All tied up in a pretty bow

I know, I know, I promise two posts each week and then disappeare for a week.  And you know why?  Because I’ve been baking like a fiend.  A fiend I tell you.  Usually my goal is to have everything done by the second Monday after Thanksgiving.  However, this year, that second Monday will be my first day as Assistant Dean Wormer at a new university.  And, because I must have suffered a severe head trauma during the holiday baking planning process, I convinced myself that I could pull it all off a week early.  Well…I did.  But other stuff suffered a bit.  Like this blog.  Enough in the way of excuses though,  let’s talk about packaging.

I love packaging.  The end.

Seriously though, I do love to make things pretty.  We do, after all, eat with our eyes first.  However, with food, there are also practical considerations.  For instance, last post I discussed mixing and matching flavors as well as what to think about when you need to ship rather than hand deliver (or the opposite).  Other thoughts:

  • Unless you really do not like the person(s) on the receiving end of your goodies, make sure your packaging is food safe.  Some things, like colored tissue paper can bleed into items that have moisture.  While this probably won’t kill anyone, it does affect how the treats look…and probably taste.
  • Also think about what will help keep your treats fresh.  Zip lock bags are an easy think to use.  Cellophane bags, parchment and wax paper can also help keep things fresh.

In terms of the packaging itself, each year I like to do something a little different.  I’ve done take-out boxes.

And gable boxes.

And pastry boxes.

This year?  I did all of the above.

For packaging, my favorite supplier is Papermart. You can also find neat containers through the usual suspects like The Container Store, Michaels, Target and World Market.

Of course, people need to know who the treats come from and in the last couple of years the number of vendors who will make custom labels has exploded.  These and the red ones on the gable boxes came from

Last year I ordered from a small vendor off of called AutumnLeah.  You can almost see our tree labels in the photo above with all of the white boxes.  This women was very easy to work with and had very reasonable prices.

This year I went through Erin Condren at  I first discovered her through a sale at OneKingsLane.  It wasn’t until after I’d ordered labels that I discovered she is not only a UCLA grad but lives in my neck of the woods.  And? Our husbands know one another.

Super cute right?  Here is is again.

When I package, I like to do as much of it at once as possible.  This is where the planning spreadsheet keeps on giving.

With the spreadsheet close at hand, I like to organize a sort of treat assembly line where everything is out and ready to go.  I also like to make sure my assistants are geared-up.  If you can believe it, two hours after this picture was taken, we had a dinner party in this very spot.

Pretty cookies all in a row.

With a list of who gets what, everything where I can see it, and all packaging ready to go, it only take a couple of hours to put everything together.

Holiday Baking: Planning Edition

I plan out what I am going to wear for the week.   Major holidays, parties and home renovations get project notebooks complete with time lines, budgets and diagrams.  On the Myers-Briggs I am so far to the right of “J” that the indicator bar hits the end of the interval.  TD may, occasionally, under certain circumstances, refer to yours truly as Mussolini.

In addition to making myself sound like the most boring person in the universe, there is method to my madness.  Efficiency (well, in the case of the wardrobe planning, it’s so I don’t end up wearing yoga pants and an old sorority t-shirt to work every day).  I truly believe that I can accomplish just about anything if it’s appropriately planned…and preferably color-coded. But the colors are just a bonus.  There are down-sides to this.  Most notably, I often finish my weekend task-lists and am ready to relax at around 6:00 Sunday evenings.  And, when presented with an unscheduled hour or two of free time I get a little twitchy. But, on the whole, I’m glad to be a planner by nature.  It serves me well more often than not.

And, now, it just might serve you.

Each year I do a lot of holiday baking.  Like, a lot a lot.  I also do it in a very short period of time and about half of it gets shipped to the far-reaches of the country.  To follow are some tips, tricks and rules I use to make the goodies “appear on time” while still enjoying the holiday season.  Ready?

  • Decide in advance what you are going to make.  And then, think through your own parameters.  Take into consideration the amount of time you are willing to invest as well as where it needs to go and (most importantly), who is going to get it.  French macarons make lovely gifts.  However, they don’t travel well and go stale quickly.  They can also be difficult to make and, even when the stars align, there is no guarantee they’ll turn out.  As a result, I only make a few and only for people I hand-deliver to.  Take stuff like this  into consideration before you start baking.
  • If you make one specialty item, stick with it; people are most likely looking forward to it.  If you want to branch-out, consider utilizing a theme or unifying framework.  What about doing all-bar related goodies? Or all candy? Personally, I stick with five or so standards and experiment with three or four new items.  But, there’s lots of ways to fill a treat box.
  • Speaking of filling a treat box, keep in mind how different flavors mix and mingle.  I package like-flavors together and separate strong flavors entirely (like mint or sometimes peanut butter).  This is especially important if you are shipping the items.  There is a reason professional companies separate and individually pack items.  When you don’t, everything ends up tasting the same.   If you are taking the items to friends and you know they’ll be consumed right away, you probably don’t need to separate,  just wait until the last minute to put everything together.
  • Once you know what you want to make, make a list of everyone you want to receive goodies.  Then, sketch out how many of each you want people to get.  This is helpful if you are making multiple items because it not only gives you an idea of how many batches you will need but also helps you to think through distribution.  For instance, my brother loves schweaddy balls. So, he gets lots of those but no rum butter nuts because my mom will make those for him.  Because I’m a giant nerd, I like to put the information into a spreadsheet.  On the vertical access I list my recipients.  Across the horizontal are the treat varieties.  Here is my list for this year (names have been blacked-out to protect the innocent).

  • Of course, all the allocations in the world are of no use unless you have a deployment plan.  Or, in this case, a baking plan.  So, make one!  Again, I find spreadsheets useful here or even just a calendar.  Below is my plan for this year.

Here is how I organize my calendar:

  • Things that freeze well are made first and then, you guessed it, frozen.  This is also useful for things that take multiple steps that I know I’ll lose patience for later in the process.
  • Speaking of multiple steps.  Make sure to leave yourself enough time to properly ice, dip, glaze and otherwise decorate items that require any of these features.  Each year I make sugar cookies (and, here is a hint within a hint, I only do one shape each year.  This year it’s snowflakes.  Last year it was stars).  These cookies take a total of five days to properly make: one to make the dough and refrigerate it, one to bake-it off, one to pre-glaze, one to decorate after the pre-glaze has hardened and a final to let the decorations harden.  So, I plan this into my baking calendar.

  • You can also break some recipes into multiple steps to take advantage of smaller units of time (like before work).  This year, I’m making a chocolate sable and a coconut shortbread.  Both freeze well in dough-form.  So, I’ll make multiple batches of each, freeze them, and bake them off as I have time.
  • Plan things that work better with multiple pairs of hands during times when you’ll have them.  TD generally runs in the opposite direction during this time of year.  But, we do team-up to do the oft-mentioned schweaddy balls.  I pull the dough and weigh it, he then forms each one into a perfect little ball.
  • Make sure you’ve got all your supplies on hand before you start baking.  You don’t want to have to run to the store with an oven full of shortbread because you’ve run out of butter for batch number two.
  • Think through how you are going to store your items before distribution.  I hate to admit it, but I find large zip-lock bags very useful here.  Just remember to separate layers with parchment or wax paper.  You can also use air-tight containers, tins or boxes.  And while you are at it, make sure you have a safe place to store your finished products.  With two kitchen gods, I can’t leave things out on the counter.  The chances that whatever it is will end up on the floor is about 100%.
  • Next week I am going to share some of my favorite packaging resources.  However, it’s never to early to start thinking about this piece as well.  Bags?  Boxes?  Plates?  Labels?  Tags?  Post-it Notes?  How are you going to deliver and or ship?  Don’t forget the bubble-wrap!
  • Finally, I like to set up a giant assembly line to put together the majority of the packages (knowing that I’ll have extras on hand for last minute gifts).  This way I can put together each person’s little package, seal it and move on to the next.

And that’s all I have on my list.  Of course, this is just how I do it.  What tips and tricks do you use for holiday baking?


There aren’t many pictures for this post because I tested this recipe veeeeery early one morning before the sun was up.  And, as you’ve all had to painfully experience, the lighting in my kitchen is awful (that’s right, I’m blaming the environment, not the photographer).  I had a meeting.  It was a committee meeting.  The way to get committee people to do stuff is to trick them into it by providing tasty vittles, asking for volunteers and then reminding them that you’ve fed them.  Well, it works some of the time.

In this case, my weapon of choice was a spiced white chocolate brownie.  I know, I know, we had spiced cake last week.  What can I say, it’s fall.  In a word, this baked good is “unexpected.”  With brownies or blondies you aren’t generally thinking cinnamon, ginger or clove.  So, they made a nice contrast to the traditional brownies I also brought (I had a lot to ask for).

And then I threw in some shortbread for good measure.  I like to kick people when they’re down.

Spiced White Chocolate Brownies

Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest, Christmas Cookies, 2011


  • 2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 C butter, unsalted
  • 1 3/4 C packed brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 TBS rum
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 6 oz white baking chocolate chopped (TMH note–I used 12 oz)
  • 1 TBS finely chopped crystalized ginger
  • Powdered sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 13X9 inch baking pan with parchment paper.  Grease paper and pan, set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cardamom, cinnamon, ground ginger and salt.  Set aside.
  3. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle (or large bowl and electric mixer), cream butter and brown sugar scraping down bowl as needed.  Beat-in eggs, rum and vanilla until combined.
  4. Turn speed setting to low and add flour mixture until combined.  Fold-in chocolate.  Spread batter evenly in prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes.
  5. Cool on wire rack.  If desired, sprinkle brownies with powdered sugar and cut as desired.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Here in Southern California, the marine layer has finally said audios until March, the tourists have gone home and college basketball is just starting.  Oh, and it’s holiday baking time.  The posts this month are all about logistics.  We’ve got a baking-round up, a post on how to plan-out the baking bonanza and another on packaging and wrapping.  Of course there will be a new recipe or two, but really, November is about getting it done while maintaining your sanity and, dare I say, enjoying the holiday spirit.

Like most pathological planners, I start thinking about holiday baking months in advance.  I like to have the time to casually consider new recipes without any pressure to produce.  About the same time I also start thinking about packaging.  I like to do a little something different every year and the proliferation of customizable goods on sites like have made it not only incredibly easy but also relatively inexpensive.  But, we’ll cover this in a couple of weeks.

For now, I’ve got a round-up (in no particular order) of successful recipes past to get the creative juices going.  I’ve done each of these (or are planning to) for holidays with great success.

The Sugar Cookie

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bon Bons, aka Schweddy Balls

Insert Your Favorite Nut Toffee



Chocolate Roll-out Cookies

Rum Butter Nuts

Glittery Lemon Sandwich Cookies

Candied Citrus Peel

French Macarons

Orange Cranberry Shortbread

Almond Macaroons

Chocolate Cayenne Cocktail Cookies

Toasted Coconut Shortbread

You know it must have been a bender when…

…you black-out that apple cake you made.  Apples!  I’m talking about apples…what did you think I was talking about?  So frenzied and absorbing has my baking with apples been in the last few weeks that I actually forgot about this apple cake.

This is the last apple recipe.  I promise.

I have to admit, what first drew me to this recipe was the opportunity to shred things with my food processor.

The shredded apples get set aside for a bit in a colander.  Then, you get to abuse them further by squeezing them with a towel.  In addition to being incredibly satisfying, the shredding and squeezing helps to remove excess liquid (yeah, I know, also known as apple juice).

This is a spice-based cake.  Cinnamon, all-spice, clove, nutmeg and because I couldn’t resist, just a touch of cardamon.

The batter is substantial.  The apples form a sort of matrix that locks-in the moisture.

The cake would be lovely if you just stopped here.

But why?  The glaze comes together with brown sugar, butter, a bit of whipping cream and lemon.

Let it bubble for a while.

And then douse the cake in it.

The flavors in this cake taste like autumn to me.  Rich, complex and nearly irresistible a la mode or a dollop of gently sweetened whipped cream.

This cake would also make a nice edition to Thanksgiving dinner (and you could easily make it ahead…bonus!).

Apple Spice Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze

just slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2007



  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamon
  • 1 3/4 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, coarsely grated
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice


  • 1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


For cake:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325F. Spray 12-cup Bundt pan with nonstick spray. Sift flour and next 6 ingredients into medium bowl. Drain grated apples in strainer. Using hands or kitchen towel, squeeze out excess liquid from apples. Measure 2 cups grated apples.

Using electric mixer, beat butter, both sugars, and lemon peel in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Mix in vanilla and lemon juice. Beat in flour mixture. Mix in grated apples. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake cake until tester inserted near center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pan on rack 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare glaze:
Stir all ingredients in small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to boil. Reduce heat to medium; whisk until glaze is smooth, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Invert cake onto rack set over baking sheet. Using small skewer, pierce holes all over top of warm cake. Pour glaze over top, allowing it to be absorbed before adding more. Cool cake 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.


We know I have a baking weakness for shortbread and sables.  So, I couldn’t resist this recipe.  Shortbread and toasted coconut?  I’m in.  The smell of coconut toasting in the oven is a beautiful thing.  Along with the nuttiness you would expect come a heady, floral scent that makes me think of warm sand and salty breezes.

Simple dough, a hallmark of shortbread.

Two logs.  One for now, one still in the freezer for a later post.

Seriously good stuff!

Toasted Coconut Shortbread

adapted from Christmas Cookies, Better Homes and Gardens, 2011


  • 1/2 C sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/2 lb unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/4 C confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 C granulated (I like to use superfine)
  • 2 1/4 C all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt


  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spread the coconut evenly on the lined sheet.  Bake until golden, about 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.
  2. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle (or electric hand-mixer), beat butter, coconut and sugars until creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  3. Add flour and salt and mix until just combined.  Turn dough out onto a work surface, split in half (I like to weigh it out using a kitchen scale for even logs) and form dough into logs.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  5. With the tip of a sharp knife, cut 1/4 to 1/2 inch slices of the dough and place slices 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheet.
  6. Bake until the cookies are just beginning to brown on the edges, about 20 minutes.