Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Baking without the stress

I am very excited for this weekend. I took Friday and Monday off work to bake cookies, and get all of our gifts shipped. I have just two things to pick up and I will be done done done with our shopping. I even have it all wrapped already! I am quite excited.

If you have read this from the start, you will know that I love to bake and cook, so taking off two days from work to bake is like a fun mini-vacation for me. While it may never be that way for others, I would like to offer some tips that can help get you through the baking stress free.
Remember...I am not an expert, but follow along and you can survive the holiday baking bonanza!

1 Repeat this phrase:
It's the thought that counts, and this should be fun. Seriously, if you hate to bake, then don't. Find a different way to spread the holiday cheer. Make fudge (eagle brand recipe is EASY), or try this cute, simple recipe. Instead of baking, make a cute simple craft, or tell your friends and family that instead of baking you are using the money you would have spent to make a donation to a local food bank or other charity.

2. Know your audience:
Are you sending these to family members? If so, maybe there is a cookie that is a family favorite, or has a fun memory associated with it. (like maybe one year when you were really little you added 1 C salt instead of 1 C sugar to the russian teacake dough on accident. just hypothetically speaking).
Are the cookies going to friends or family in college? They will be happy just to get a care package so don't worry too much about fancy cookies.
Are you shipping to a soldier overseas? Items like banana bread and muffins that are very moist can mold very quickly in the hot, humid climates. They may have buddies that don't get packages (its sad, but a reality), so larger quantities to share would probably be appreciated. You may be able to make a lot more chocolate chip cookies than the fancier cookie you were planning for.

3. When it comes to time, overestimate, and bake accordingly:
The recipe time is probably based on optimal time and lets face it, we don't have someone measuring, setting up and cleaning up for us. You also have to remember to allow time for cookies to cool before storing. If you only have a few hours to bake, go for easier recipes (like the ones in #1), and use your old standbys. You don't want to experiment with a new recipe when it may be the only chance you have to bake.

4. Beware of the fancy new recipe:
The magazine makes it look so simple, but it may not be. Judge yourself, but from personal experience, I am a little more critical of my baking when its going out to others. For this reason, I don't try new recipes for my holiday baking unless they are variations on recipes I am familiar with (this year I am trying a vanilla sugar cookie, instead of plain sugar cookies).

5. Look back on years past:
I think I made cut out gingerbread cookies for three years in a row before I stopped. I don't enjoy decorating cutout cookies. AT ALL. I get this grand idea in my head, and usually they don't work and by the third cookie I am bored. No more. I am baking and, as I stated, I should enjoy it. Therefore, if you get a plate of cookies from me for Christmas, it won't include decorated cut out cookies. Deal with it. : )

6. Read, re-read, and read again:
It's frustrating to make up your dough, be ready to bake and then see that it has to chill for 2 hours before baking. Read the entire recipe all the way through to make sure you are aware of all the steps.

If you have never had to run to the grocery in the middle of baking for 1/2 tsp of cinnamon then congratulations. However, things like flour, butter, and sugar add up quickly when you are making several recipes, especially if you are doubling recipes. I actually compile all of my recipes, and list out how much of each item I need in Excel. You can laugh at how crazy this is, but I will have the last laugh since I won't be running to the grocery for missed ingredients.

8. Helpful tools:
Parchment paper: You can re-use it until it gets pretty brown or starts to crack. Great for ensure cookies don't stick and saves cleanup time.
Cookie scoop: This one is pretty self explanatory, but they are great and you can get them almost anywhere (even the grocery) for pretty cheap
Extra timer: You may need to cool something for a certain amount of time before moving to cooling rack, while something else is baking. An extra timer is great during this times.
Stackable cooling racks: Really great if you have limited space

9. Did I mention this should be fun?
Put on some soothing music (I will be playing my Christmas CD's)
Wear comfy clothes
Invite friends, or don't if you are like me and like the kitchen to yourself
Treat yourself to a latte before you get started
Whatever you can do to enjoy, do it. Don't be afraid to skip it. Baking isn't what Christmas is ALL about. For me, its an enjoyable part of the season, but if it isn't fun for you then you should find another way to enjoy the season.

Whatever you do to get in the holiday spirit, have fun!

1 comment:

Jennifer P. said...

Don't forget the MUSIC :)!

You have to have lots of music to cook (and dance!) to !

These were some great tips Carrie. I especially agree with the "variation on a recipe" as opposed to tryihg to make huge batches of some unknown thing!

And the recipe for the pumpkin pie cobbler was on the first comment (mine) of my Monday post. I'm not a big pumpkin pie girl--but I ate a LOT of that! (and I doubled the recipe, by the way--but still used the same size pan!).

SOrry I've been such a rotten commenter lately!--finals are getting in the way! Thanks for sticking with me ;)