I love holiday baking. I love putting together cookie trays and filling them with a variety of cookies and candies - trying out new recipes while including old favorites. It gives me a lot of joy - especially when I come across a recipe that I know a family member will love. All that said, I've come up with a list of 5 things that make my holiday baking smoother, less stressful, and enjoyable.
Tip #1: Use parchment paper
Maybe you've never used it before, or maybe you just don't use it in your everyday baking (I often don't). Use it now! Line your cookie sheets with it and you won't have to be worried or concerned that your cookies will stick to the pan and you'll have wasted time/effort/money making them. And it makes clean-up a cinch!
Tip #2: Bake ahead and freeze
When it comes down to the last few days before a get-together or family gathering, you usually don't have extra time to bake 6 dozen cookies or bars to make your cookie tray fabulous. Most cookies and bars hold up great when frozen, with little to no difference in taste or texture. With cookies, bake them and allow them to cool completely. Put them in ziplock bags, or plastic storage containers with waxed paper between layers. If they're decorated cookies, it's a bit trickier, but you can always freeze the cookies and pull them out to decorate the day before or the day you need them
For bars, line your pan with parchment paper so there's a bit of overhang. When they've baked and cooled, use the parchment paper to lift them out of the pan. Wrap the entire thing (carefully) in plastic wrap, then tinfoil. Then, you can place them in a larger container, or back in the pan you used and into the freezer. By freezing it as a whole instead of individual bars, you help maintain freshness. Pull them out when you need them, and allow them to defrost until you are able to cut them. (When cutting bars for my tray, I cut off the edges for a nicer-looking edge. You can also cut them diagonally to make diamonds instead of squares for a little variety.)
Tip #3: Include non-traditional favorites
I'm all for using peppermint, ginger, eggnog, and any other seasonal flavors in my Christmas baking. But, I often find that people enjoy things that are outside the box, too. If you have a recipe that's always a hit, don't be afraid to put in on your cookie tray! They don't have to be fancy. Do you love peanut butter cookies? Or maybe you have a killer chocolate chip cookie recipe? Use it! People love when there are options they weren't expecting. And often those are the ones that go first and fastest.
Tip #4: Invest in a small cookie scoop
Cookie scoops in general are a huge time-saver. I have a larger one, and a smaller one that's about 1 Tbls. I always use the smaller one for Christmas baking. If you have 5-10 different cookies on your tray, you don't want people to get full after only tasting one! Make them smaller so your family and friends can enjoy a few without feeling guilty or overly-stuffed. (I usually say "who cares" and sample them all . . . How else will I know which is my favorite?) This cookie scoop is similar to the one I have (although the spring in mine broke after last Christmas - bummer), and I think it's the perfect size. You can also find something similar in most stores (i.e. Target, Walmart, etc.).
Tip #5: Looks aren't everything
Your cookies aren't all perfectly round? Your chocolate drizzles looks like chocolate blobs? The edges got a teensy bit too brown? Doesn't matter. People will eat them. People will love them. Unless you're selling them and people are basing their purchase on their looks, I think the "You eat with your eyes first" phrase is overrated. Don't get me wrong - pretty food is initially more appetizing; but, keep in mind you're bringing these as a treat. People are eating them for free - they won't mind if they don't look quite as fancy as the bakeries' treats. Don't be afraid to try new decorating techniques, but don't get bummed out if they don't look picture perfect. Just enjoy the process, and take pride in your accomplishment! (And hey, if people don't eat them, you get to eat the leftovers . . . Ain't nothin' wrong with that!)
So, there you go. Hopefully you found something helpful in there. I'll be posting some new recipes later, but for now, here's a list of some past goody favorites that will be making their appearance on my cookie tray again this year:
Cranberry Bliss Bars - Seriously, I think these should be on everyone's baking list. Even if you think you don't like cranberries, I think you'll love these. White chocolate and cream cheese? Heck yeah!
White Chocolate Cherry Shortbread Cookies - Delicious combo, and so pretty.
Better-Than-Mounds Bars - I always have to include something coconutty for the coconut lovers on both sides of my family and these never disappoint!
Stay tuned for recipes to come!
Hugs and cookies,