Before you crack that first egg, establish a game plan for stress-free success
The holiday season is upon us, which (for the bakers among us) means it’s time to don aprons, dog-ear some cookbooks and prepare to make a great big floury mess. But before you dive in, take the time to set the stage for success with a clean and well-organized kitchen, as well as a doable baking plan. Read on for 10 tips on how to make this year’s baking projects as fun and stress-free as possible.
1. Make your holiday to-bake list. Grab a stack of your favorite cookbooks and food magazines, pour yourself a mug of something yummy to drink and make a list of all the delicious things you’d like to bake this year. Then go over the list again, considering realities like time constraints, cost of ingredients and the skill (or patience) level required, and refine until you have a doable list. If you’re planning to make food gifts, check your calendar and schedule baking time far enough in advance to allow you to distribute your treats before the holiday.
2. Think about packaging and embellishments. Once you know what you’ll be baking, consider how you want to package and adorn any goodies you plan to give as gifts. Paper boxes, baker’s twine, mason jars, glassine bags and a variety of tags and labels make pretty packaging for just about any kitchen gift you can dream up. Figure out what you need, and stock up before you start mixing.
4. Sort out the pantry. The pantry is key when it comes to baking. Dig deep, pulling everything out and sweeping crumbs off the shelves. Discard anything past its expiration date, plus any spices that no longer smell fragrant, no matter what the date says. If you haven’t done any baking for a while, you’re probably better off tossing those open containers of baking powder and baking soda too.
5. Take stock of bakeware and tools. Once you know what you plan to make, have a look in your cupboards to make sure you have all the necessary pans and tools. If a recipe calls for a certain size and type of pan, it really is best to use the type specified. Make a list of the items you’re missing, and purchase them soon. And if you’re planning to bake lots of cookies, you might want an extra sheet pan or cooling rack to help speed things along.
6. Pull small appliances out of hiding. While cleaning, dig out your stand mixer, food processor and any other small appliances you plan to use, plus all the related accessories. If anything has been sitting unused for more than a month or two, it’s a good idea to wipe it down and wash any removable parts in warm, soapy water.
7. Put together a baking station. Whether you install it on the counter, on a rolling cart or in a cupboard is up to you — the point is to have all of your most frequently used baking tools and ingredients in one easy-to-access place. Add one or more of these organizing helpers to make the most of your baking space:
- A few hooks inside a cupboard door can hold small tools
- A set of airtight canisters for flour, grains and sugars keeps ingredients fresh longer (and keeps pests out)
- A lazy Susan makes spices and cookie decorations easier to reach
- A large basket on the floor can store bulky sheet pans, muffin tins and cutting boards
8. Quick storage solution: shoe boxes. Keep project-specific ingredients and tools sorted in easy-to-grab photo or shoe boxes. Fill one with cookie cutters, another with sprinkles and colored sugars. When it’s time to bake, just pull out the appropriate box — they’re easy to store and stack, and if you don’t have enough room in your kitchen, you can sneak a box or two onto a bookcase in another room.
9. Make it easier for little helpers to help. A sturdy, child-size stepping stool can help the smallest bakers get in on the action. A mini apron will make your little helper feel like a real baker, but one of your own tees will do the job (and look adorable) just as well, if not better. A pint-size table and chairs in the kitchen can be the perfect place for little ones to “help” work some extra dough, or wash a set of measuring spoons in a tub of sudsy water.
10. Taste-test. Always a good rule in the kitchen, this is especially important if you’re planning on giving food gifts! In fact, you might want to plan on making a first batch of that granola, chocolate bark or cookies for your own family to keep, so you can perfect the recipe.
Tell us: Will you be doing any baking this holiday season? What’s your favorite thing to make and give?