Do you have a holiday baked good that you specialize in and make every year? Or do you just bake up a storm of scrumptious seasonal goodies? Back in Eastern Canada, we referred to it all as Christmas cookin’ and it’s as much a part of the holiday season as presents are.
I make several flavours of fudge every Christmas. It’s messy and expensive to make, but it’s an amazing treat and a favoured gift. Anything in the candy category can be finicky, and that’s what started my collection of tips & tricks that I use every year. Over time, they expanded to include other festive food.
12 Clever Christmas Cookin’ Hacks
1. Before you begin, go through your fridge, freezer and anywhere else you’ll need for storage. Remove old food and that frosty bag with six green beans in it. You’ll need the space for your baking supplies and goodies.
2. Start baking early and freeze cookie dough or undecorated cookies. Thaw, bake and decorate cookies in a snap as the need arises.
3. If you can, invest in a really good, multi-use blender and it will reward you again and again. I’ve used my Ninja® Foodi™ Power Blender & Processor System (with Smoothie Bowl Maker and Nutrient Extractor) almost every time I’ve baked this year. It streamlines prep and cleanup and powers through things that leave most blenders spluttering.
I’ve used it for dough, chopping cherries, crushing nuts, and perfectly smooth puree. My arms no longer ache from stirring dough, my fingers no longer get stained from chopping cherries, and the puree makes delicious dips, sauces, cocktails and smoothies in red or green. I also like to crush my own nuts because the crushed versions in stores seem to lose their taste in the processing, and I can choose the desired size or even powder them.
The Ninja power blender can also produce specialty items like gluten-free flour from oats. You can even make your own confectioners (icing) sugar in a pinch.
“You can actually make powdered sugar if you have white sugar on hand,” writes Jill Nystul. “Just add 1 cup of white sugar and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to your blender or food processor. Pulse the sugar mixture a few times until it gets to the right powdery consistency.”
4. Skip the frosting & intricate decorating by using crushed mints, marshmallows, nuts, candies, sugar, or drizzled chocolate in any flavour. Press your favourite chocolates into cookies or bury them in cupcakes before baking for a tasty twist. Use up that leftover Halloween candy that you froze in October! Press decorative designs into the dough with cookie cutters or a cookie cutter rolling pin, and they’ll come out of the oven ready to go.
5. It seems like every holiday dip & dish calls for grated cheese. It’s time consuming and can be a danger to your knuckles. Now we use the Presto SaladShooter and I can’t imagine life without it. It’s a game changer for that task alone, but the slicing & shredding tools do so much more. Use it to quickly slice or shred vegetables, fruit and cheese for holiday hors d’oeuvres, trays, dips, desserts and more. Shoot ingredients right where you want, with no extra bowls to clean!
6. Treats don’t have to be entirely unhealthy. Choose healthier decorating with fruit and natural food dye. Add red and green peppers to a dinner dish to make it more festive and nutritious (we make Christmas Eve pizza using this tip). Sneak in some more nutrition with fruit or vegetable puree.
7. No candy thermometer? That’s OK, I don’t use one either. You can still make perfect fudge and other candy with ice water in a tall glass. When you think it’s done, let it drip off a spoon into the water. If it forms a soft ball, it’s ready to set. Don’t let it go too long or you’ll end up with a rock-hard version.
Drip hot fudge or candy into ice water. When it forms a soft ball (or Grinch heart) it’s done!
8. Use stackable cooling racks to cool candy & fudge in the fridge to maximize space. As mentioned, I make large pans of fudge every year and I make several batches at once for gifts. This simple trick has sped up production and I don’t have to take over the entire fridge while I wait for things to set. I ordered the Wilton 3 Tier Cooling Rack last year and it fits perfectly.
Christmas Cookin’ Cleanup
9. Parchment paper doesn’t only spare you from washing baking sheets. You’ll be able to move the entire baking operation faster if you don’t have to stop and wash between items. It comes in rolls or sheets (I prefer the latter). You can pick it up at most dollar stores.
10. Cleaning up with a dishcloth is a pain and with flour or powdered sugar, it can take several trips to the sink to rinse. Plus, everything on the counter ends up on the floor to one degree or another. Now I reach for my Shark® WANDVAC™ cordless handvac/vacuum combo that I keep right in my kitchen.
But my most favourite chore for the WANDVAC™ is cleaning hard-to-reach places, including crumbs from appliances. Trying to grab bits from the inside of appliances or around buttons can eat up way too much time. If you’ve ever had to clean flour from around a bread maker heating element, you’ll understand. Once the chore is done, I snap it back onto the cordless vacuum base and tackle every corner of my kitchen floor in record time.
11. Fudge has a bad habit of scorching on the bottom of the pot. Since it’s primarily sugar, milk and margarine, it burns on hard. The only thing that works for me when tackling tough jobs is boiling vinegar & water in the pot. Others add baking soda to the mix, but I haven’t had to try that one.
No Time for Christmas Cookin’?
12. Sometimes the ultimate shortcut is to have someone else do it for you.
If you don’t have the time or talent to bake yourself, check out local, licensed bakeries. They often have special holiday trays available for preorder. If you or your family have special dietary needs, look around for bakers who specialize in it. There’s one for practically everything, from sugar-free to gluten-free, and you can support a small business.
What’s your holiday baking specialty?
You may also be interested in reading:
Healthy Holidays: How to Cut the Fat From Festive Food
DIY Natural Food Colouring for Valentine’s Day Baking
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