7 Essential Tips For (Nearly) Stress-Free Holiday Baking
Anyone familiar with the Scouts knows that their motto is "Be Prepared". Specifically, "by having thought out beforehand any accident or situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment, and are willing to do it". Baking for the holidays very much reminds us of the type of situation to which this motto applies.
Holiday entertaining can be stressful. And we're not just talking about the relatives who drive you crazy. The good news? A little preparation helps a ton. Here are 7 essential tips for (nearly) stress-free holiday baking:
Tip #1: Make ahead
One of the best ways to prepare for holiday baking is to make some things in advance, It's a huge time saver and can be done several days or even weeks ahead. Make and freeze unbaked pie crusts, and freeze cookies either before or after baking. In fact, almost anything can be made ahead, if stored properly.
Suggestion: Slice and bake cookies freeze well and are easy for feeding holiday crowds. A basic recipe potentially creates many flavor varieties with the addition of cranberries, lemon zest, chocolate chips, etc.
Tip #2: Have the right tools
Almost any recipe will call for the following basic kitchen tools:
Rubber spatulas--very effective for folding in ingredients and scraping the contents of bowls
Whisks--helpful for incorporating air into ingredients such as eggs, either whole or separated, and whipping cream.
Wooden spoons--great for stirring custards and seeing how much they have thickened by removing the spoon and streaking a finger across the back of the spoon.
Liquid and dry measures--cups and spoons essential for accurate measuring of ingredients
Mixing bowls--have a set of small, medium and large on hand
Stand or hand mixer
For a more comprehensive list of tools for holiday baking, click here.
Tip #3: Check your ingredients in advance
Once you've selected your recipes, don't wait until the last minute to check on ingredients.This means more than just creating a list and going shopping. Spices have a shelf life and leaveners lose their potency and freshness within a specified time, so don't count on using last year’s supply. A week or so before baking, look at the dates and replace anything out of or nearly out of date. Buy small quantities of less-used dried spices to prevent waste, and if buying in bulk always put dates on the containers.
Tip #4: Prepare your pans
Preparing pans ahead of time makes clean-up much easier, and doing it in advance ensures that you won't be held up when it comes time to bake. Here are three quick and easy methods:
Line cake pans and cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Grease with cooking spray or butter. This is important for baking cakes so they don't stick, even in nonstick pans.
Dust a greased cake pan with flour. Coat with oil or butter, then add flour and tap the pan to remove the excess.
Tip #5: Set out all ingredients before starting
Make a checklist of ingredients and have them out and ready before you start each recipe. Why? It eliminates last-minute trips to the store when you realize you don't have what you need, It also keeps the momentum going at critical times, like after you've combined wet and dry ingredients, which activates leaveners (baking soda and powder). After this point, the countdown is on. Not a good time to be searching for the chopped nuts.
Tip #6: Go with what you know
In terms of holiday baking, this means avoiding unfamiliar recipes. If you want to wow your guests with an exciting and festive new baked goodie, that's great. Just make sure that you practice the recipe and successfully make it before busting it out on the big day. There's nothing like the confidence of knowing that your bakery will turn out perfectly when you don't have time for a do-over.
Tip #7: Relax
We like this little nugget of wisdom from Ree Drummond (you may know her as The Pioneer Woman): "Baking, probably more so than cooking, can be a little intimidating and daunting. One piece of advice I give is just to keep in mind what the holidays are all about. They're all about the thought and feeling behind things. It's not about impressing people. Don't put pressure on yourself to make a 37-layer torte for your neighbors." Need we say more?
Happy holiday baking!