“We need to prepare The Baking,” my wife said to me. I’m not sure the Houston Press website has the formatting options to adequately display the weight of the phrase “The Baking” when my wife says it, so I’ll use an analogy. You remember the look on Ellen Burstyn’s face when she was getting ready to burn Nicholas Cage alive in that remake of The Wicker Man? It’s that face as words.
For 17 years I have helped my wife prep and execute a massive amount of Christmas baking to the delight of everyone around us. It’s a massive undertaking. A year where she makes only four different desserts for various gatherings is considered a light one. In all that time, I’ve learned a few things about the concept of holiday baking. Here you go.
5. Check Your Pans First and Often
Pans are never listed in the ingredients lists, and that gets you into trouble if you get involved only to find out that you don’t have the properly-sized baking pan. And make no mistake, an inch difference can have a huge impact on the quality of your dessert, especially if you’re trying to make a visually-pleasing cake to serve. I’ve scoured the city looking for 8-inch square baking pans for Wellesley Fudge Cake, and had to make do with the 9-inch ones I could find. The result is a harrowing experience transferring too-thin layers of cake that are always threatening to fall apart.
4. Try New Things, But Prepare Staples
All the good bakers I know want to show off their skills at the holidays, and that often means tackling new recipes. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I watch enough HGTV to know that even professional bakers will sometimes ruin a dessert. Feel free to get creative, but make sure you are also preparing a beloved standby just in case your experiment goes south. I personally recommend this Buttermilk Pie recipe, as it is so simple I can personally confirm a seven-year-old can make it with only minor supervision.
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3. Always Make Cookies or Some Other Nibbly Bits
Cakes and pies get all the glory, but the problem with making them is that you can’t have any before you go wherever you’re going for the holidays. You can’t show up to gran’s house holding a chocolate cake with a big hunk cut out no matter how much you earned it. Shore up the project with something you can eat in pieces. Monster cookies are great, or if you have the patience and the arm strength Scottish tablet is always a hit.
2. Clean as You Go As Much as Possible
Even dedicated bakers likely don’t have more than one bowl that fits their stand mixer, and spoons, measuring cups, bowls for cracking eggs and other paraphernalia start making their way into the sink in rapid succession. While things are in the oven, you or your helpers should be trying to rinse off and possibly wash whatever can be cleaned in order to ensure a steady supply of needed bowls and utensils. Odds are, you won’t stay completely ahead of it, but it does cut down the massive clean-up at the end.
1. Consider How You Will Get Your Desserts to Where You’re Going
It’s one thing to make something. It’s quite another to transport it. Over the years my wife and I have acquired a variety of Wilton cake and cupcake carriers, as well as my endless collection of dollar store Tupperware. You can’t hold a cake and a pie and three tins of other desserts in your lap all the way to family Christmas. Clean out your trunk or back seat, and look into ways to secure food so that it won’t slide and flip as you drive. Do NOT trust your children to hold them. Our car has Velcro braces you can use to secure things, but bungee cords or even empty cardboard boxes work just as well. Keep all aspects of supplying goodies in mind before all the stores are closed.
Oh, and as a final bonus tip, always get your pie pan back. Keeping another person’s pie pan is high treason in Texas, and should be dealt with harshly.