Holiday Baking Tips

Butter Cookies

Like so many of you, I am gearing up for a lot of baking in the next couple of weeks. Here are some tips to make holiday baking easier.

  1. Make a list (shopping) and check it twice. Nothing is more frustrating than getting ready to bake and finding that you are missing one ingredient or something is too old to use. Go over your recipes in the kitchen or pantry, so you can check your inventory as you make your list.
  2.  Read through the directions before starting to make sure your ingredients are ready. You may need to let ingredients like butter or eggs come to room temperature, or you might need to toast nuts. Better to get it all ready before you get started, than to find out you aren’t ready.
  3. Make sure you have enough of the basics. There are about 8 cups of sugar in a four-pound bag and about 20 cups of flour in a five-pound bag. For powdered sugar- you get about 4 cups in a one-pound bag, a bit more if you sift it. In brown sugar, a one pound bag yields a little over 2 cups, assuming you pack it when measuring.
  4. Make sure ingredients are fresh. High fat foods like nuts and butter should be kept refrigerated or frozen for best flavor. These foods can become rancid if stored too long at room temperature. I like to buy nuts in season, which is fall and winter and freeze them for all year.  The price is usually better and they will keep fine in the freezer.
  5. Check your powders. Baking powder can lose its fizz if it is too old. To test what you have at home, place a teaspoon of baking powder in a cup and add 2 tablespoons of boiling water. It should bubble up. If nothing happens get a fresh tin. To test baking soda- place a small amount (1/4 teaspoon or so) in a spoon. Add a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar. The soda should bubble up. If it does nothing, time to get a fresh box.  
  6.  Make one day and bake another. If you are making cookies try making and chilling the dough all at one time and then just chill or freeze it until you are ready to bake it. Cookie dough can be frozen for up to a couple of months with no problem. This way you can concentrate on just one thing, clean up that mess and the next day just do the baking. Cookie dough will keep in the fridge for a week if it contains no eggs and 4 days if it does. I often decorate the cookies another day if I can, just to keep down the chaos in my too small kitchen.
  7. Two can be as easy as one. If you are making quick breads for gifts it is usually no problem to double the batch and get that much more baking out of the way. I like to buy pretty foil pans so I can bake and give the bread in the same pan. At paper outlet stores, baking supply stores and cake decorating stores you can find an assortment of containers with lids for even easier packaging.
  8. Keep it simple. I like to make really fancy desserts, too, but sometimes there just isn’t the time. You can dress up a simple cake with drizzles of melted chocolate, fancy sprinkles, chocolate curls and edible glitter. A fun way to dress up a cake is to place a doily on the top of the cake and then dust the cake with cocoa (for a white frosted cake) or powdered sugar (for a dark frosted cake) or even cinnamon or cinnamon sugar. Gently lift off the doily and you will have a lacy design on your cake. Use window stencils or cookie cutters for other designs. I have a bunch of star-shaped cookie cutters. I place them on the cake, then add powdered sugar inside them. When I remove the cookie cutters, I have little stars on my cake.
  9. Make a list of what you want to bake, then list them in order of importance. Bake the stuff on the top of your list first. That way, if you can’t get it all done, the stuff you needed the most gets done.
  10. Please don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t all get made. You should enjoy the holidays, too.
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