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Holiday (stress)Baking Tips

Dashing Through The Snow Cupcakes
 
It’s that time, my friends – holiday baking season. The season when you stock up on unreasonable quantities of flour and butter and derail all of your friends and family’s diets. The season when sprinkles are in abundance and the kitchen is filled with the constant scent of gingerbread and vanilla. The season when baking isn’t complete without a soundtrack of Andy Williams and Straight No Chase (what? just me?).
 
I’m pretty sure if I looked at my annual spending at warehouse clubs like BJ’s that I would find 50% of it would be in the month of December and it would consist mostly of flour, sugar, butter, eggs and cream cheese. I find that to be alarming/impressive.
 

Enough about my spending habits. I thought it might be helpful to provide you guys with some holiday baking tips that I’ve discovered and developed over the years to help you get through the rest of 2014 with the smallest number of cookie causalities and cupcake catastrophes. Fingers crossed that at least one of these will be of use to you!

Ingredient Prep

  • Eggs that are room temperature more easily and evenly incorporate into batter, so let them set out or place eggs in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes. 
  • Forgot to set out the butter? Cut it into cubes and let sit on a plate – it will soften to room temperature more quickly than if it is still in whole sticks.
  • Always measure flour, cocoa powder and powdered sugar by spooning it into a measuring cup and then level it off with a knife. If you pack it down too much, you’ll accidentally end up with too much!
  • Similarly, always measure brown sugar by packing it down into a measuring cup. If you don’t, you might end up with too little. 
  • Melting chocolate for drizzling is easy – add chocolate chips to a heavy duty plastic Ziploc bag (close it almost all the way) and place it in the microwave. Heat in 15 second increments and knead the bag each time until melted to your satisfaction. Then snip off a small part of one corner and drizzle away!
 

Brownies/Cookie Bars

  • Thoroughly coat your pan with non-stick spray, or use non-stick pan lining paper to make it even easier to remove it from the pan. Just lift it out – no muss, no fuss!
  • Use a knife with a serrated edge to cut your bars to get sharp edges.

Cranberry Bliss Bars  

Cheesecake

  • Place your cheesecake on a baking sheet filled with water while it cooks – this will give it the moisture it needs and keep your cheesecake from drying out and help prevent cracks on the surface.
  • Wrap the outside of your spring form pan with aluminum foil – at least two layers.  Feel free to add more if you’re super paranoid (like me).

White Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake 

Cookies

  • Chill your cookie dough before forming the balls and baking them. I’m serious about this – overnight or at least a couple hours. This makes the dough less sticky and easier to work with, and more importantly it keeps the cookies from spreading too much.
  • Non-stick silicon baking mats. Buy them. There are so many benefits:
    • You don’t have to waste money on parchment paper you use once and then throw away.
    • Your pans don’t get dirty! Well, not as dirty. You’ll still want to wash them occasionally. 
    • No extra calories like you would will some non-stick sprays.
  • Cover your rolling pin, flat surface (ideally a counter prepared with wax or parchment paper) and hands with flour when working with sugar cookies. You can also dip your cookie cutters in flour to help the dough loosen more easily from the cutter.
  • Don’t place your cookies in airtight containers until they’ve completely cooled. If you do, they’ll get soggy from the condensation that will develop and no one wants a soggy cookie!
  • If you want pretty cookies, place a few chocolate chips (or white chocolate chips, M&Ms, whatever it may be) on top of the cookies just after you’ve removed them from the oven so that they’ll sit on top without being melted into the dough.
Leftover Candy Cookies

Cupcakes

  • If you don’t have enough batter to fill a full muffin tin, fill the remaining empty cups with a little water – this will help the rest of the muffins/cupcakes bake more evenly. 
  • If your frosting is thicker than you’d like it to be, add in a little milk at a time until it reaches the consistency you’re looking for.
  • If you don’t have pastry bags, you can easily use a heavy-duty plastic Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off instead. 
  • If you need multiple colors of frosting, just make a big batch of vanilla frosting and then divide it into different small bowls. Then add food coloring to each bowl for each of the colors that you need.
  • To fill a pastry bag with frosting, fit the tip on the bag and then set it inside a pint glass and fold the top of the bag over the sides of the glass. This will make it much easier to spoon in your frosting!
  • When piping frosting onto cupcakes, hold the pastry bag with one hand firmly holding the twisted end and your other hand near the bottom. Hold the bag straight up and down while you move in a circle (either from the outside in, or the inside out depending on the look you’re going for) and once you’re done gently release pressure as you pull the bag up. This will give the cupcake a nice clean peak.
  • After you’ve removed the cupcakes from the oven, only leave them in the pan for a couple minutes and then place them on a cooling rack to cool completely. If you leave them in the pan, they may continue to bake just from the heat of the pan, and you could end up with cupcakes that are drier than you wanted. 
Hot Fudge Sundae Cupcakes
 
What tricks of the trade do you have in your back pocket? Let me know in the comments!
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