Monday, December 18, 2017

How to Plan Your Cookie Baking

Have some cookies to bake this week? Feeling overwhelmed? I MADE YOU A PLAN:

1. Block out your time. Do that FIRST so you can plan realistically. This year I'm taking two vacation days to get my baking (and a few other holiday prep tasks) done, but this method also works for a weekend day or a few weekday evenings or whatever you have.

2. Pick your recipes. I try to have a balance of different flavors and shapes, and a mix of my family's favorites with a few new things I want to try so I don't get bored. Try to be realistic, both as far as the amount of baking time you have and the number of people you're feeding. Some years I've done ten or more types of cookies; this year we're having a smaller group so I've reduced it to five batches of cookies and a batch of fudge. Also, read through the recipes to make sure there aren't any surprises that call for equipment you don't have.

3. Calculate your ingredients. Honestly, the easiest way to do this is with a spreadsheet. I have a row for each recipes, and a column for each ingredient. (If there's something you know is in just one cookie, you can put it in a separate list off to the side.) I go through each recipe and record how much I need of each ingredient, and then have the spreadsheet calculate totals, so I can avoid underbuying (or overbuying) things that are required in more than one recipe. Here's a sample:

4. Make your shopping list. Compare your ingredient spreadsheet with your pantry and write anything you don't have on your list. (This can also be a good time to replace things that might have been sitting around for a while, like baking powder.) Don't forget parchment paper, cheap white bread (put a slice in each cookie container to keep them fresh), and ziplock bags or airtight containers for the cookies! Also, get something easy for whatever meals fall in your baking time.

5. Shop. You know how to do that. But I WILL say that I find it easier to do it a day ahead, if possible; the last thing I want to do when I wake up on Baking Day is go to the grocery store first.

6. Write out your schedule. This is less important if you're just doing a few things or aren't on a tight schedule, I guess, but even when I have two whole days blocked out, I find it less overwhelming to know exactly what I'm doing when. Some things to think about or incorporate:
  1. Make sure you note which doughs need to be refrigerated and allow time for that. (If you're baking after work, make the dough one day, refrigerate overnight, and bake the next. Much less stressful.)
  2. Think about how you like to work. I'm going to mix up all my doughs the first day so I don't have to take the mixer out the second day, but if you'd rather have different kinds of tasks mixed together to keep you interested, that works too.
  3. Write down "take out butter and eggs" for RIGHT WHEN YOU WAKE UP, so you don't realize they're still cold when you want to get started.
  4. Build in breaks. Baking is fun but it's tiring. If you have other holiday tasks like wrapping presents or addressing cards, you can use them for some of your breaks, since a change is as good as a rest and all that. But give yourself some actual breaks too, especially for meals. You need actual sustenance and not just bits of cookie dough.
  5. Build in time for dishes.
  6. Pad everything. Seriously. Give every single task more time than you think it will need. Then you've built up a buffer for emergencies and you'll be so happy when things go more quickly than expected!

Here's a sample:
7:00: TAKE OUT BUTTER AND EGGS, have breakfast, get dressed.
8:30: Make gingersnap dough. Refrigerate.
9:15: Dishes.
9:30: Make peanut butter dough. Refrigerate.
10:00: Dishes.
10:15: Morning break!
10:45: Make chocolate peppermint dough.
11:30: Bake chocolate peppermint cookies. Do dishes while they're baking.
12:30: Lunch break!

7. Plan your entertainment. Baking is more pleasant with something in the background - Christmas music? Podcasts? Holiday TV specials? Whatever works for you. This is also a good time to rewatch favorite movies that don't require your full attention.

8. Clear your surfaces. I always forget I need lots of space for cookies to cool. Move anything off your counters that doesn't really need to be there.

9. Get everything out. You don't want to be hunting for the nutmeg in the back of the pantry or the half cup measure in the cabinet when your hands are full of flour.

10. Bake! Good luck! Tell me all about your delicious cookies!

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