Candy's orange ricotta pound cake1

Homemade food as gifts speaks volumes to clients, loved ones, and colleagues alike. Food that has been prepared by loving hands and a generous heart with the specific intention to share is an international holiday tradition that I treasure. I look forward to the smiles on the faces of those receiving the treasures I deliver at holiday time. I show up in the world through food, and it is simply how I tell the people in my life that I love them.

My personal chef clients have looked forward to their holiday gifts for over 20 years and never fail to say thank you for caring about us and for us. I seldom gift the same food items and find that some clients will actually send notes asking, “Are you planning to make your homemade salsa or orange ricotta pound cake or Meyer lemon curd again this year?” What a compliment!

We know some of you also follow this tradition. Bonnie Nicklaus of The Garden of Eatin in Columbus, Ohio, says she’s always made something special for long-term clients at the holidays. “Usually candy, caramel corn, reindeer chow, or cookies. They’re delivered in a festive gift bag and I include a card saying how much I appreciate their business through the past year… and looking forward to serving them in the New Year.”

Amber Guthrie of Salt of the Hearth in Colombia, Mo., is just gearing up her business but she tells us that this year she’s making the unusual gift of homemade chicken bouillon powder and elderberry syrup for flu season for her parents, siblings, and inlaws.

Jim Huff of Traveling Culinary Artist in New York gives the doormen in his clients’ buildings goody bags with mini quick breads, a bottle of wine, and a small monetary gift. “This year I’m going with a six-pack of hard cider, brownies, and ‘the envelop.’ My clients get wine, champagne or a bottle of their preferred liquor if I know it. Since most of my regulars are on some sort of restrictive diet, I always feel like wine can easily be re-gifted when they go holiday visiting.”

Jodie Steiner of Plenty in Washington, D.C., says she’s been obsessed with apple cider syrup and is giving it to her clients this year. “Boiled down cider is unbelievably good on pancakes and in cocktails,” she says. She’ll be giving that gift with cider caramels she picks up at her local farmers market.

Food gifts needn’t be complex or expensive to convey the message you choose to send. I find the time spent planning, preparing, and packaging these items is joyous and fits into my holiday plans quite easily and enjoyably.

Food is the common language spoken around the world. Share yourself, your talent and your commitment to your clients if you so choose, and have fun in the process.

Here’s a recipe for one of my favorite holiday gifts, an orange ricotta pound cake. If you’re giving this as a gift, you can skip the strawberries and wrap the cake up in cellophane or a pretty holiday bag. While I love making a full-size pound cake to serve guests, you may want to make minis as gifts. A great big full-size cake can be daunting in this season of culinary excess.

Candy's orange ricotta pound cake3

ORANGE RICOTTA POUND CAKE
Yield: 1 large pound cake or 12 minis

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 cups cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (1 1/4 sticks) butter, room temperature, plus more to grease the baking pan
1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 orange, zested
2 tablespoons Amaretto
Powdered sugar, for dusting
1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan with butter. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir to combine.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, ricotta, and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the machine running, add the eggs 1 at a time. Add the vanilla, orange zest, and Amaretto until combined. Add the dry ingredients, a small amount at a time, until just incorporated.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean and the cake is beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 45 to 50 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Using a mesh sieve, dust the cooled cake with powdered sugar.

Meanwhile, place the strawberries in a small bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Let sit until the juices have pooled around the strawberries.

To serve, slice the cake and serve with a spoonful of strawberries and their juices over the top of the cake.

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