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Sweet Shortcuts for Your Holiday Baking

Clockwise: bench blade, pastry docker, bowl scraper, various sized food dishers.

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If you love to bake like I do, then you probably bake everything from scratch. There is nothing like fresh baked ANYTHING on Christmas morning, but preparing a whole bunch of different things can be time consuming, so I thought I would share some time-saving tips from a class I taught for other Taunton Press employees as part of Taunton University.

1) The right tools – Cooks nowadays have lots of gadgets in their kitchens, and bakers should have them, too. I recommend a bowl scraper, bench blade, food dishers (various) sizes), and a pastry docker. For me these are the most essential time-savers. Bowl scrapers make cleaning bowls a snap because they don’t have handles and they are stiffer than regular spatulas. Bench blades make cutting dough and cleaning counters easier. Food dishers make scooping cookies and muffins less messy. And finally, pastry dockers keep pastry from puffing up when blind baking better than pricking with a fork. These tools were all bought at professional restaurant supply stores, so look one up in your area. If you can’t find one, the Pampered Chef makes suitable substitutes.

2) Make mixes – Sure you can buy boxed mixes at the supermarket, but the finished product tastes far from homemade. If you want to truly make it from scratch, try making up your own mixes using the dry ingredients from any recipe. Make them up a few days before you need them and then when you are ready to bake, just add the remaining ingredients and you’ve cut your time by 20-30%. Mixes can be stored for around 2 months.

3) Freezing make-ahead dough – For some things you can take tip #2 a step further and make a complete dough ahead of time and freeze it pre-shaped and ready to bake. This works great for muffin batter, scone or biscuit dough, bread dough, cookie dough and cinnamon rolls. Just prepare the recipe with cold ingredients, divide the dough or batter, wrap in plastic and freeze. Freeze muffins right in the pans using muffin papers. For muffins, scones and cookies, you can bake frozen or let defrost – it is your call. For cinnamon rolls, breads and other yeast doughs, let items proof in a warm oven until doubled in size. Using this tip you can prepare everything up to a week before and have fresh baked goodness in no time.

4) Mise en place – Have all ingredients and tools in front of you before you begin (having a glass of good french wine is also a fun way to remind yourself of this concept!). You may have the urge to just get going with the recipe, but by taking the time to get organized, you will save time in the end, especially if you are making a bunch of different things in one day.

5) Practice makes perfect – If you are going to try out a recipe that you are not familiar with, practice it a few times before its holiday debut. By working through recipes a couple of times slowly, you can develop an efficient work flow. You can also see how the recipe if going to turn out and tweek if need be. If the recipe calls for expensive ingredients try to find inexpensive substitutes for your practice dishes.

6) Make a checklist – With so many recipes online, print out the recipes you are going to use and check off the ingredients as you add them. This eliminates confusion and can save you from having to make something over again because you are not sure if you added the baking powder or salt.

Use one or all of these tips to help take some stress out of your holiday baking! I’d like to hear your tips – if I haven’t covered something that you find reduces time in the kitchen or relieves some of that holiday stress let me know.



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  • User avater
    LisaWaddle | 11/24/2009

    These are all great tips. I make great use of the "Freezing dough" one. I find it amazingly comforting to know there are cheese crackers, cookies, and scones just a quick bake away from my table. Great for unexpected company, too, as you just put the dough in the oven - no need to mess up the counter, pull out the mixer, or spill flour everywhere.

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