning enough to cut through all of the opulent seasonal fervor, and the pressure is on.
But simplicity ultimately wins—and smartly too—with these three terrific DIY ideas from the Test Kitchen. They’re wonderfully easy to make as gifts, and you definitely want to make an extra batch for yourself, too.
Homemade Vanilla Sugar
Vanilla extract might be good for some people, but for me, only vanilla beans will do. Now, if I win the lottery, I plan to buy a whole case of vanilla beans, but for now I need to stretch the beans I have as much as possible. That’s why I started making vanilla sugar. I use it in place of granulated sugar in all my recipes and it adds a great vanilla flavor. Even if you aren’t much of a baker—try it once in your coffee or tea and you will be hooked. — Carolynn Purpura
Homemade Smoked Salt
Smoking is one of my favorite ways to give salt a little more firepower. I keep a bottle of smoked salt in the pantry to give dead-of-winter pork braises and broiled steaks that midsummer smoky flavor, and often give it as a gift to grill-poor friends in urban high rises. If you’ve seen bottles of smoked salt in your local boutique grocery store, you may understand why I set out to make my own—it’s just salt plus smoke, but judging by the price tag, you might think it was a heck of a lot more complex than that. — Sarah Gabriel
Meringue cookies are elementally simple confections prepared from little else but egg whites and sugar. The thin, brittle-crisp exterior should shatter under the first bite to reveal a lightly sweetened, crisp interior with just a hint of chew. The trick is to beat the whites slowly, which lends stability, and to add the sugar slowly in two batches once the whites are mostly whipped, since that gives them a structure firm enough to hold and absorb the sugar. These ethereally light, crisp meringues will bake up perfectly every time. If you’re feeling fancy, make them in chocolate-chip or almond variations, too. — Susan Light
(Photo: erika g.)