Another holiday, another excuse to bake! For those who love to get into the kitchen and create edible gifts (cookie favors) and treats for friends and families; holidays provide all the impetus we need to start mixing, kneading, preheating, and decorating.
Along with the fun, though, comes inevitable tension as deadlines loom, our days get fuller, and we don't have time to do as much as we'd like. This holiday, cut the stress without cutting the taste. Here are some tips for stress-free holiday baking.
Plan out what you would like to bake and take stock of your pantry. What do you need? Flour, sugar, and other staples? Do you need sprinkles, candies, and other extras? Do you need icing bags, decorating tips, or toothpicks? You don't want to be most of the way through a recipe before realizing you're out of butter or that you don't have chocolate chips for your famous chocolate chip cookies. Also make sure you have treat bags, boxes, cookie tins, or other containers to put the finished product in. Make a list and check it twice!
Just as you are preparing your ingredients, prepare your work space. Un-clutter counters and work surfaces. Make sure all of your baking supplies are clean and ready to go. Another pre-baking step to take is to make a list of recipients or events and decide which baked goods go where and how many you will need to make.
You need to bake as close to the holiday as possible to ensure fresh cookies, cakes, and treats. But that doesn't mean you have to save all the work for the last minute. In the days before baking day, measure out all your dry ingredients and store in labeled containers. This is like making yourself a bunch of "gifts in a jar" and it will help save you time. If you are making holiday cookie gifts, you can also make the dough ahead of time and freeze it. When you're ready, let it thaw and then whip up some wonderful goodies.
If you have friends or family members who are willing, get them to help out. It can make the work go by much faster when you have a second pair of hands. Perhaps one of you could mix while the other did the dishes, and switch periodically?
Also, it can be a great idea to include your children. If they are old enough to help, and are actually helpful, have them help you mix, cut out Christmas cookies, and decorate. If you are a bit of a control freak or your children are not ready to help out in the kitchen, then enlist the help of a friend or family member to babysit for you! In exchange for some fresh baked goods, that is.
There is no reason why you should make gingerbread men for this person, chocolate chip cookies for that one, cupcakes for him, chocolate covered oreos for her.
Photo Credit: Bake by Alyssa
Choose a few favorites and make them en masse. This will cut preparation time and make it easier for you to cook, package, and give. There's a reason why big companies do it, so why can't you?
If you have friends who also love to bake, hold a cookie swap party. Everyone makes their favorite or specialty cookie and there is a chocolaty, sugary, decadent exchange. You get to go home with a sampling of other treats.
You have given and received a holiday gift, had a party, and have cut your stress! That's a lot to accomplish in just a few hours.
If you are short on time, why not take some shortcuts? Instead of making items from scratch, use a mix and then doll up the results to make them special. Instead of making a complex recipe, melt some chocolate and dip pretzels, nuts, or coffee beans. Rather than baking, create a gift-in-a-jar and let someone else enjoy the process at their leisure.
Holiday baking doesn't have to ruin the holiday. Enjoy yourself by preparing and simplifying; the best gift you can give yourself and others is to actually have a peaceful, happy holiday.