Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Marathon Baking Session - tips and tricks

Ready, Set....Turn on the Oven!

We're hurtling towards Christmas in a few days and I'm wrapping up the last of my baking gifts for pre-Christmas giving.  There'll be post-Christmas, pre-New Year's Eve baked-goods giving but I'll worry about that next week.  Last Saturday, I had a mini-marathon baking session.  I love those days and it's one of the reasons I do a lot of holiday stuff like decorating, sending out cards, shopping, and gift wrapping early - so I have time to bake during the holiday season itself and can get together with friends without worrying about how to "get it all done".

If you've still got massive baking to do for the holidays, here are some tips to manage the baking load.  The name of the game when you do a marathon baking session is to plan what you're making and once you turn that oven on, you want your products in and out in the least amount of time.  I don't believe in wasting energy and turning the oven off and on, depending on what you have to bake and how soon something is ready to go in.  Instead, I plan it so once the oven is turned on, it's always got something in it and there's never any downtime for it.  As soon as one thing is done, get the next thing in the oven until the last dessert is baked and the oven can be shut off for the day.

But before you even get started on baking, have a clean kitchen.  It'll clutter up soon enough once you start baking but start out with a clean work area.  While you should always clean as you go, you don't want to waste time cleaning it up in the first place.  Wash all the pans, cookie sheets, measuring cups, spoons, utensils and mixing bowls you need and have them ready.

Once your kitchen is clean, get out all the ingredients you need and group them by recipe.  This gives them time to come to room temperature if needed and also ensures you have all the ingredients you need for everything you're going to bake before you even crack the first egg.  This is your mise en place. If you need to make a quick trip to the grocery store because you're missing something, you'll know exactly what you need for all that you're baking that day and you won't have to interrupt your baking session later on when it'll be more inconvenient.

After you have your mise en place, prep the baking pans first.  It's the easiest thing to do and gives you some structure on the order things go into the oven.  If you have a lot of cookies to bake, get all your cookie sheets ready.  I like to line mine with parchment paper so they're easy to clean afterwards and the cookies don't stick to the pan.  I line square cake pans and brownie pans with foil, lightly sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, no matter what the recipe says.  It not only guarantees easier cleanup but you can lift your brownies or bar cookies right out of the pan, using the ends of the foil as handles.  This way you can cut them on the cutting board rather than in the baking pan.  Muffin tins get lined with cupcake liners ahead of time if I'm making cupcakes or mini panettone paper molds are lined up on a baking sheet if I'm using those.

At this point, the oven's still not turned on yet.  Before you turn it on, do the most time consuming tasks first.  My baking plan for the day included lemon bars, brownies that became both the base for the Almond Joy Brownie Bombshells and Nutella Crunch Brownies, banana bread, Nutella Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies and Diamond-Edged Melt-in-Your-Mouth Butter Cookies.  Out of all of those things, I already had the cookie doughs made and ready in the freezer.  The banana bread batter is quick and easy to put together so instead, I did the shortbread base for the lemon bars first.  While the crust baked, I mixed the lemon curd layer.

If you're making anything with nuts, those should go in first so you can toast them and they have time to cool by the time you need to incorporate then into your baked goods.  If you're making sandwich cookies, those should go in next, again so they have time to cool before you sandwich them with filling.  Likewise anything that needs to be frosted so they have cooling time before you frost them.  This isn't so much about oven management but time management in general.  If you're trying to keep a certain amount of baking hours throughout, plan your baking schedule to maximize the time you have in the kitchen while also keeping the amount of that time to a manageable level.  It's a bummer if you're so busy in the kitchen that you don't get to spend time with your friends and family outside of the kitchen because you're still baking. 

I baked the lemon bars off first so they would get the longest cooling time since lemon bars are messier to cut if they're warm.  While the lemon bars had their second baking with the lemon curd layer, I worked on the brownie batter  I wasn't done filling the mini muffin pans with the brownie batter by the time the lemon bars were done so I put a cookie sheet of nutella peanut butter oatmeal cookies in next.  Cookies are great to bake in between other things since the cookie dough is ready and they can go in at a moment's notice - just plop the dough balls onto the parchment-lined cookie sheet and into the oven they go.  If you have a limited amount of cookie sheets, it's also good to bake the cookies between other items so your cookie sheets have time to cool before you use them again.  Never place cookie dough on hot cookie sheets - they'll melt part of your dough before the baking even begins and cause more spread than necessary.

So that's how my afternoon went.  While something was baking, I was already mixing up another thing.  If I wasn't ready, I baked a sheet of cookies so the oven was always in use and none of the energy went to waste.  As everything baked, more and more of my kitchen was overtaken by baked goods in various stages of completion: loaves of banana bread cooling on a wire rack (they must be taken out of the pans to cool or else they'll steam and stick inside of the loaf pans), lemon bars cooling and waiting for the sprinkling of powdered sugar on top, brownie bases waiting for the coconut topping and enrobing in chocolate, cookies cooling, etc.  By the end of the afternoon, I had what I needed to give away the next day.  Then it was just a matter of packaging everything as gifts.


  1. This was the first year I froze some of the cookie dough so I could bake it up closer to Christmas. It made my day so much less hectic. Thanks for the other tips as well. Your treats look delicious!

  2. I loved ur posts and wat information that u issued is really very usefull for us .. thanks...............
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