It’s the holiday season, and we are rapidly approaching T-Day itself! I looked at my calendar this week and realized we’re less than two weeks out from Thanksgiving. My phone has been filled with questions from friends and family about when and where the epic baking day(s) will take place, and it’s time to put all my years of family baking days to good use and offer some tried and true tricks and tips.
I’m sure you and yours have developed your own tips and tricks for making an epic baking day happen, and I would love to share some of my own and maybe see if I can find new ones to add!
Plan your items.
From years of experience, I can tell pretty much what everyone will typically make, but I always like to write down what I’m planning to make as well as anything new other people are going to bake. It helps to avoid anyone baking the same thing and gives me an idea of how long we’ll be working through the day.
Prepare as much ahead of time as possible.
Cookie dough is your friend when it comes to prep ahead! I tend to make up multiple batches of cookie dough, scoop, and freeze the scoops until solid. Then, I’ll put them in freezer bags with labels to hold onto for baking day. Lots of different candies can also be somewhat prepared ahead, too, and either refrigerated or frozen till ready to finish. This includes things like coconut balls and buckeyes. Preparing those things ahead means you can finish with dips and sprinkles on the day of.
Clean and organize.
My traditional group has baked at different houses over the years, but everyone knows that if you host baking day, you have to tidy ahead of time. Obviously this is pretty straightforward, but if you’re baking hundreds of cookies and dipping dozens and dozens of candy treats, you have to create a workflow for all your bakers. In years past, this has included all cooling/drying of treats relegated to a living room area that was set up with a Little Giant ladder that had a couple large sheets of plywood covered in parchment paper suspended across it. To really make it an efficient day, besides simply cleaning up, you need to have designated space for work, for cooling/drying, and possibly for packing up once you’re done.
Designate your point-people for childcare and meals.
An entire day of baking can last for upwards of 10 to 12 hours, so as a mom, you have to prepare for childcare. That might mean that everyone who bakes brings kids with them, and the kids are sent off to play in other spaces, or it might mean spouses get involved. Regardless, there’s got to be a point-person to field nap time and lunch time for kids. It also helps if you have a point-person to grab lunch for the tired, hungry, sugar-rushing bakers. It’s pretty much a fact that after spending an entire day in the kitchen, you’re getting food out for lunch and dinner, and in our case, it usually means eating pick-up meals that are quick and easy so we can jump back into finishing our goodies.
Set the mood.
I’m a big believer that if you aren’t blasting Christmas music while you bake, you aren’t having fun. I have a carefully curated playlist I’ve added to and refined for years that I set up before the baking even begins. Sometimes things get loud and hectic and we pause the music or lower the volume, but there’s always a point where I’m belting out alongside Rosemary Clooney or Bing Crosby while stirring up a cookie mix. Setting the mood doesn’t end with music, either. Grab some cheap matching aprons, pot holders, and oven mitts to pass around as a fun little gift to use. Set your baking tables up with Dollar Tree Christmas tablecloths to keep the mess to a minimum.
Set up work zones.
This may or may not be easy to do depending on what your different bakers are going to work on. In years past, my friends and family have all been doing different things, so it works well. I tend to be the one who uses the stove top. We have a person manning a microwave for dipped candies, and we have the oven going nonstop with cookies in and out and onto the drying racks. Then, there’s the decoration station for sprinkles and icings. It helps to designate spaces for people to work that maximize efficiency and prevent too many crashes in the kitchen. Set up spaces that flow easily for mixing doughs, heating treats, cutting out and decorating cookies, drying racks, dip stations, and more.
Buy and bring your supplies and storage containers.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll underestimate how many treats are going to be made and need extra storage containers or gift boxes. I’ve also been the one to forget to bring my containers in my first run and have to send my husband off for them later. You can also bring supplies to create gift baskets for family and friends, if you have time and energy to put them together after a busy day of baking. Regardless, it helps to pack up what you can the night before so you only have cold items to grab the day of.
Make cleaning as easy as possible.
I already mentioned that it helps to lay out disposable tablecloths for ease of cleaning. I would also suggest a sinkful of hot, soapy water ready to go when you get started. A lot of our cleaning happens as we go because we’ll be using the same kitchen tools over and over, but another big help is making sure the dishwasher is empty and ready to be filled as you get closer to the end of the day. It’s a lot of fun to gather at someone’s house to bake, but it’s also nice to not be the one left with a huge mess to tidy up.