12 Seriously Simple Tips for Better Holiday Baking

Ready to bake up a storm this holiday season? 

While Rachael would be the first to say that she isn’t much of a baker, her sister, Maria, certainly is. To make sure you have everything you need for total success, we chatted with Maria to get her top tips on the season’s favorite dessert: cookies!

Before you get started, Maria has some general advice that’s great for any baking adventure:
– Always follow recipe directions exactly
– Measure accurately
– Always pre-heat your oven

Now that we’ve got that down, let’s jump into her pro tips!

1. Bake Your Cookies in Temperature Order

“When baking several different temperature batters at the same time, begin with the lowest temperature and work up,” Maria says. For example, if you have oatmeal cookies that need a 350 degree oven and chocolate chip cookies that need an oven at 375, bake the oatmeal batch first.

2. Start with the Shortest Baking Time

Ever notice how recipes give a time range for how long a batch of cookies will take? Maria advises checking on your batch at the earliest time first, and then every minute after that. Once you have the timing down, you know how long each sheet you bake afterward will take. 

Among many reasons, Maria says, “Baking times vary because of altitude, baking sheet material (dark coated vs. aluminum, etc.), position of the rack in the oven, whether there are two sheets or one in oven at the same time, and the size and thickness of the cookie.”

3. Keep it Fresh

Do you remember how long your baking soda’s been in the pantry? It might be time to swap it out for a new box that’s more potent. “Use fresh, non-expired ingredients, especially reactants like baking soda and powder,” she says.

Pro tip: With a permanent marker, write the date you opened your reactants on the package. No more guesswork!

4. Start Clean – Every Time!

Bakers looking for a shortcut, beware! “Always use a clean cookie sheet and spatula. Do not take a hot sheet out of the oven, lift off the cookies, and drop the next batch on a hot dirty sheet,” Maria says. Instead, keep a few cookie sheets on-hand, so you can have one in the oven while the other is cooling and being cleaned.

5. Rack ’em

Always cool your cookies on racks. Maria explains: “Air needs to circulate over and under, because butter and sugar keep cooking and bubbling after you remove them from the oven.” 

After they’re cool enough to touch (“or bite without burning your mouth – my personal cool-o-meter!”), store them in a cool, airtight container.

6. Get Ahead

When you’re making multiple types of cookies, which can take a lot of time, break up the work by making the dough ahead. Maria recommends making one or two batches of dough each day and storing them in the refrigerator. When it comes time to actually bake, you’ll have a big part of the work already done!

7. Shape Up

When possible, shape your dough before you store it in the refrigerator. For example, if a recipe says to drop rounded, even spoonfuls of dough onto your cookie sheet, Maria recommends that you “just drop little balls of cookie dough into food storage bags or containers, and put them in the fridge until they’re ready to bake.” 

Maria also says you can do this with gingerbread men and other cookie shapes. Lay out the shapes on layered parchment or wax paper, wrap them in foil, and refrigerate. 

8. Bake for Your Friends

“Plan your Christmas cookie flavors keeping your friend’s and family’s favorites in mind,” Maria advises. “Do you and yours like spice, chocolate, fruit? Figure out which flavors are most popular and make a nice mix.” 

Grab our 2014 Christmas Cookie Collection for inspiration and ideas for every cookie lover!

9. Bake On-Demand

Sometimes you don’t need hundreds of cookies on-hand. Maria has a great fix: “Too much to bake and store at once? Don’t! Bake a few at a time from pre-made dough in fridge.”

Cookies whenever you want? Yes, please!

10. Change Up Your Cookie Exchange

Tired of your same-old cookie exchange? Here’s a way to change it up: “If you have a few friends that also love to have cookies around for the holidays, make a deal: exchange dough!” 

For example, if you have four friends, make five batches of dough. Keep one, then gift the others. That way, each of you only buys ingredients for one type of cookie, and they’re ready to bake when needed. It saves time and money!

11. Dial Down the Decorating

“The holidays are so crazy-hectic for everyone, so don’t get caught up in decorating cookies,” Maria tells us. “Try delicious flavors and uniform, pretty shapes. A nice variety makes the best cookie plates.” Done and done!

12. Practice Perfect Positioning

Finally, we answer your biggest baking question: Where do the racks go, anyways?!

“When baking one sheet of cookies, position the oven rack in the middle of the oven,” Maria says. She also recommends that if you’re baking two sheets of cookies at once, divide your oven into thirds. Place your racks in the first and second third (from the top), and then halfway through baking, switch them.

There you have it!

What cookies are you baking this holiday season? Tell us in the comments!

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