It's that wonderful cookie time of the year again! [Ok, today, not so wonderful… mishaps everywhere not even COVERED in this post… I digress…] I shared a few baking adventures with you last year, and now I'm ready to gift you with a few more lessons learned in my baking endeavors over the years. This is a pretty extensive list, so I'm breaking it into two "Foodie Friday" parts.
10 - Plan, Plan, Plan - Real Estate is Limited
For most of us, we don't run a commercial baking facility. In fact, we probably only break out 3/4 of this crap once a year. So, if you want to maximize your oven space, countertops, bowls, mixer, cookie sheets, cooling racks, and other stuff, you really do need to plan.
- Maximize oven space and save energy by planning cookies that cook at the same temperature. You don't want to keep fluctuating your oven temperature or you 1) waste electricity and 2) don't bake evenly.
- What mixing/rolling can be done while baking? Can you get all of the recipes that need the mixer out of the way first? Do your best not to be stuck waiting for one thing, unable to do anything else.
- Make a list! As supportive as family and spouses are, there are only so many times they will go to the 24-hour supermarket - if you even have that luxury. Do a kitchen inventory and make lists of what you need from the grocery store, the club store, and the kitchen warehouse. Bonus Points: If you do this early enough, you can order some ingredients/hardware cheaper online!
- If you are baking on the go, at a friends house or otherwise, know where the heaters and hot air vents are. And where all their kitchen equipment is. And what you need to pack. This advice comes from having to make several last-minute adjustments, letting batter sit too long, being unable to salvage cookies without a Silpat, and losing almost 5 lbs of chocolate because I didn't realize I put my supplies on the furnace. Just like driving a car - do a full cockpit check before you start driving.
9 - Salt is not Sugar; Baking Powder is neither Flour nor Baking Soda…
This is part planning and part the science comment below - but I cannot tell you how many batches of cookies I've ruined by feeling so rushed that I didn't check my ingredient.
Furthermore, if you are baking on the go and don't want to haul your club-size ingredients wherever, you might put things in baggies. And forget to label them. Or, you may have dishes of ingredients in handy reach so you don't contaminate your five pounds of flour/sugar/baking soda/salt.
Yeah. Label stuff. Know where it is. Don't accidentally flour your rolling pad with baking soda or sugar your cookies with salt.
8 - Importance of Packaging
Related to making a list, realize that these cookies/baked goods have to get to their recipients, so you need to plan to package. If you require fanciness, plan after Christmas/New Year's to stock up on tins that are on sale (and don't forget that "somewhere safe" where you put them.) I collect baskets through the year, but I needed a little extra protection.
Plastic baggies keep cookies fresh for mailing and gifting - and still show them off in a tin, basket… or a blouse box from a 25-cent package of 5 (my choice for mailing & gifting in 2009). Like with your ingredients and hardware, you don't want to be running (or begging a spouse/family member to run) out and find them the day before you plan on gifting/mailing these things.
7 - Portion Control
Yeah, it's the holidays and making cookies is relatively cheap, but a little goes a long way. Especially if you are giving a variety. I started doing over 12 different kinds of cookies and wanted to make sure everyone in the family receiving them got plenty.
Then I got cookies back… and I realized, "Y'know, I will just keep eating these and my waistline will haunt me for the next year."
A lot of work goes into baking; most people realize this, so you don't need to lavish them with a ton of food.
6 - Baking = Science (Why I <3 Alton Brown)
If you don't own, I'm Just Here for More Food, go out and buy it. Right now. It will be the best baking investment EVER! For example, powdered chocolate behaves like a fat in baking. And sugar a liquid. And did you know the way you mix something - and the way you roll it - will affect the end product?
Learn why your food behaves the way it does, and you will avoid a exponential amounts of baking frustration.
Check back next Friday for the next 5 Mistakes I've Made so You Don't Have To! And, in the meantime, what are some of your memorable mistakes in baking?