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THE COOKIES ARE COMING! So maybe the Girl Scouts already used that line but it’s true for us as well. It’s our big Christmas baking weekend! This seems to be a recurring theme with us but it started out small (like a few hours on one day) and has morphed into something much bigger (like the entire weekend). I’m not pointing fingers at anyone but I have my suspicions as to who might be responsible for that. *points to self*
We think about this weekend all year. Not a lot, we’re not those people. But one of us might think of something in July that turns into “oh, that would be a good idea for our Christmas baking weekend”. There’s the core group of things we make every year but we’re not completely inflexible. We’ll introduce something new into the mix and see if it’s a good fit. Since we send a goodie box or two through the mail to family, we try to include things that aren’t too fragile and can withstand some rough handling by the post office. Sadly, my uber-delicate but oh-so-good shortbread cookies are a no-go.
I haven’t figured out if Alex is a planner by nature or if she’s adapted over the years because of me. There’s a good possibility it’s in her DNA. Our entire family is comprised of planners and list makers. Except for my mother, who is disgusted by the lot of us and our lists. In either case, Alex and I have learned over the years that we need a plan or else chaos will reign supreme. There will be tears, there might be a fire and there will definitely be a fight.
If you’re planning a big baking weekend this holiday season with friends or family, here’s how you can create a workable plan and save you some tears.
Pick a time to do it
The first thing we do is pick a weekend for the Christmas baking. We make a LOT of stuff so it works best for us to split it up over 2 days. Because we are mailing, we like to do it early enough there won’t be an issue with getting there before Christmas. But it shouldn’t be so early they’re sick of Christmas cookies by the time Christmas actually gets here. Ideally, the 2nd weekend in December is the best. That leaves plenty of time for delivery and to enjoy all the holiday goodness we’ve made for them. I’m going out on a limb here and guessing that not everyone will want to dedicate an entire weekend to baking. For all of these suggestions, just scale it down to whatever (normal) activities you want to do.
Make a list of what you’re making
Like I mentioned, we have our traditional goodies we make every single year. Suggest skipping something one year and get one of these from Alex: 😲 So we start by making a list of all the things we know we’re going to make. Then we put anything new we’re trying on the list too. We split things into 2 categories: cookies and candy. Everything may not fall exactly into those but it’s a good way to divide and conquer.
Make a shopping list
I’ve tried doing this in different ways each year and it really doesn’t matter. I forget at least one thing every. single. year. This year is no exception. I was hauling all the groceries in last night and as I carried the last bag in I realized I forgot to get the Chex for the Chex Mix. ALDI was completely wiped out and I meant to pick some up at Walmart and completely forgot. So I’ll be heading back out at some point. 😼 At least it made it to the list though, right?
I print out all my recipes because I’m old school. Also, trying to read a recipe on your tablet or phone in a kitchen with a million things going on at once is a bad idea. In Excel, I put the ingredient in a column and as I go through the recipes, I’ll input how much each requires on a separate row. I continue to add new ingredients as columns as I come across them. When I’m done, all I have to do is sum each column and I have the total amount needed. I use one common measurement for everything. So if a recipe calls for 2 sticks of butter I know that’s 1 cup. I’ll put one cup down since another recipe might call for 1 1/2 cups of butter. When I total everything it will be cups which I can convert back to sticks.
After I’ve done my calculations and know how much I need of each of ingredient, it’s time to go shopping! Y’all should know by know how much I love ALDI. If not, read this post about why I think you should give it a try! 99% of the stuff we need for Christmas baking comes from ALDI. You can’t beat their prices on baking items and also on butter, eggs, and milk. During the holiday season, ALDI offers tons of special seasonal buys on things like different flavors of extracts or baking chips. This year I scored both butterscotch and peanut butter chips and I don’t remember being able to get those before. If you don’t have an ALDI close, I’m sad for you. I really am. But you can still use coupons and watch for the sales since all stores offer their best deals right now on baking supplies.
Create a schedule
We’re crazy and do 2 days of baking so we split those days into candy and cookies. I just try and group my recipes by the work that goes into them. Like if a recipe needs to have the dough chilled, I’ll do it first. If something takes a really long time to bake, I’ll try and find something else to do while it’s cooking like rolling out dough or making the homemade marshmallow fluff. Also staying busy is the key. Same goes for the candy. Chocolate covered cherries need to be refrigerated before they get the chocolate so that will get done first. The caramel has to be constantly monitored so that will need full attention. It sounds like more work than it is but really, once you start going through the recipes the order will become obvious.
Bake and create!
This is the fun part! All the planning and shopping has led up to this moment. Take your time, relax and follow the plan. Everything will turn out fine!
Here are some tips for the actual day:
- Invest in silicone baking mats. Seriously. They are so much better than parchment paper. I bought 2 of these and love them! (affiliate link).
- Make sure you have plenty of containers. I tend to stock up at Walmart on plastic cookie containers every year. So much so that I found an entire storage tub of extras this year so I didn’t need to buy any!
- Don’t forget waxed paper or cooling racks (or to leave room for your cookies to cool)
- Stock up on freezer bags of all sizes. If you’re mailing stuff, this is good for things like snack mix even if you’re putting it in a container. There’s much less mess if you put it in a bag then in a container.
- Remember to take breaks and breathe. It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos but it’s OK to take a rest now and then.
- Start a new tradition! For us, that means a cute Christmas shirt or something silly to wear and also a signature drink. This year it’s hot buttered rum and homemade eggnog! Yummy!
- Take lots of pictures! Sometimes we forget because we have messy hands but I love to look back at pics from years past. I get a little sad when I see how much my girls have grown but there are many happy memories in those pictures.
- Check your candy thermometer and have one as a backup. I ruined an entire batch of caramels one year because of a faulty thermometer. I’ve learned to keep one as a backup just in case. This is the kind I use although one of these years I may have to upgrade to digital.
- Buy a little extra butter and sugar than you think you need. Whether it’s because I forgot something (like needing to roll the snickerdoodles in sugar and cinnamon) or needing to re-do something, if I’m going to need more of something, it will be either butter or sugar (or both).
We’re baking this weekend so I’ll be back on Monday with lots of pictures and recipes and the low-down on how everything turned out!
We love hearing from people! Do you have any holiday baking traditions? Drop us a comment and let us know!