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?