Hi Everyone! Happy November!
I hope you all had a spooktacular Halloween! Next stop, Thanksgiving.
And then December! I know it’s hard to believe, but the holidays are now right around the corner. In my neck of the woods that means lots of baking and cooking. Over the next couple of months I’ll be spending even more time in the kitchen cooking and baking up sweet treats for my family and friends to enjoy.
While I absolutely love this time of the year, I know there can be a lot of stress associated with all the planning and prepping it takes to get ready for the holidays. Over the next few weeks there will be lots of holiday activities – from generating gift lists to shopping to making holiday cards and calendars, to decorating and crafting to wrapping gifts and baking, to holiday concerts, and even travel. In the middle of all that busyness, I also want to be sure there’s time to enjoy holiday movies and hot cocoa, to tour the neighborhood Christmas lights, play some holiday games and enjoy the simple pleasures of the season. And over the last few years I have found that the best way to do ensure that there is time for that is to plan ahead.
So, I decided to take a break from my usual Thursday recipe post to share some tips and tricks to help you tackle the holiday baking season with less stress. (Don’t worry, I’ll be back with my regular recipes next week – recipes that just might be perfect for the holidays).
The first step in getting prepared for holiday baking is to inventory your ingredients. Set aside an hour or two to go through your pantry and make a list of what you have and what you need. And don’t forget to check those expiration dates. Some baking staples you will want to have on hand include:
- All-purpose Flour
- Whole Wheat Pastry Flour
- Baking Powder
- Baking Soda
- Brown Sugar
- Confectioners’ Sugar
- Chocolate Chips
- Butter (Keeps for a long time in the fridge and over 6 months in the freezer)
- Eggs – (Obviously the most perishable of the group)
I know this step might not sound like the most fun, but if you’ve ever been halfway into a recipe when you realized you didn’t have any eggs or sugar, you know how important it is to stock of your pantry.
Plan Your Baking Calendar
The second step for a stress-free holiday baking season is to start planning now. Peruse your recipe-box – whether that’s an actual old-fashioned recipe box stuffed full of old family recipes, or a file on your computer or a Pinterest board – and decide which recipes you are going to make this year. Don’t forget to check out your favorite blogs, Instagram or even a good old-fashioned cook-book to add some new varieties to your cookie menu. I love to pick up one thick glossy holiday baking magazine each year and dog-ear some new recipes to try. (This year I will be flipping through it on the plane to Florida). I rarely make these as directed, but use the recipes to jumpstart some new ideas.
Once I have a list of which recipes I am going to make (see below for my preliminary list)***, I carefully review each recipe and note how much flour, butter, and sugar that I will need for each batch, as well as any special ingredients that are needed. Once I know what ingredients I will need, then I actually sit down with a calendar and pencil in when I am going to make each recipe. I start early with the recipes that will freeze well and try to organize my baking schedule around common ingredients or type of cookies. (I freely admit this might seem a bit obsessive, but it really does make the process easier, especially as my kids have gotten older and our December’s have gotten busier).
Build Your Baking Pantry
Now that you know what you need, it’s easy to supplement what you have with any ingredients that are missing. I know I always need to pick up some lemons, cranberries, jams, cream cheese and heavy cream, just to name a few of the specialty ingredients I rely on for my holiday baking.
This is also a good time to consider stocking up on traditional holiday spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. Spices don’t have a particularly long shelf life, and if the last time you purchased these spices was last December you probably need to update your spice rack. Spices can be expensive (which is another good reason to start planning and purchasing now), but these warm spices can be used in so many recipes, both sweet and savory, added to coffee or hot chocolate or even just simmered on the stove for a delicious, welcoming scent, that you will definitely get your monies worth.
If you are feeling a little bit adventurous this year and want to try some new flavors, you might want to pick up some lavender, cardamom or rosemary. I just made a delicious lemon lavender shortbread that just might make my holiday baking list this year.
Stock Up on Supplies
This is also a good time to take stock of your baking supplies. Examine your cookie sheets – do you have enough? Are they in good shape? Do any of the recipes you selected call for specialty baking pans or tools? How about your cookie cutters? Do you need to pick up any new shapes this year?
Please do yourself a favor and pick up a box or two of parchment paper. My favorite brand coms in pre-cut sheets that perfectly fit a baking sheet. This non-stick oven-safe liner paper makes holiday baking so much easier. It protects delicate baked goods from the heat, ensures your beautiful finished treats are easily removed from the pan and makes clean up a breeze. Simply remove the paper and discard and give the pan a quick wipe. (I do re-use my parchment paper for multiple cookie batches).
Of course, part of what makes holiday baking so special is the extra care we take with the packaging. From gingerbread cookie cutters to snowflake dotted cupcake liners to edible glitter and fairy dust and intricate frosting – holiday treats just look so pretty. So take a minute to pursue your existing supply of cupcake liners, sprinkles, and the like to make sure you are ready to deck the cookies.
Take a Test Run
Last bit not least, if you plan on trying out some new recipes this week and you are depending on those recipes for a cookie swap, holiday party, gift-giving or special holiday event, I highly suggest taking a test run. It is so reassuring to know exactly how to make a recipe and how that recipe is going to taste before the big day.
Plus, a little early holiday baking tasting is sure to get you in the holiday spirit.
*** I bake a lot of holiday cookies each year. It’s a tradition that has grown and grown as more and more people have added their now personal requests to my holiday baking list. I also like to have a huge variety of safe treats at this time of year so that Kevin can enjoy all the flavors of Christmas without having to worry about nuts or cross-contamination. I am fully aware that most people don’t make this many Christmas cookies, but it’s what works for us.