Get started now on your holiday baking. A few tips for freezing cookies, baking with your kids, figuring out what to make first and having fun while you do it. Get the Christmas music ready, it’s time to bake!
Tomorrow it will be December. (If you just recoiled at that thought, I’m with you.) That means just 25 days until Christmas. To me, that’s 25 days to get a whole load of baking done and accomplished and crossed off my list.
It also means the start of the busy holiday season, where holiday parties, impromptu get-togethers, light festivals, frozen holiday parades and more are happening, taking up your time and making you feel a bit like a crazy person. (No? Just me?)
To keep my head clear and my stress level more at a functioning level, it helps to tackle things like holiday baking in a slow and steady manner, constantly chipping away at the overall. Plus, it means more variety when Christmas finally comes, and I like variety. Here are a few things to help, as well as how to involve those kids of yours.
A Holiday Baking Checklist
The first thing you’ll need to tackle in the holiday baking scene is coming up with a plan. It will help you see how much you have to do, what you have left as you’re getting it done and manage your time more effectively so that you aren’t left with too much to do at the last minute. Grab a few free printables over on Life as Mom.
- Determine quantity. How many trays of cookies are you bringing to holiday celebrations? How many boxes do you plan to fill? Try to come up with a rough estimate of exactly how many cookies or baked goods you’ll need at the end of the day (or the end of the season, rather).
- Choose your recipes. Are you going with old favorites? Which new recipes will you be incorporating into the mix? Decide what it is you are making.
- Separate the recipes into categories. Determine which things will keep better frozen (covered below) and which need to be made closer to the date they’ll be consumed.
- Make a list or calendar. Plot out which recipes are going to be made first, second and so on. A calendar can help designate days for baking, but it can also give you a visual deadline to keep you on track.
- Get started. There’s no time like the present to tackle that list. Even if you cross off just one item, you’re one item closer to the end.
What to Freeze Ahead
Freezing baked goods ahead is what makes it possible to do all this stuff ahead, but then the question becomes which ones freeze best? I recently wrote about this over at Food Your Way, so head there for the long version.
- For dough: the firmer, the better. If you have a dough that you can shape with your hands or roll and cut, these are the best kinds of dough to freeze. It will keep well, and it will stand up to the freeze-and-thaw process just fine.
- For baked cookies: Undecorated and single layer works best. If you want to freeze sugar or gingerbread cookies, do it before you decorate. Just bake them all off and pick a day in the future to spend decorating them. Avoid freezing filled cookies or sandwich cookies. Instead, consider freezing them as dough and baking later, or freezing the two baked cookies and filling later.
- Freeze and then package. I like to freeze my cookies and then put them together in the package to freeze. This helps reduce moisture build up inside the airtight container, and it helps ensure they don’t all freeze together. Read about the exact process on Food Your Way.
Getting the Kids Involved
It probably won’t surprise you that my kids are involved in the holiday baking. While there are plenty of cookies I prefer to do myself because they’re more involved, if I tried to shoo them out of the room every time I needed to make a batch of cookies, roll peanut butter balls or stir a pot to make caramels, life simply would not work. Plus, they’re be pretty angry at me. So, instead, I try to get their hands dirty whenever it’s appropriate to do so, and we make a tradition out of it.
- Make it fun. Rather than stress, try to make this experience as enjoyable as possible. Put on Christmas music, sing songs, have everyone don a set of reindeer ears and put Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on in the background.
- Pick recipes or parts of recipes that you are familiar with. There are some cookies and holiday treats I make that just aren’t easy for the kids to help with, but perhaps some of them are. Let the kids help with the dough, but choose naptime or a day when they’re at basketball practice to roll them out and futz with the filling and the more delicate intricacies. Remember, too, that they may not have the attention span to last for a 4-hour baking session, so let them know up front which things you are going to have them help with, and have an activity set up off to the side to entertain them the rest of the time.
- Mix it up. We love giving food gifts, and having the kids help layer ingredients in a jar to gift is always a fun idea. There are plenty of jar dessert mixes readily available, so find one you think looks fun. The kids can also help make labels and decorations for the jar as well.
I’ve posted this list before elsewhere, but never here. This is a general guideline for what kids can do at different ages. Be sure to consider your own child’s maturity level and experience in the kitchen – no one knows your kid better than you do – and don’t be afraid to get them involved.
Up to Age 4:
::pour pre-measured ingredients like flour or milk into mixing bowls
::sift and stir dry ingredients together in large bowls with spoons or whisks
::place cookie cutters in rolled dough and press down with assistance
::decorate cakes and cupcakes with sprinkles and nonpareils
::crunch and smash crackers and cookies into crumbs for crusts with the bottom of non-breakable cups
Ages 5 to 7:
all of the above, plus…
::cut soft fruits or peel oranges, clementines or potatoes
::measure dry ingredients with cups and spoons and add to mixing bowls
::wash fruits and vegetables and remove stems
::cut out cookies from rolled dough, slice rolled cookies, scoop drop cookies
::crack eggs into separate containers
::load utensils and measuring cups into the dishwasher
Ages 7 to 9:
all of the above, plus…
::measure all ingredients, both wet and dry
::frost cookies, cupcakes and cakes
::wipe down surfaces during the cooking process
::roll cookie, pie and pastry dough into different sizes
::load and unload the dishwasher
::separate egg whites and yolks into small dishes
Age 10 and Over:
all of the above, plus…
::use small kitchen appliances like mixers, a food processor or blender
::chop fruits, vegetables and nuts
::add/remove cookies sheets and pans from the oven
::use the stovetop: stir, add ingredients, watch
What are some of your favorite things to bake and make for the holidays, and have you started yet? (I just did with the gingerbread this week!)