Sleigh The Holidays With Homemade Gifts

Even without the increasing frustrations of finding, buying, and giving the perfect gifts on a budget, the winter holidays are still the most expensive time of year. Shouldn’t the holiday season simply be about spending time with loved ones, making merry, and eating great food? I’ve never been one to partake in the shopping frenzy that fuels retail sales.

That said, I still love giving gifts.

Yes, it’s possible to hold both of these sentiments true. Store bought gifts, purchased for the sake of an obligatory exchange, bring me as much joy as the credit card bills to follow. Homemade gifts, thoughtfully crafted with the recipient’s wants and needs in mind, are a gift to the giver as well. Seeing someone’s face light up because of something you made is an indescribable and irreplaceable sort of joy. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive or complicated; the best presents simply start from scratch.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting gifts for the holidays.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to spoil the wonderful people in your life with something special. Everyone should be able to afford that basic human connection and the happiness it brings to both the giver and recipient.

Christmas cookies are in their own category; when it comes to homemade gifts, the options are endless. Sweet and savory, edible and not, there really is something for everyone on your list. There’s no need to stress over getting the hottest toys and blowing your budget when you start from scratch, too. Here are just a few of my favorite suggestions for giftable DIY goodies.

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Top 10 Homemade Vegan Halloween Candy Recipes

Can you feel it in the air?

Though treats and decor have lined store shelves for months already, Halloween finally draws near. Amidst the costumes and pumpkin carving, haunted houses and hay rides, the call for candy remains irrepressible. Fear not: a little bit of creativity, patience, and kitchen witchcraft can yield a trove of homemade Halloween sweets.

The Allure of Crafting from Scratch

Creating your own vegan Halloween candies grants you complete control over the ingredients you use. This means you can bid farewell to mysterious chemicals and questionable additives, opting instead for wholesome components that align with your ethics. Whether it’s crafting gooey caramel, crafting rich chocolate truffles, or concocting chewy fruit-flavored treats, you hold the power to select organic, sustainable, and cruelty-free ingredients that cater to your palate and principles.

Moreover, the process of making candies from scratch can be far more gratifying than simply grabbing something pre-made. Make a whole event out of it by enlisting friends, family, and especially the kids! Together, you can mold spooky (or spoopy) shapes and embellish your candies with personal flair, making each one unique.

Summoning Sweet Splendor: Tips for Crafting Homemade Vegan Halloween Candies

As you embark on your candy-making adventure, consider these tips to ensure your creations are both tantalizing and vegan-friendly:

  1. Choose Plant-Based Alternatives: Swap out dairy for coconut milk, almond milk, or other plant-based alternatives in your recipes. There’s a wide array of vegan chocolates, caramels, and gummy ingredients available to bring your candy visions to life.
  2. Natural Food Coloring: Create captivating hues using natural food coloring derived from fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Beet juice, spirulina, and turmeric are just a few options to infuse your candies with enchanting colors.
  3. Mind the Gelatin: Gelatin is a common non-vegan ingredient found in many gummy candies. Opt for agar, a seaweed-based alternative, to achieve that chewy texture without compromising your values.
  4. Experiment with Extracts: Embrace the spirit of Halloween by experimenting with eerie and unexpected flavors. From pumpkin-spiced toffee to ghostly mint chocolates, let your imagination run wild.
  5. Engage the Senses: Elevate your candy-making experience by involving multiple senses. Consider incorporating aromatic spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, to evoke the essence of autumn and heighten the festive ambiance.

This Halloween season, embark on a journey that merges creativity, ethics, and indulgence by conjuring your very own treats, without any tricks involved. Don your apron, gather your cauldron of ingredients, and let the magic of homemade vegan candies cast a spell on your taste buds. Here are a few of my favorite recipes:

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If you haven’t yet gotten your fill of fresh summer corn, it’s time to start shucking and husking, pronto. While you could make the case that corn has become season-less, a perennial staple in both the freezer aisle and canned goods section, the most advanced preservation technology still can’t capture the full bouquet of flavors, nor the sheer sensory experience, of sinking your teeth into a fresh, crisp row of sunny yellow kernels.

How Long Does Fresh Corn Keep?

Don’t wait another minute. Aside from dwindling harvests, timing is critical once you bring your haul back home. Sugars begin converting to starch the moment each ear is picked, making it more bland with every passing day. That’s why “fresh” corn in December doesn’t have the same magic as August; it’s already been in transit for who knows how long, shipped in from warmer climates on a slow boat.

Need More Ideas For Fresh Corn?

Make the most of your haul with these fool-proof recipes. From appetizers to desserts, classic to unconventional, there’s nothing that quality corn can’t do.

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Doing Doughnuts Around Austin, Texas

Dollars to doughnuts, deep-fried balls of yeasted batter have ostensibly fueled generations. Running the gamut from cheap sustenance to high-end indulgences, there’s truly a doughnut for every day of the year. Having survived the low-carb craze, sugar-free evangelists, and fat phobics, it’s safe to say that our beloved olykoeks (“oily cakes”) aren’t going anywhere.

Like any city worth its sprinkles, Austin, Texas has its fair share of doughnut purveyors, waking up before sunrise to feed the hungry hordes. What you may not know is that many of them include vegan varieties, free of the usual eggs and dairy that define conventional pastries. Next time cravings strike, here are all the bakeries turning out dough from scratch, with plentiful plant-based treats.

Best Vegan Doughnuts in Austin, TX

Knead Doughnut and Coffee Bike

Brought to you by the same culinary talent behind The Forking Vegan trailer, this young upstart is slinging fried delights at sporadic pop-ups, online sales, and regular stock at Dear Diary Coffee. More local cafes are quickly joining that list as word spreads about this new addition to the sweets scene. Large and slightly daunting, they look heavy but seem to melt in your mouth like an ethereal sprinkled cloud. From strawberry shortcake to purple rain and everything in between, this is a perfect example of the vegan option matching and quickly exceeding the original dish. Yes, these are doughnuts that could convert omnivores with very little effort. I swore I wouldn’t pick favorites for this list, but… Let’s just say they’re at the top here for a reason.

Wheatsville Food Coop

After a heartbreaking absence following pandemic-related worker shortages, vegan doughnuts are back and better than ever at both Wheatsville locations. These are by far the most accessible fried treats in town, ready and waiting to come home with you following your next grocery run. The Austin cream pie are most famous, but keep an eye out for seasonal specialties, such as pumpkin spice in the fall or rainbow glazed during Pride Month. For a real splurge, don’t miss the apple fritters that are roughly the size of a dinner plate.

The Salty Donut

Watch your language! These small batch doughnuts served with craft coffee could make you curse like a sailor. This Miami-based mini chain makes sure that at least one, sometimes two vegan options are in the case at all times. While I would have never otherwise ordered a passionfruit and dark chocolate combo, it’s a testament to their frying prowess that I found myself hoovering up every last crumb. Though the yeasted cakes are thick and slightly bready, they’re tender all the way through and not remotely oily. Icings seem to melt in your mouth, exploding with rich flavor, adding just the right amount of sweetness to the neutral base.

Mr. Natural

Think “cupcake,” not “pastry,” and you’ll set your taste buds up for success. These sweet rings are a different breed from the rest, being both gluten-free and baked, not fried. Best known for their plant-based Mexican specialties, both locations also boast homemade treats, such as conchas, tres leches cake, and yes, gluten free chocolate donuts. Small but substantial, you can really sink your teeth into these babies for a bite of intense cacao flavor. The fudgy icing on top gives it the air of devil’s food cake, individually portioned so you don’t have to share.

Fat Cats Organic Coffee & Desserts

Take your pick from a wide array of classic and creative treats at this 100% vegan cafe, where baked, cake doughnuts are a mainstay. Expect some variation on chocolate or vanilla for most any visit, but come prepared for happy surprises like samoa (like the Girl Scout cookie), matcha, Elvis (with peanut butter glaze, meatless bacon bits, and caramelized bananas), tiramisu, and whatever else these clever cats dream up. Those aren’t just cute names either; bold, rich flavors ring true to those promises, supported by a relatively light, fluffy crumb.

Bougie’s Donuts & Coffee

Contrary to the high-highfalutin title, Bougie’s takes up residence in a nondescript strip mall in Sunset Valley. Striving to serve an “elevated” cafe experience with gourmet treats and third-wave coffee, they manage to sidestep the pretension that sort of program typically entails. There are two vegan versions of their plump cake-style doughnuts; blueberry and birthday cake, each coated in a crisp confectioner’s sugar glaze that shatters upon impact. Tender, moist, and impeccably fresh, they do proper justice to this tricky format. I’d suggest that kids and children at heart would especially dig this spot, since the vegan blueberry doughnut has a flavor strikingly reminiscent of fruity pebbles cereal.

Voodoo Doughnut

Imported from Portland, OR, avant-garde options have always been the standard at this late night haunt. There are ten possible vegan options, stocked on a rotating basis or available for pre-order as a full Voodoo Vegan Dozen (the most popular flavors are doubled, if you’re keeping count.) If you only have room for one, you must try the iconic Voodoo Doll, shaped like a hapless human stabbed through the heart with a pretzel stick, bleeding sweet, gooey raspberry jam. That’s some delicious witchcraft right there.

Zucchini Kill Bakery

Gluten-free, soy-free, vegan sweets are always on the menu at this punk rock bakery. You can’t miss it if you just look for their delivery hearse parked outside. Best known for coffin cakes (modeled after Twinkies) and rebel swrrrls (mini swiss rolls in the style of Yodels), doughnuts are a less common but worthy prize, appearing most prominently for holidays or seasonal occasions in appropriately festive flavors. Case in point, the queen cake donut, presented as the equal and opposite reaction to Mardi Gras’ king cake, festooned with colored sugar and stuffed with a single goji berry in lieu of a plastic baby. Soft and tender, light on the lips, I’m a big fan of this low-key baked offering whenever I’m lucky enough to pick one up.

Percolator Coffee + Tiny Donuts

File this under “coming attractions.” Previously known as East Austin Coffee, this shoe box of a trailer situated on the east side has rebranded with a stronger focus on sweets. Unfortunately, although the reported open date was in November 2022, then January 2023, there still aren’t any donuts rising to the occasion.

Hungry For Homemade Vegan Donuts?

If you’re not nearby the sweet city of Austin, Texas, you can make your own at home from any of these easy vegan donut recipes:

Requiem for a Restaurant

2022 began quietly, cautiously. Moving tenuously on tip-toes, carefully stepping around the remnants of the pandemic while trying to move forward anew, the trajectory was unclear. For a while, business began to improve, life started humming ahead like “normal” while we picked up the pieces of a broken society. Despite clear progress, it feels like running in place when we stop to look up at the unchanged scenery around us. Alas, that’s not true; if anything, in many ways, we’re going backwards again.

Right now, as I do at the close of every year, I’m talking about the restaurants that have left us. This was a particularly brutal culling to look back on, wiping out true pillars of our Austin vegan community in a matter of months. What once seemed stable, unshakable, and always reliable are now mere memories. Such losses are crushing, but let’s take a moment to celebrate the fleeting moments that we were fortunate enough to share.

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The Hole Story About Austin Bagels

Bagels are such a unique, distinctive class of bread that they deserve their own category. Visually, texturally, and fundamentally, they barely even resemble other yeasted staples. Every element is critical to the overall experience, from the glossy, chewy crust to the dense crumb inside. Few have successfully mastered the art of bagelry, and not just for lack of the alkaline water found in New York City.

Where can you get the best bagels?

Aside from making your own from scratch, access to quality options remains limited, especially outside of major cities. Sad to say, nothing found in the bread aisle of your local grocery store will ever measure up. Fortunately, it’s not a dying art- Quite the contrary. Out of nostalgia, cravings, and blind ambition, more and more young bakers across the country are throwing down the dough to make genuine bagels, and not some glorified ring-shaped dinner rolls.

NYC has the street cred, but not the monopoly on raw talent. Austin lays claim to five independent, local bagel makers. Plenty of restaurants and cafes are doing great things with sandwiched and schmeared creations, but I wanted to go straight to the source for this gustatory investigation. I’m talking about hunting down the very best bagel in town.

How can you judge the best bagel?

While every cafe worth their coffee beans offers a basic bagel, I went straight to the source, examining only those who bake their own bagels. For the sake of consistency, I compared only everything bagels, being the most popular variety across the board, without any toppings. Prices ranged from $1 – 4.50 apiece, making the very best of the batch an affordable luxury. Each is filling enough to make a solid breakfast, even without adornment, so I’d call that a bargain for a full meal. Here’s where your dollars are best spent.

Who bakes the best bagels from scratch in Austin?

  • Rosen’s Bagels is a relative newcomer to the world of commercial baking, beginning life a mere five years ago, but has quickly taken hold as the front runner in local cafes and grocery stores. If it wasn’t enough to get a dozen delivered straight to your door, they now have two shiny new brick-and-mortar locations that are perpetually buzzing with hungry carbivores. Founder Tom Rosen has a simple formula for success, and is simply doing it right. The dough goes through a 48 hour fermenting and rising process to develop complex flavors, enhanced by the traditional addition of subtly sweet malt powder. Best of all, the everything bagels are double-seeded, tossed in the signature seasoning mixture on both sides to ensure no bald spots. Top and bottom halves are full coated for a serious flavor punch.

  • Rockstar Bagels has been rising to the occasion since 2009 with their malt-boiled bagels that positively shine in the early morning light. They’re the first local bagel to grace my table since they’re available at Wheatsville a la carte for mere pocket change. These plump rings sport an elegantly lacquered finish with a topping that tends to skew heavier on sesame seeds, enhancing the nutty, toasted flavor. Maybe that’s why I find them more compelling once split and toasted than simply warmed. Bulk bin grocery store bagels have questionable quality, even if they’re locally made, so always go to their walk-up window for the best, freshest batches.

  • Wholy Bagel stands apart from the pack by proudly touting their New Jersey-style bagel, boasting a notably fluffier crumb with a cracklingly crisp exterior. The combination of textures is unique, coming together as an a fully satisfying experience in a slightly unconventional format. Don’t forget that everything is bigger in Texas; when you order a dozen, it’s not a Baker’s Dozen but a Wholy Texas Dozen; 14 bagels for the price of 12.

  • Nervous Charlie’s can certainly be anxiety-provoking if you’re not prepared to wait on line. Perpetually swamped with hungry carbivores, it’s nigh impossible to beat the crowds. Most people are drawn to the loaded bagel sandwiches for a hearty breakfast, brunch, or lunch, but the ungarnished bread base itself is quite a prize. Plump, thick, and dense, each substantial ring demonstrates mastery of the dough.

  • Casper Fermentables adds more nuance to the local bagel conversation with their sourdough Montreal-style offerings. A passion for probiotics defines their offerings that run the gamut from kombucha to kimchi. Once a humble farmers market stand, Casper is the latest homegrown success to set up a permanent outpost in the Sunset Valley neighborhood. Now you can enjoy an expanded menu of ready to eat sandwiches and pastries, but the bagels remain the top seller. Even my New York-born father was impressed by the golden brown and mildly tangy, thoroughly chewy rings.

Honorable Mentions

Anyone baking their own bagels deserves props for doing it the right way, rather than the easy way. Not all of them rank at the top of my list, but they’re still far and away better than anything else you’d find on store shelves.

  • Big City Bagels and Subs tends to fly below the radar, putting more emphasis on the sandwiches than the bread, but the main issue is just getting there in time. Bagels are liable to sell out early, the shop sometimes closes early, and I can never seem to hit the road early enough.
  • Swedish Hill offers deluxe (albeit not vegan) fixings for dine-in guests, but the solo bagels are fairly forgettable. Not enough toppings to be considered everything; more like a few things. It doesn’t feel worth the price of entry to me.

New York may have perfected the art of the bagel, but it no longer has the monopoly. There are plenty of great bagels down south in the Greater Austin Area and beyond.