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Every year since I can remember, I return home to my parents' house in Baltimore for what I'll call "winter recess"—yes, this is really Christmas break; no, it does not always align with Hanukkah—to find a plastic snack bag (distinct from the reasonably-sized sandwich bags, this is a finger-width, tube sock of a bag that can accommodate a handful of almonds and no more) with three or four pretzel-Hershey's Kiss-M&M faces squeezed inside.
Every year, I make fun of my mom for having not eaten them already, and of her skating friend (my mom is an avid ice dancer—more on that never) for giving them to us in the first place. A few pretzels as a gift? I know it's the thought that counts, but where's the homemade granola? ...I am a scrooge. I am a spoiled-rotten scrooge. (I blame the insanely kind and over-the-top Holiday Swap packages.)
Every year, I eat them all when my parents aren't looking. And this year, I made them myself. Each of my recipients got exactly nine pretzel-kiss-&Ms.
For as much as I've droned on about edible gifts as great last-minute alternatives for us put-er-off-ers who have failed to order a present online (or, heaven forbid, brave a brick-and-mortar store during shopping season), most are not at all suitable for the kind of last-minute urgency I'm talking about: "last-minute" as in you're due to leave for the party in an hour; "last-minute" as in you received a Christmas gift at 5 PM on Christmas Day from the scrooge neighbor you never expected to give you anything (was it me?); "last-minute" as in there is no way you're getting out of your pajamas to drive to the grocery store. In this "last-minute" world, you will not be "throwing together" pumpkin butter.
That's where these better-than-they-should-be pretzel-kiss-&Ms come on the scene. They're three "ingredients" (I mean, they're probably made up of hundreds of ingredients but just three pronounceable "food stuffs"), all of which you'll find at the convenience store (in fact, I couldn't find the pretzels anywhere but the Duane Reade), and they take approximately—oh, let's see now—zero effort.
Even if you're not in a rush, you may be so busy and/or tired and/or preoccupied and/or sugared-out that no volume of coffee or alcohol will provide the will to measure, mix, and clean (...hello). Do yourself a favor, stay away from the kitchen, and preserve a shred of well-being: Your co-workers and friends will understand. (Mine did.) Heck, they may even eat all of those silly pretzels in one sitting. They will enjoy them. They will think it's lovely that you did anything at all. And they will not know where you got the idea.
Here's how to make them. (Does this need to be explained? I don't know. Going for it!)
- Line up your pretzels on a baking sheet. If you have obsessive tendencies (me!), line them all in the same direction. NOTE: There are fifty-four Kisses in a bag, so you need no more than 54 pretzels (basic math) unless you've splurged and bought multiple bags. I have not counted how many pretzels or M&Ms there are in one bag. Sorry.
- Enlist a helper to unwrap the Kisses with you. You are doing a lot of work and need a helper. (I chose dark chocolate Kisses because—ha, ha—I'm a "food stylist" and also because I suspected that some of my very strange Food52 colleagues hated milk chocolate? But if there had been HUGS at the store, I'd have chosen HUGS in a heartbeat).
- Place one Hershey's Kiss on each pretzel.
- Place the baking sheet in a warm oven (like 200° or 300°F) until you see the Kisses' peaks droop and their surfaces glisten. This takes between 2 and 5 minutes. (I didn't time it. Sit next to the oven and watch them.)
- Working quickly (call your helper back from the sofa where they're watching a dumb TV show that is not as important as the task at hand!), place one M&M atop each melting Kiss and press down. If the Kiss doesn't smoosh under the strength of the colorful candy, back in the oven the Kissed pretzels go.
- I don't need to tell you that you can choose any sort of M&M you want (pretzel, almond, peanut, peanut butter)—but the real honkin' drops might balance a bit awkwardly on dainty pretzels.
- Put the baking sheet in the fridge so that the chocolate hardens.
- Divide among your loved ones. It's okay if everyone gets three.
And if you want to get fancy, that's what we have Pinterest for:
Bringing my HUGS dreams to fruition:
Reindeers, minimalism and maximalism:
Tagging out the Kisses for ROLOS and the M&Ms for pecans (healthy fats?):
And for spring, which will, indeed, come:
Tell us: What's your go-to, zero-effort, last-minute present?