Four Baking Tips for a Sweet Holiday Season


Written by Rebecca Faletti

The holidays might just be the only time of the year that anyone besides grandmothers decide to try their hand at baking. The results can turn out chewy and delicious, or with a bit more of a smoky flavor than you might want from a batch of gingerbread cookies.

Reading those long recipes for a perfect chocolate cake that calls for freshly-brewed coffee –hot, of course!- or whatever on earth cream of tartar is can be intimidating at first, but there are a few baking tips that will have you churning out snickerdoodles like you were born to do it.

1: Read the recipe- all of it!

A common scourge for new bakers, it’s a tempting idea to read the recipe as you go. After all, you know your way around an oven and a mixing bowl, what could go wrong?

The answer: lots.

Some recipes require that the topping be made hours or even days ahead, and if you haven’t got the time for that, the recipe isn’t for you. Reading a recipe all the way through once or twice confirms that you’ve got the time to bake it properly, and all the ingredients necessary. Even something you’re sure you had could have slipped past its expiration date and into the garbage can, and sometimes a simple case of not having enough of a given ingredient can ruin a day of baking. If you want to give yourself time to plan and prepare for everything (and around the holidays, you will), reading the recipe isn’t an option.

2: Prepare, prepare, prepare!

If the Boy Scouts have taught the world anything, it’s that being prepared is the best thing for any situation, and it’s definitely the case for baking. In cooking, a phrase borrowed from the French (those culinary masters) for preparation before beginning is mise en place, or “everything in its place”. It’s essential for any good time cooking, and most people will tell you that baking is leagues harder and more precise than cooking. It takes time and preparation to know what needs to be done and in what order. You need your oven preheated and your ingredients measured out, or you’ll be up a sugary creek with nary a paddle in sight.

3: Take your time

It’s mouth-wateringly good to think of just whipping up a cake or a pan of cookies, but it isn’t that simple. Baking takes time and concentration, and a lack of either can make mistakes. Before you even start baking, you need to know your oven and your kitchen, make sure you have the ingredients and hardware necessary, and make sure that you have enough time. No one wants to be caught trying to cream butter still rock-hard from the fridge. Baking times are especially easy to flub, but they can do the most damage. If you haven’t got the time to make a tart slowly, then you don’t have the time to make a tart. Times and temperatures can completely change the way something feels and tastes, and that’s the main reason that flubbing them is so bad for your baking. A chiffon cake just doesn’t have that same delicate fluff when it’s flash-baked at 400 degrees, and a pound cake at that temperature might just turn into a brick.

4: Clean up after yourself

The holidays are especially notorious for some extreme numbers. Seven pies, three cakes, and four dozen cookies all sound absolutely delicious, but they can be a big mess to make. Don’t be afraid to run the dishwasher once or twice on a long day of baking, and put everything back once you’re done with it. It can cut cleanup time by half, and get you off your feet sooner.

(Needless to say, cute aprons that keep your clothes clean are a must for any aspiring baker- you have to look the part!)

Baking well takes a lot of foresight, and the smarts to know what can be done and what can’t. It isn’t the horror show some people like to make it seem like- many tried-and-true brownie recipes call only for the ingredients to be added into a bowl and mixed in the right order. While not impossible, baking is a science, and science of all types lives on precision.