So, the holidays are upon us. At a loss about Christmas gifts this year? Low on funds for buying presents, especially for friends or co-workers?

I hear a lot of folks in the traffic exchange community lately talking about such things, so I thought I’d share one of my relatively convenient and fairly inexpensive tricks from several years ago when I had next to nothing to spend on Christmas gifts, especially for those outside of my very-immediate-family.

Or maybe you have to come up with some kind of edible to bring for an upcoming festive occasion, and looking for something pretty easy and inexpensive to do.

My answer is… candy! Who doesn’t love candy, after all? And especially at the holidays!

All you’ll need per batch is one 24 oz. package of almond bark, either chocolate or vanilla flavor (in US stores it’s usually found under the brand name Plymouth Pantry), one mix-in ingredient of your choice, and some mini cupcake liners (you can usually find holiday-decorated ones in or near the baking stuff aisle near the holidays).

It’ll help if you have a mini-muffin baking pan (or three or four or five, depending on how much candy you want to make) handy too. (It’s still possible to do this without a mini-muffin pan, but you’ll have a harder time getting the more liquid-y versions to set up easily without one. The coconut ones set pretty easy on their own when they’re still hot – the peanut version, not so much.)

A typical mix-in ingredient would be peanuts, coconut flakes, dried fruit such as cranberries, Rice Krispies, or whatever – go wild, the possibilities are endless! Coconut flakes or dried cranberries go especially well with the white (vanilla) almond bark, while peanuts (or other nuts) go great with either flavor bark.

Generally if you plan on making enough for several gifts for several people, you’re probably going to want to get at least four or five packages of the almond bark, and 4-8 cups worth of mix-in ingredients. If I have ten or twelve people to make candy for, I usually start out with twice that (i.e., 8-10 packages of almond bark – usually half chocolate and half vanilla).

Then all you do is pop the bark in a large microwave-safe bowl and heat in the microwave on high in 30-second or 45-second intervals, stirring as you go, until it’s all melted. (Your bark will probably stick out of the top of the bowl at first, but once it’s been through a couple rounds in the microwave, it’ll be soft enough that you can push it down in the bowl).

Once the almond bark has melted, add the mix-in ingredient of your choice and mix it all up. I generally go with adding one cup of whatever ingredient I’m using, sometimes a little more depending on what it is. With peanuts, one cup will be plenty; with coconut flakes, I might add one and a half cups instead.

Then all you have to do is line your mini-muffin pan with the mini cupcake liners, and spoon the mixture into each and let the candies cool. Set the pan(s) somewhere safe from dogs and cats (I speak from experience there), and wait about 30 minutes or so.

Voila! Your candies will be ready to take out of the pans and pop them into a vessel of your choice for gift-giving. I usually try to give each recipient a mixture of different kinds.

And you can usually find some really cool holiday things cheap at the stores to put the candy in. My favorite one year were some little plastic holiday “pails” (with lids) that came in three colors and were decorated with either Santa, reindeer, or snowmen, and they were perfect for these candies and only cost $1.00 each… and since they came with lids, I didn’t have to wrap a thing!

The project certainly doesn’t cost next to nothing, but it’s a easy and relatively inexpensive way to knock out a lot of gifts for many people at once, and if you have enough mini-muffin pans, even with the waiting-to-cool periods you can knock this out in an afternoon or evening.

And it’s not just for Christmas, after all. I’ve made these candies for Valentine’s Day, for a charity auction, and some other occasions.

And if you’re in another country besides the U.S. and Canada, I expect you can easily find the equivalent of ingredients needed for this project. (Heck, depending on what country you’re in, you can probably find some super yummy super high quality almond bark to use, especially in places known for great chocolate like Ireland, Germany, and the Czech Republic, for example.)

I am like the complete polar opposite of Domestic Debbie the Happy Homemaker, but even I can make these look and taste pretty good. If I can do it, anyone can!

So with just barely 20 days to go ’til Christmas, there’s my tip if you’re scrambling for gifts or stocking stuffers, or just looking for edibles for your holiday festivities! Enjoy!