RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Need an affordable answer to some of your gift giving dilemmas? The solution may be as close as your kitchen.
Baking Christmas gifts is an age-old holiday tradition that can save you some big dough.
Bakery market manager Rene Carrillo has spent the last seven years behind the oven at Panera Bread, he's learned that a little preparation can save both time and money.
"Baked goods generally don't really cost a whole lot, flour is one of the cheaper items to buy," Carrillo said.
And you don't have to be a seasoned chef to whip up some seasonal cheer.
"If you're baking things likes cookies or muffins or quick breads they're kind of easy if you follow the instructions and measure everything appropriately," he said.
Rene's first tip: plan ahead.
"There are a lot of things you can do ahead of time. If you're gonna bring some cookies over to some ones house, make the dough ahead of time put it in a covered container in the refrigerator and the next day pull out that dough and bake it," Carrillo said.
Another helpful tip if you bake cookies, bake early and freeze often.
"You can freeze them, if you freeze them shortly after they're baked they retain most of their freshness," he said.
Most breads, cookies and other holiday treats call for a number of dry ingredients like flour, sugar, and salt. You can combine these early and save the mix in a plastic bag for later. Then when you go to bake simply add your mix to the "wet ingredients" like butter, eggs, and oil.
There are a number of recipes online for quick breads that don't require much work, and look for certain flavors that peak during the holidays.
"Cinnamon's like the number one, of course there is the ginger molasses combination, cranberries are always popular," he said.
Another advantage, baked gifts can be customized to show your true holiday spirit.
"It's something very personal; that you bring something of yourself that you've made with your hands...means more," he said.
The last thing to consider is packaging, our expert suggests cellophane with a festive pattern and a bow to complete your gift.
If you can't stand the heat of the kitchen, there are bargains to be had at your local bakery as well.