When do you start your holiday baking?
- Jane Hathaway
When do you start your holiday baking? Do you generally do it all at once or spread it out over several weeks? Are there certain things you make early and freeze and others that you leave for the last minute? I've always baked tons of cookies in one weekend (of course that was before I had a baby on hand!) and shipped them to people, but this is the first year I'll be hosting people in our (new) home. I was just sort of curious what strategies people use.
I go nuts baking for the holidays.
I've had my cookie recipies planned since mid-October, complete with shopping lists and timing schedules.
Some cookies freeze very well. Some need to be made right before you mail them. Some, for in home entertaining, need to be made or finished that day.
I'll start baking 1 December and will have everything in the mail by 17 December.
Many cookie doughs freeze well, and many items pre-prep well. Some cookies, like one I'm making this year, actually need to cure a couple weeks.
I've been accused of going overboard in this regard, but living far from my family and friends, this is how I show I love them over the Holidays since I wont be there in person.
I do a little holiday baking, but mostly I make candy for the holidays. Usually the candy making is spread out over 2 weekends starting with Thanksgiving weekend. I can fill in after that as needeed. Baking happens after the candy.
Hello Miss Jane,
Speaking as a new mother myself, my strategy for baking will change drastically this year. I don't know if it's going to work, but this is what I plan to do.
I am going to limit the number of people I send cookie gift boxes to. In the past, my list has exceeded thirty people. I'm going to pare down to less than 20. Also, family members that I'm going to see in person are not getting a box in the mail this year.
I'm toying with the idea of doing just a candy box this year, like perhaps just fudge and caramels, in alternating pattern in the gift box. It will look pretty, ship well, and will take less time than the 8-10 cookie varieties I've made in the past. We'll see.
I have always had a schedule for baking, making the things that kept well first (i.e. fruitcake and shortbread). If you like shortbread, I'd make it as early as Thanksgiving, as it improves with time. Certain cookies (such as icebox cookies) can be made ahead of time and the dough can be frozen. I find this to be dicey unless I've actually done a dry run with the dough. Even if the recipe says it can be frozen ahead of time, I like to test it. Sometimes freezing can change the cookie (like the time I froze molasses cookie dough, and then never got the molasses cookie distinctive crinkle).
For home-hosted desserts, a great resource is the 2003 Fine Cooking holiday baking issue. It's got several make-and-freeze desserts, like a lemon tart, that you could make waaaay before your guests ever get there. And then they can hold the baby while you take it out to defrost it :)
One thing I am not planning on doing this year is my traditional decorated sugar cookies. They just take way too much time. I will make cookies, at least 3-4 varieties so I have a good looking cookie plate to offer to guests, but my artistic drive is going to be channeled into playing educational and creative games with my 7-month old, rather than creating perfect cookies.
I'd go for huge batches of baked cookies, ones you know you can freeze after they are baked, so there is minimal work for you when guests come. Also, I am going to try to make a good variety of colors in my cookies, since there are so few of them. Green marshmallow wreaths, brown molasses cookies, yellow shortbread, white almond bark, brown fudge, golden carmel. I'm not going to make several different brown-looking cookies (like a chocolate cookie, a molasses cookie, a spice cookie, an anise cookie, etc), just because my total production is going to be limited.
I'll be interested to hear about your strategies. Happy first Christmas to your Chowpup.
re: Mrs. Smith
Thank you Mrs. Smith. I must say that I always enjoy your posts immensely. I actually have one you wrote in December of last year in my Christmas file. It's about holiday traditions and it's absolutely lovely.
My strategy is pretty similar to yours. I'm thinking of cutting back on the more elaborate or time consuming items this year (cut out sugar cookies being the prime example). My daughter won't know that they are missing this year and my time will be better spent with her. I'm planning to bake 5 or 6 other kinds of cookies, maybe some pretzel rods dipped in really excellent chocolate and covered with festive sprinkles and some fudge. I'm going to utilize naptime as much as possible. I'll measure dry ingredients out and be ready to go the moment she falls asleep. I'm really organized and disciplined so I think I can manage this AND 3 days of meals for a bunch of people if I'm really careful.
Merry Christmas to you and your baby!
This year I started on Halloween, but only for fruitcake. I'm planning on doing some of the baking maybe Thanksgiving weekend? I have several cookie recipes, which I also happen to love, that last forever, and actually improve. Bourbon balls peak about a month after you make them, and Pfeffernusse also last a long time (at least my recipe does -- it has very little fat). I think relatives in the mail this year are getting homemade spice rubs (easier and more transportable than cookies) and maybe English Toffee. I have a terrific recipe that's easy to make and of course, transports well. If time permits, I might also make some yeasted breads and coffee cakes this year that I can freeze and then reheat. For actual celebrations, Christmas Eve will be the aforementioned fruitcake, and maybe a purchased mince pie, and for Christmas day I'm trying to cajole my mother into making the persimmon pudding.
My favorite resources for Christmas cookies has quickly become Dede Wilson's Baker's Field Guide to Christmas Cookies. There are recipes from all around the world, including about 5 different ones for ginger cookies. It gives details on how long each cookies keep, which ones have doughs that freeze well, which ones are quick to make, which ones are easy, and which ones mail well. I've made 4 or 5 different recipes, and they've all come out wonderfully (including the Pfeffernusse I mentioned above).