How To Make A Hostess Gift That Anyone Will Like

This weekend, we were in the slightly unusual position of having two housewarming parties to attend (plus, oddly enough, a book launch and a two-year-old's birthday party. Is there something about the second weekend of April that makes everyone feel decidedly social? Parties, man. They're like buses. Wait for ages in the rain without an umbrella and then suddenly they all come at once.) 

When I attend a party, I usually bring the standard thing one brings when one attends a party: a bottle of wine. Ocasionally I mix it up with a six-pack or—depending on whether the party is likely to be the kind where at least one person ends up in the corner with a lampshade on his head—a bottle of bourbon, but, by and large, I'm not particularly original when it comes to my hostess gifts. I really just abide by one simple rule: don't show up empty handed. 

If you too dislike showing up empty handed, I have a pretty neat idea for you: salted caramels in cute packaging. 

Not to go all Martha on you, but this honestly couldn't be easier. For the salted caramels, I swear by this recipe, which I have made a million times: for bake sales at work, for a friend's birthday a few years ago, and—most stressfully—for my wedding favors, during which my parents' kitchen was transformed into a sweatshop of salted caramel-making and also I started a small fire. (Don't start a small fire.) You need four ingredients, a candy thermometer, a roll of wax paper, and about an hour. Between you and me, I can't see why you wouldn't make them. 

Oh, you've made them? Excellent. Now let's tackle the packaging. 

The number one way to make your caramels look way fancier than they are is to put them in a clear treat bag, which you can buy at craft stores or party stores (they look something like this.) Before you do, though, stick some vinyl letters on the front (mine were left over from an old project, but you can buy them at office supply stores and Michaels. These are 2 inches tall and the font is Helvetica. I'm pretty sure they're these.) 

After that, all you have to do is seal the top with tape, tie a piece of twine around it—I buy my twine in the rope section of the hardware store, where they're practically giving it away for free—then grab a black pen and write a message on a shipping tag, which is the one craft supply I never, ever run out of (partly because they're so versatile you can use them for anything, but also because you can really only buy them in boxes of seven squazillion, so they last forever. I got mine at an office supply store several hundred years ago and they look like this.) 

And there you have it: a pretty cute hostess gift in some easy-peasy packaging. 

I only did this for one of my housewarming parties, by the way; for the other, I rolled the bag of caramels up, tied a piece of ribbon around the middle, tied a piece of twine around that, then attached the shipping tag to the twine. If you don't want to mess around with vinyl letters, this is a nice alternative. 

If you do want to mess around with vinyl letters, though, let me also show you a fun way to use them when wrapping presents. 

I used IKEA craft paper, more twine, another shipping tag—sensing a theme here?—and some white vinyl letters I had left over from another project. I also included a little present for Caden's mommy, whom I assumed would be needing some chocolate after hosting a two-year-old's birthday party. (Caden's mommy confirmed that this was the case.) 

So go forth! Make caramels! Package them attractively! And then invite me over, so I can wrap something new for your hostess gift. 

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Erin Inala
Apr 16, 2012

I adore this! I stumbled upon your blog through pinterest several months ago and I've been lurking ever since. I just had to comment because this is such a great hostess gift idea. Like you, I'm a big fan of the bottle o' wine, but I love the thought of bringing something a little different, wrapped prettily just for the hostess. And those letters - I die! Bonus, I love making caramels.

Apr 16, 2012

OHH MY GOSH, how awesome is this! I almost feel bad for always only bringing wine now!!

Apr 16, 2012

Love the stickers on the bags!

Apr 16, 2012

You never cease to amaze me. This is so great and really does seem simple.

Anna Louisa
Apr 16, 2012

so cute! where did you get the craft paper? I remember around Christmas time some people were bemoaning that it was sneaky expensive...

Apr 16, 2012

Too cute! This is going to sound weird so let me apologize in advance but, I must say that I can't wait until you have a baby (if you decide to, that is) because I just know that the baby's room will be so awesome! And the baby's birthday party's will be beautiful and unique in every way! Your creativity + a baby = SQUEEEEEEE!

Apr 16, 2012

Anna Louisa: IKEA! I got it right before Christmas. Bought three rolls to stock up.

Apr 16, 2012

Oh my. I am on a low-carb diet right now (along with bar method workouts) to burn of some winter-insulation I accumulated around Christmas.

But seriously, these are lovely and I'm thinking if I can keep from shoving them into my pie-hole after making them...they would also be great teacher gifts for the end of the year.

Love, love, love the vinyl letters. I used letters like that (but not the letters, the numbers...and not the actual numbers, their vinyl background) and some etching paste to make a copycat set of these as a gift! They turned out great! There is probably a tutorial somewhere, but this was the quickest image I could find:

Apr 16, 2012

There should be a www in front of that kaboodle address.

Apr 16, 2012

Love these but they came out all greasy from the pan. How do you combat that?

Nothing But Bonfires
Apr 16, 2012

Cojo -- I'm afraid I'm not sure; I haven't had that happen when I've made them. Are you using parchment paper in the pan? I pour the mixture straight on top of that, let it harden, then lift the parchment paper out of the pan and cut up the mass of caramel into bite-sized squares. Haven't had any greasiness.

Apr 16, 2012

I'd have a party just so I could invite you guys.

Apr 16, 2012

Holly, I am so glad you mentioned your salted caramels again! This way you'll know exactly what I'm talking about when I ask you this: how long do they keep? In the fridge? Out of the fridge? (I'm asking because I am a freak about food safety and there is butter and cream AND it doesn't give details on the recipe link) Thanks so much! I can't wait to try them!

Nothing But Bonfires
Apr 16, 2012

Jane: They keep for a really long time. I've never put them in the fridge, actually -- just always had them out in the open, probably for a week or so in some cases. You boil the butter and cream to such crazy temps (248F) that they don't really resemble butter and cream anymore.

Honestly, they usually go so quickly that you'll find you won't have any leftovers, but we found a bag from the wedding six months or so after it happened (should I be admitting this?) and they were fine. Looked a little crystallized but still tasted good!

That said, I have no idea if any of this is okay, food-safety-wise! But I've never accidentally poisoned myself with them, so there's that.

Apr 16, 2012

These are so cool! Thanks for the recipe, it looks easy. I'll make some this weekend :)

Apr 16, 2012

Who is that tabby sniffing around? And I also swear by your recipe of the caramels.. so very delish.

Nothing But Bonfires
Apr 16, 2012

Ha! That's Sadie. She's a fan of caramels. Or new stuff she can sniff.

Apr 19, 2012

if you're lazy (like me!), or just don't do well in the kitchen, take a look at some of these gift ideas -

Apr 28, 2012

why can't I pin these images? :(

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