Next-Level Gifts

Next-Level Gifts

Be quite good at giving.

A good gift is clever, considerate, thoughtful, heartfelt, well-timed, well-made and therefore incredibly difficult to find in a mall.

This year, avoid the struggle and give your loved ones something you made with your own, two, caring hands. And before you say, “No way can I make gifts anyone would want,” allow us to say “Please stop speaking ill of yourself. It’s easier than you think—and we’ve got nine practically fail-proof crafty gift ideas right here.”

Brunch in a box: Line a shallow sturdy box or woven basket with festive tea towels. Then fill it with a batch of homemade muffins or some holiday favorites from Panera, like our Cranberry Orange muffins and Caramel Apple Thumbprint scones. Add a jar of jam and a bag of gourmet coffee beans for an ideal morning mix.

Crafty gift-card holder: Use an empty mint or candy tin to hold gift cards. Line the inside of the tin with wrapping paper or contact paper, then cover the outside with decorative washi tape. Got a Panera fan on your list? Stop by your local bakery-cafe to pick up a Panera Bread® gift card, or log on to to order gift cards online.

Family recipe book: Type up some favorite family recipes, then paste the printed pages into a small, blank notebook. You can even decorate the cover and inside pages with family photos that bring back memories of those special dishes.

Homemade cheese straws: Brush a thawed sheet of frozen puff pastry with

a beaten egg, then sprinkle with a mix of salt, paprika and a grated sharp cheese, like Manchego. Cut the pastry into 3/4-inch strips and twist, topping each with a little more grated cheese. Place the twists on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 400˚F for 12 minutes. Once cool, package the cheese straws in parchment-lined gift boxes.

Lemon-sugar scrub: In the microwave, heat ¼ cup coconut oil for 30 seconds until melted. Add 2-1/2 cups sugar and the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Stir to combine, then put the scrub into a 24-ounce Mason jar. Tie a ribbon around it, add a label or gift tag and you’re done.

Flavored sea salt: Pulse 1 cup coarse sea salt, 3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, and the zest of 1 lemon in a food processor. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and heat in an oven set at 170°F for two hours, stirring about every 15 minutes. Let cool, then transfer the salt to 12-ounce Mason jars with handmade labels.

Make something old new: Score inexpensive items from yard sales or secondhand shops to add charm to even the simplest of gifts. For example: an antique sugar bowl can be filled with holiday candies. Or use a vintage cutting board to serve up your favorite freshly baked bread from Panera tied in a pretty napkin.

Framed maps: Know someone with a passion for travel? Find a map of their favorite destination and frame it. Or cut a map into several pieces and frame them in a collection of smaller frames for a display.

Jarred hot chocolate mix: In an 8-ounce Mason jar, layer ¼ cup sugar, ½ cup cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and a handful of mini-marshmallows. Screw on the lid and attach a card with these directions: Remove marshmallows and mix the dry ingredients together by shaking the jar. Warm 1 cup milk in a pot until it simmers, then add 3 tablespoons of the hot chocolate mix. Stir to combine and serve in a mug with marshmallows.