"Reclaiming Homemade in a Small Space"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tips for Success: Christmas Baking

One of the things that so many people look forward to during the Christmas season is the holiday baking!  Even people who don't bake much during the year, have certain recipes that get dusted off just for the occasion.  There is just something about the cold weather, the decorations  and warm cookies straight from the oven that is just so inviting.  But inevitably, something happens that puts a damper on the activity.  The cookies burn or melt into one giant cookie.  The cranberry bread sticks in the loaf pan or the crunchy cookies went soft while the soft cookies got stale.

I've come up with a list of suggestions to make your holiday baking a success!

1. First and foremost, start with a clean and clutter free kitchen. 

This may seem overly simplistic but I know how fast a fun project can go down hill when the counter tops are cluttered with yesterday's mail, the kids lunch boxes and the breakfast dishes.  When you are holding a scalding hot sheet of cookies, it is not the time to try to clear counter space.

2. Read through the entire recipe first before you start baking.  Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand and understand all the instructions.  Also, make sure you have time to do all your baking. 

3.  When assembling your batter or dough, make sure all the ingredients (like eggs and butter, especially) are at room temperature. 

4.  Accuracy is imperative in baking.  Measuring is important.  Don't pack down your flour but do pack down the brown sugar!  Use a timer and an oven thermometer.

My oven tends to over heat a bit...in this picture, the temp. was set to 350.  You can see it was a balmy 400 in my oven.

5.  When you bake two racks of cookies at the same time, make sure there is plenty of room between the racks.

Also, rotate from top to bottom half way through the cooking.

6.  Did you notice my Silpat?  It is silicone baking sheet...I love it. I HIGHLY recommend one for you if you don't have one.  Cookies never stick and don't over-brown.
Both cookies were baked in the same oven for the same amount of time.  The cookie on the left was baked on a Silpat; the one on the right was baked on a regular cookie sheet. 

7. When you are portioning out cookie dough, try to make each cookie the same size.  One of the best ways to do this is to use a cookie scoop. 
I have three scoops in different sizes.  The one shown is my #40 scoop; it is a medium size.  I have a small one (#60) and a large one (#20).  The #20 scoop is great for muffins or cupcakes.  I use the #60 for meatballs and smaller cookies.

8.  Don't open your oven constantly at the end of baking.  Use the light from your oven to check the color of cookies, cupcakes and bread.  You will have to check quick breads and cakes from time to time.  Make sure to use a cake tester, like this:

Most toothpicks aren't long enough.  Also, to remove quick bread from the loaf pan, I find using a small metal spatula to scrap down the sides of the pan makes the loaf come out easier.

9. Don't store different kinds of cookies in the same container.  Otherwise...your chocolate crackles will end up tasting like your cherry thumb print cookies.  Grandma's cinnamon wreaths will soften the neighbors crispy anise cookies.  And you might have some adorable Christmas cookie jars, but if they aren't air tight, don't use them.  Your cookies will go stale and no one will want to eat them.

10. Give your cookies plenty of space when you place them on the cookie sheet to bake.
This certainly isn't an exhaustive list, by any means, but it is a start. This is a great time to spend with your kids and loved ones making Christmas memories.  I wish you much success in your holiday baking adventures!

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