For eleventh-hour holiday shoppers, gourmet markets, with their late hours and wide variety, are a godsend. Bundle imported fancy foods — from French pear cider to Spanish Marcona almonds — with cheeses, exotic fruits, and artisanal baked goods for a gift that needs no apology.
What to Look For
Seedless Spanish clementines have gotten big, juicy, and sweet. Organic clementines from Florida tend to be smaller and more expensive, but the leaf-on fruits break down into dark orange segments full of intensely sweet-tart juice (Spanish clementines are widely available; organic clementines are 75 cents each at Dean & DeLuca, $2.99 per pound at Agata & Valentina).
Red currant-apple cider is a slightly winey take on the beverage, with a crisp tartness that brightens the flavor of the apples. It’s perfect for mulling with honey and spices or reducing with shallots and butter to accompany roast squash, poultry, or rich fish ($4.99 per half-gallon at Agata & Valentina, $3.99 per half-gallon and $1.99 per pint at Balducci’s).
Christmas bush honey is gathered from bees that visit the so-called Christmas bush, which flowers around the holidays in Australia’s Tasmanian rainforest. The dark-gold, cold-pressed, unfiltered honey has a creamy consistency, an aroma of caramel, coffee, and almonds, and a floral flavor with marzipan notes. Spread on buttered toast or serve with fresh ricotta cheese ($24.95 per 26.5-ounce can at Blue Apron, $28 at Dean & DeLuca).
You can eat olive-size orange kumquats whole, tender skin and all, for some bitter zest and a drop of tart juice, but these little orbs contain very little fruit, and they’re at their best cooked into a sweet glaze for duck, candied, added to cranberry relish, or used as garnish (recipe) (widely available).
Yellow-orange Meyer lemons, currently at their peak, are a thin-skinned, low-acid, perfumed variety believed to be a cross between a lemon and mandarin or orange. The mild-mannered, aromatic fruits can stand in for their tarter cousins (recipe), but their floral zest is also delightful in butter cookies, and their juice makes a great hot toddy (widely available).
Ripe for the Moment
Compared to the stylishly packaged, exotically flavored chocolates that Rob and Robin recently surveyed, the assorted handmade bonbons nestled in chocolatier Altmann & Kühne’s two-drawer gift box are old-fashioned and demure. From a Viennese shop that’s over 100 years old, with Arts and Crafts–era package design, the little chests make a delightful gift ($69.95 at Blue Apron). — Zoe Singer