The holidays can be an incredibly enjoyable time of the year, but they can also be a stressful time for many of us. Entertaining family and friends, baking holiday goodies and even wrapping up gifts take time and organization, and when you have to budget time (and finances), it is helpful to have a few handy how-tos to guide you through the season. These are five of my must-read Holiday Baking How-Tos to get you through the season stress-free and with plenty of goodies to share with friends and family:
- Nothing makes a better present than a box of homemade goodies, so knowing How to Pack and Ship Holiday Baked Goods is key this season. Homemade gifts are always well received and are budget-friendly, too! Wrap things well, use express or priority mail and choose goodies that keep well for several days, rather than ultra-fragile treats. Sturdy cookies like gingerbread and butter cookies are better choices than cakes and cupcakes.
- How Do You Use Paper Baking Molds and How to Bake in a Specialty Pan can also come in handy over the holidays. Paper molds, available at most baking supply stores and specialty food stores, are perfect for baking your edible treats in before shipping. And a loaf of gingerbread or other seasonal treat in a seasonal shape is an extra-nice addition to a dessert tray (and lets you use that fun pan you got as a present last year!).
It always helps to get a few more gift ideas as the holidays approach. Inspiration just might help you to pick out that perfect gift for the cook or baker or foodie in your lift – and might even inspire you to add something to your wish list, too.
Kitchen Gifts for Bakers and Cooks
- A stand mixer is and will always be one of the best gifts that you can get the baker in your life for the holidays. KitchenAids are always a top pick, but I don’t know a baker that would turn down a Breville, a Viking or any other brand. If your giftee already has one, you might consider getting accessories for it, like the Whisk a Bowl or a Flex Edge Beater.
- Pies are a big baking trend right now, so pie making tools are great gifts. The Chicago Metallic Individual Pie Pan allows you to easily make single serving pies. The Breville Pie Maker is a great appliance that makes the pie making process even easier, if you bake a lot of them and have a little extra room in your kitchen.
When I was a kid, I really disliked rugelach. It wasn’t a cookie I encountered often, but they always popped up around the holidays at Hannukah or Christmas parties. I didn’t like the mystery nut fillings, which rarely had a distinct flavor, and I disliked the fact that they were usually hard and dry. In short, I didn’t care for rugelach because I had always had very bad rugelach. This is a shame because these cookies can actually be quite good and are easy to adapt to all kinds of fillings!
I’ve made Chocolate Cranberry Pecan Rugelach before and really like that flavor combination, but this year I made some rugelach that I think I would even have enjoyed when I was a kid: Peanut Butter and Jelly Rugelach. They start out like many rugelachs, with a cream cheese dough. This dough is soft and sticky, and it needs to be refrigerated before you work with it. It has a nice vanilla flavor to it and (although I’m not recommending that you eat the dough raw…) reminds me of the flavor of cream cheese frosting. It makes a great backdrop to all kinds of filling flavors.
I rolled out my dough and spread columns of peanut butter and jelly onto it before rolling it up and slicing out the individual cookies. I used crunchy peanut butter – the nuts add a nice little bit of texture – and mixed berry preserves. Use any flavor jam you like, but try to go for a jam or preserve with bits of fruit in it rather than a jelly-type spread (jellies are more prone to melting in the oven). The rugelach need to be chilled for about 15-20 minutes before you bake them, as that will help them keep their shape and prevent the from spreading. The finished cookies have a beautiful swirled shape and taste just like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich! They are definitely kid friendly, but everyone can appreciate the flavor of a good pb & j!
Sufganiyot are a type of jelly filled donut that are traditionally served around Hannukah, a holiday that bases many of its most popular foods on frying. The sufganiyot are not much different than any other jelly donut. They are made with a fluffy yeast dough, deep fried and then injected with a generous amount of jam or other fruity fillings. Although deep fried donuts are delicious, and it is definitely not a bad thing to indulge in them from time to time, it’s nice to have an alternative to deep fried balls of dough. In light of this, I turned the Jelly Donut Muffins from The Baking Bites Cookbook – which are similar to my Sugar Donut Muffins – into Bite Sized Jelly Donut Holes, or Baked Sufganiyot.
These little donuts are the size of a mini muffin or cupcake and they’re baked in a mini muffin tin. The batter is not made with yeast, but is a buttermilk batter that makes a cake-like donut. The baked donuts are rolled in sugar then filled with a little bit of jam before serving. Sugar forms a slightly crisp, sweet coating on the outside of these bite-sized treats and really gives them the feel of a donut.
You can use any kind of jam or jelly that you like in these. Most of the sufganiyot I’ve had – and most jelly donuts, come to think of it – have a generic, cherry pie-like “red” filling inside. I opted for a dark raspberry jam to keep the coloring consistent, but a flavor like apricot, blackberry, strawberry or anything else would do just as well. These are best when they’re fresh, but they’ll keep well in an airtight container for a day or so if you want to bake them up in advance, too.
Challah bread is typically braided, whether you are making one that is plain or one that is packed full of raisins. You can treat the dough like any other bread and put it in a loaf and or simply shape it into a round, but the dough is very easy to handle and the finished braids are so beautiful that it is worth putting in the time to do it right.
The first step is to prepare your dough and let it rise until it has doubled in size. Use a recipe for plain challah or raisin challah. Turn out your dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently deflate it, flattening it into a square or rectangle. Divide the dough – using a bench scraper, a knife or a pizza cutter – into evenly sized pieces, one for each strand you’d like your braid to have.