Ways to Make Your Holiday Baking Easier

Michelle Volkmann

Every December I go a little cookie crazy. I never plan to do it…it just sort of happens and it always starts with a simple request. I agree to donate homemade gingersnaps to care packages for troops stationed overseas. Then I agree to bake 4 dozen more for a cookie swap organized by the officer spouses club. Then I volunteer to bake an additional 4 dozen cookies for holiday plates to be delivered to the gate guards on Christmas Eve. Then my daughter reminds me that I promised we would decorate and deliver reindeer-shaped sugar cookies to our neighbors.

One snowflake sugar cookie too many and my holiday baking has snowballed out of control.

Here are 25 tips for making your holiday baking easier this year.

Start Early. Skip the Black Friday shopping craziness and spend that time planning your holiday baking season. Ask yourself: what kind of cookies do I want to bake this year? How many do I need for cookie swaps? Am I donating cookies for holiday concerts, parties or sending any cookies in care packages?

Keep It Simple. After estimating how many dozen cookies you need, select a maximum of four types of cookies you want to bake this holiday season. I suggest 3 foolproof recipes and 1 time-consuming cookie recipe. For example, this year, I plan to bake gingersnaps, thumbprints, mint chocolate chip and cut-out sugar cookies with frosting and sprinkles. The sugar cookies are the most time-consuming and therefore my one complicated cookie.  

Reevaluate Your Cookie Choices. For each cookie, estimate the time it will take to mix the cookie dough, bake and cool. Look at your calendar and review all your current holiday commitments (command parties, holiday concerts and family travel plans) to see if this plan is realistic. I always underestimate the baking time and feel the crunch in mid-December.

Conduct a Kitchen Inventory. Now that you know how many cookies you are baking, conduct an inventory of your pantry and refrigerator. Are you low on nutmeg? I almost always run out of sugar on Mondays, when the commissary is closed and plea with my neighbor to give me four cups. Do you need new cookie sheets? Take all of your holiday serving platters out of storage. Do you have leftover ribbon from last Christmas? What storage containers do you need for all these cookies?

Stock Your Pantry. Buy your baking supplies early when they are on sale. Go to the commissary with a shopping list and use coupons to save money. If you need airtight containers for storage or cute gift tags, this is the time to buy. Don’t wait until the last minute. Hint: You can freeze butter.

Adopt a Freeze Now, Eat Later Policy. As early as possible, bake the first batches of cookies and freeze them in airtight containers. As early as two months before Christmas, I bake sugar cookies and freeze them in layers with a sheet of waxed paper between each layer. When I am ready to frost them, I simply thaw them. You can also freeze cookie dough to use later.

Wear a Cute Apron. Holiday baking always feels more festive if I’m wearing a cute apron.

Divide and Conquer. Unless you are Martha Stewart, you won’t be able to do all of your holiday baking in one afternoon. Divide the process over an entire weekend or several nights in the same week. For example, I like to make the sugar cookie dough on Friday, and then roll out of the cookies and bake on Saturday. On Sunday, we have all afternoon to frost and decorate the cookies with sprinkles.

Practice Saying No Cookies for You. Do not over commit when doing your holiday baking. Make a limit and stick to it. Remember these cookies should be baked with love, not with bitter feelings.

Use Parchment Paper. Parchment paper is a necessity for easy holiday baking. It eliminates the need to grease your baking sheets, a critical step I’ve often forgotten and it also aids in evenly browning the bottoms of your cookies.

Sing While You Bake. Create a holiday baking playlist for background music to listen to while you bake. I love to listen to Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You, and Christmas Don’t Be Late by Alvin and the Chipmunks.

No Distractions. You always want to check your cookies on the lowest baking time. Set a timer and don’t answer your phone while baking. You will get distracted and if you’re like me, you will burn a lot of cookies quickly.

Lower Your Expectations. Cookies will burn. The only answer is to toss and try again. When I’m perplexed by cookie dough that is crumbly, thin or sticky, I consult the Country Crock Cookie Troubleshooting Guide. But remember that no one is perfect and no one is going to send you home when you bring 3 dozen and 10 cookies to this year’s cookie swap.

Enlist Santa’s Helpers. Is it easier to bake holiday cookies without your children? Of course it is. But part of the joy of holiday baking is baking as a family. Ask your children to mix cookie dough or frost the cookies. Tip: Keep the task age-appropriate. A 2-year-old may be more trouble than help, but a 10-year-old can definitely ease your holiday baking stress.

Beg the Elves. Your child will most likely only be interested in the baking for about 5 minutes. Try to keep their enthusiasm up by not being critical and offering lots of praise for their cookie skills.

Abandon Cookie Perfection. Don’t try to make every cookie Pinterest perfect. Holiday baking is more about the family tradition of baking, decorating and delivering the homemade goodies more than it is about the actual edible item. Your preschooler will overload the cookie with icing and sprinkles. That’s OK. It’s her holiday memory. Your preschooler will eat more cookies than he decorates. That’s OK. It’s his holiday memory. By reducing your stress levels, you ensure that holiday baking becomes a family tradition, not a burden.

Skip the Frosting. It’s time-consuming to pipe tiny dots on snowflake sugar cookies. To reduce holiday baking stress and save time, simply frost all your cookies with one color frosting. No embellishments.

Order Take-out. On your big holiday baking days, do not attempt to make dinner for your family. Plan to serve leftovers, order take-out or make your favorite slow cooker recipe.

More Than Cookies. Christmas is more than cookies. You can bake breads and create simple candies to supplement your homemade gift packages. No-bake cookies are also an excellent way to simplify your holiday baking this month, since they don’t require any baking, but still taste delicious. I like to bake a pan of brownies and top them with red and green M&M’s for holiday potlucks. It’s festive and easy.

Host a Cookie-Baking Party.  We often attend cookie swap parties, but instead this year, host a cookie-baking party. Invite a handful of friends over to bake cookies together. You can serve hot cocoa and apple cider. Remember the old adage: Many hands make light work.

Pack Properly. Once the cookies are cooled completely, place them in airtight containers for storage. Place a sheet of waxed paper between each layer to prevent them from sticking together.

Fake It As If You Baked It. There is no shame in purchasing cookies and putting them on a holiday platter. In a time crunch, I’ve done and it was wonderful.

Bring Coffee. Kindly tell the Key Volunteer that you would love to help with the cookie platters for the Marines, but instead of baking cookies, you’ll supply the coffee to accompany the cookies. You can also volunteer to arrange the cookie platters instead of baking cookies.  Your volunteer time is just as valuable as your cookies.

Remember the Reason. No one is keeping score of how many cookies you baked this holiday season. If you don’t bake anything, that’s fine. Maybe you’ll bake next year. Or not. Remember the purpose of this season is to enjoy your family, not be stressed out with holiday baking.

Hire a Cleaning Crew. Kindly ask your man to do the dishes. Either that or ask for a self-cleaning kitchen for Christmas.

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