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Dorie Greenspan's Tips for Traveling Sweets

For a double treat, use unbuttered popcorn — rather than Styrofoam packing peanuts — to pad your presents.
Coburn Dukehart, NPR /
For a double treat, use unbuttered popcorn — rather than Styrofoam packing peanuts — to pad your presents.

It's not just the time for turkey, ham, mistletoe and holly, it's also the season for pies and tarts, Bundts and breads, loaves, layers and cookies in uncountable quantities. And while the holiday roast is likely to be served just a room or two away from the oven in which cooked, desserts often put in miles and miles before they're munched.

To make sure that traveling sweets arrive safe, sound and pretty, you've got to choose a good-for-the-road recipe, then pack it up right. Here are some tips and a few recipes to set you on your way:

• Know which sweets travel well. As a rule, packable sweets are the same sweets we think of as good keepers. Moist butter cakes are keepers, as are cakes made with honey and molasses. Dried fruits help hold a cake's moisture and anything boozy will stay moist and tasty for a while, which explains why fruitcakes were so popular for so long.

• Bigger cakes stay fresher longer than dainty little things and, of course, sturdy sweets travel better than crispy, lacy, fragile sweets. Bundt and tube cakes, loaf cakes (which the French often call gateaux de voyage, or travel cakes), brownies, bar cookies and biscotti are all good candidates for packables.

• Avoid cakes and cookies with soft icings, jammy toppings and powdered sugar coatings: They won't last and, worse, they'll get gooey and messy. (Royal icing, which dries firm, is a good traveler. To make royal icing: Beat 2 egg whites and 3 cups powdered sugar together until thick and shiny; thin with a teaspoon or two of fresh lemon juice. Use immediately or cover tightly with plastic.)

• When you're packing your cookies to send, or even if you're just putting them in a big cookie jar, separate the soft, chewy cookies from the crisp, crunchy ones with a layer of wax or parchment paper; pack them together and they'll all end up soft. Do the same thing when you've got plain Janes and cookies with strong scents, like spices and molasses, or all your cookies will take on the stronger smell.

• If you couldn't resist and you made fragile cookies, such as gingerbread people with delicate hands and feet, stack three or four of them together, then wrap the bundle with plastic wrap; there's safety in numbers where these kinds of cookies are concerned.

• Wrap cakes and cookies in a double thickness of plastic wrap or in two airtight plastic bags. Airtight is the important word here, since it's air that dries out your goodies.

• Place your bundled up sweets in a large box and surround them with unbuttered popcorn (an extra treat for the gift recipient) or packing peanuts — they'll absorb any bumps in the road.

• Mark the box you're shipping "Fragile" and maybe "Perishable." But avoid labeling it "Edible" — why put temptation in the path of the postman or Santa?

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Dorie Greenspan