Holiday Baking Tips from a Pro

By dhueston 
In: Entertaining

'Tis the season for joy, plenty of wine, and the delightful aroma of freshly baked treats. As the holiday season unfolds, so does the amount of time many of us spend in the kitchen. We asked our Pastry Chef Alexa to whip up some of her tips, tricks, and favorite things to help you create sweet memories and delectable delights this holiday. Whether you're a seasoned baker or a novice in the kitchen, let Chef Alexa help you perfect the art of festive baking. From time-saving tricks to creative decorating ideas, here is her sleigh full of holiday baking tips to ensure your kitchen becomes a hub of delicious joy.

Alexa's Top Tips

  1. Plan ahead and don't overcommit. Baking should be fun, not stressful. And while it may be tempting to try out all of the fancy recipes you found on Pinterest, choose only one or two new recipes and stick to what you are comfortable and familiar with. Make a shopping list, print out recipes, use Post-its to organize your bakeware, and create yourself a schedule. Don't be afraid to do some prep work and make base ingredients ahead of time.

  2. Baking is fun but precision is important. While we love to get creative in the kitchen, many classic recipes require a methodical approach. Be sure to read the recipe ALL the way through before you start. Use a scale to measure your ingredients. If a recipe calls for a room-temperature ingredient, be sure to follow it. As stated in tip #1, make sure you are stocked up on ingredients and create a detailed shopping list to avoid having to run to the store mid-project or having to ask your neighbor for more sugar.

  3. Don't overmix your ingredients! Unless your recipe calls for smooth, completely blended ingredients, don't be afraid of a little lumps and clumps. 

  4. Invest in quality bakeware and multi-purpose accessories. Chef Alexa is not a fan of unitasker tools or something only used once a year. A KitchenAid mixer no smaller than 5qt is a must-have if you are baking a lot or using it regularly. Be sure to have 2-4 flat sheet pans of varying sizes which are great for cookies, cakes, and roasting savory foods as well. If you plan on making a lot of cookies, an ice cream scoop is a helpful time saver and it helps to keep your cookies uniform.

  5. Improvise if you need to. A favorite trick of Alexa's is quite fitting– use a full, unopened bottle of wine as a rolling pin. 

  6. Get to know your oven. Home ovens are not all created equal and depending on the age, brand, and style, you may need to make some modifications for the bake time. Be sure to fully pre-heat. Rotate your pans midway through. And keep an eye on your goodies to adjust baking times as necessary.

  7. Chill out. When it comes to cutout cookies or anything that requires a cookie-cutter, keep the dough cold. Roll it out on parchment paper, but not too thin. Chill or freeze your cut cookies before baking to help them keep their shape.

  8. The perfect royal icing. For just the right consistency, Alexa likes to add water slowly and uses meringue powder instead of raw egg whites. 

Alexa's Holiday Favorites

  • For serving and sharing: Purchase reusable tins at the dollar store as easy air-tight gift boxes for homemade goods. Alexa also loves to collect second-hand plates at thrift stores and use them wrapped in a festive dishcloth– anything to avoid creating more packaging and trash. 

  • One main dessert or a holiday spread? We could have guessed this one, but Alexa likes a variety of smaller bites vs. one star of the show.Since there is so much food around the holidays, if there is a main dessert, most are too full in that moment. But guests will likely graze later on or even before dinner on smaller items. Plus, you can save the leftovers to have with coffee on Christmas morning. 

  • Go-to quick holiday dessert: “Candy Cane” cream puffs– it's SO simple, use classic cream puff shells filled with whipped cream that has been infused with crushed candy canes.

  • Go-to "store-bought" dessert: Ice cream bars or sandwiches… Alexa is obsessed with It's-It– a San Francisco classic! 

  • Go-to "semi-homemade" hack: You can't go wrong with the Toll House cookie dough (recipe on the bag of chocolate chips or found here) double the salt, trust me. Or, buy pre-made chocolate chip cookie dough and top with Maldon salt before baking. As Alexa says, TRUST ME! 

Now it's officially time to dust off your apron, preheat the oven, and get to baking. Just don't forget to pour yourself a glass of your favorite K-J wine to sip along the way. Happy Holidays!