Holiday Baking

Holiday Baking

It was about six or seven years ago I started doing holiday baking. This “tradition” started partly by my anguish not being able to find pastries I liked and inspired by a good friend’s generosity. Year after year, she always sends a box of Christmas cookies during the holidays and all of them are exquisitely made (You should really check out her blog and entries on holiday baking. You will be astonished on the varieties and thoughts she has put in the delicatessen).

Recalling the first two years when I started doing the holiday baking marathon, it was rather stressful because I had done it without much planning. Thankfully as the years pass, I start to acclimate the work involved and do some preparation work, so that Mission Christmas cookies can go more smoothly. Hopefully, these tips will help you with your baking adventure as well!

  1. Do some “egg math”: Have you been in situations where you have a dozen egg whites in the fridge because recipes only call for the yolks? I understand the temptation of making all interesting recipes, so select a handful and eliminate with a goal of no waste.
  2. Identify make-ahead doughs: Instead of squeeze all the baking within a day or two, see if there is any dough that can be mixed ahead and be refrigerated. While waiting for the doughs that need to be chilled, you can bake the make-ahead ones. Once those are done, the doughs in the fridge should be ready to be rolled!
  3. Have at least 2 half sheet: I used to think, why 2? Shouldn’t one suffice? In most cases, not all the cookie dough will make it onto one sheet. While one is being taken out of the oven, the other one can go in. It does save you time when you can alternate, allowing the previous batch to cool. This also brings me to the next point.
  4. The freezer is your friend: For cut-out cookies, it is ideal to freeze them for a short time ensuring the dough stays cool. While one sheet remains in the freezer, you can roll out the next piece of dough. Another time-saving measure. Be sure to make room in the freezer prior to your baking marathon!
  5. Have wax paper handy: Recipes usually instruct to flour the surface for cookies that require being rolled out then cut; however, too much flour can make the cookies chewy. One trick that I learned recently is to sandwich the dough between two sheets of wax paper and roll it out. You can chill the dough as it is in the freezer if the oven has effectively warmed up the environ, and less buttery mess to scrap up on the rolling surface.
  6. Invest in a marble rolling pin: I looked at one very dubiously before, thinking, why would I wield something as heavy and cumbersome?  Despite its potential to be a murder weapon, marble rolling pin works miraculously with any dough that is heavy in butter: the coldness will keep the butter in check. Best yet, you can freeze the rolling pin for 5 to 10 minutes to ensure that it remains cold during your rolling session. It works fabulously with wax paper as well.

Do you have any holiday baking tips you would like to share?

New Year and goals

New Year and goals

Happy belated New Year, everyone!  It has been awhile since I post. Perhaps it is insolence, imaginary busyness, or a combination of everything, but stay assured that I am still baking, knitting, and doing other crafts. Though I do enjoy writing, it is a laborious process as I am an overwriter. I need to let the posts sit then going through different stages of rewriting. Because of that, I truly admire those prolific bloggers who publish regularly.

Despite my never-ending quest for planners, I do not establish new year resolutions habitually, for the reason of I might forget about them.  Instead, I usually make small changes (or, finding excuses to experiment) in life that could improve the overall quality.  So here they come, some changes I would like to further in 2017:

  • Find natural alternatives to items I am currently using: in 2016, I have made conscious attempts in using more natural commodities.  One of the first items I have replaced is body moisturizer by mixing my own, with ingredients that are commonly found in the pantry, such as coconut and grapeseed oil.  I have been satisfied with the result and I would like to apply that more broadly to other household items.
  • Reduce the number of work-in-progress: as a knitter, any new patterns/yarn can be enticing.  The downside of it is that I have many work-in-progress, left-on-the-needle projects.  Toward the end of 2016, I have slowly wrapped up some of them.  In the new year, I would like to move toward the direction of having only 2 work-in-progress projects simultaneously by using up the yarn stash I have.
  • Try out more recipes: this item has become a perpetual item on my list and so far, I have been happy with different flavors I have discovered. In fact, this endeavor has turned my annual Christmas baking marathon into a series of exploration of traditions.

Aim small, miss small.  What are your aspirations in this new year?

My Stollen Adventure: The Making

My Stollen Adventure: The Making

This post has been sitting on the dashboard since 2014, and for some reason, I never got around to edit and publish it.  It might sound odd but it has become my little tradition to make a Stollen from scratch for the past three years, and I am glad to report that the bread has improved as the time lapses.  Since I have many fond memories associated with this bread, it is only fitting that I contemplate on which dried fruit to put in each year.  Traditionally, Stollen contains currants and raisins, but knowing me, a rule breaker, I often make substitutions.  Here are the fruits and nuts for my 2015 Stollen:

  • In lieu of black raisins (usually Thompson), I opted for green raisins
  • Zante currants (raisins made with seedless Black Corinth grapes) instead of currants
  • Candied citrus peels consisted of pomelo, Meyer lemons, and satsuma from my coworker’s backyard
  • As for nuts, I stayed with classic almond

I started making the dough Friday after Thanksgiving, and for some reason, the dough was very cooperative to the extent of “happy.”  Once all the fruits and nuts were incorporated, the aroma became more apparent.  One thing I did differently was not to overfill the Stollen hood (yes, there is a special mold for Stollen for it to achieve its nearly triangular shape), so I wound up with four instead of two Stollen.

The Stollen dough is extremely sticky.  While kneading it, I felt as if my hands were just swimming in a puddle of goo.  Because it is a rich bread with a high percentage of butter, the dough requires good kneading before it starts to shape.

Stollen in the making

The dough becomes even stickier after adding the zest, fruits, and nuts, thanks to the sugar and moisture.  At this stage, the Stollen will maintain its amorphous state but keep kneading, it does make a big difference.

Stollen dough

The bread was wrapped in foil and parchment paper, and sealed for three and a half weeks, and by the time the “unveiling” of the Stollen took place, there was a faint whiff of fermentation from the fruit, which reminded me of rum-soaked sweets.  The layers of butter and powder sugar preserve the bread and maintain its moisture.

stollen sans sugar

sugar iced stollen

What will I do differently in Stollen 2016?  I might be adventurous enough to incorporate marzipan.  Stay tuned!

Until next time…

Oh Madeleines…

Oh Madeleines…

Here is my confession:  I have not become interested in madeleines until recently.  This popular and famous cake did not obtain my attention until couple weeks ago.  Having a full-time job and going to school do not leave much play time for me, but there are certain times I just feel the urge to do anything but homework. Here are some of the conditions that I have set for my baking relief:

  • The recipe cannot have more than five ingredients
  • The recipe will not yield a sinkful of dishes that I would have to clean up afterward
  • The recipe will not require my undivided attention for more than an hour
Christmas baking 2014

Christmas baking 2014

A bit late to the game, but Happy belated New Year!  I totally ate my crafting resolution in 2014 in terms of experimenting with new recipes, partly because I have started a second master’s program.  The most recent semester was quite brutal, given that all my classes involved intensive research; hence, no time to bake.  I felt languid without the butter grease on my hands, endless sifting of cake flour, and scratching my head bald in coming up ways to use up those leftover egg whites in the fridge.  This void was somewhat filled toward the end of 2014 with a mad dash of baking Christmas cookies.

At work, it is an established tradition to give a small token of “thank you” bags to student employees and guards.  Last year, the cookie due date lined up perfectly with project due date (of course, right?), but I just have had it.  Between proofreading teaching plans and concocting a coherent research proposal, I planned to bake one batch of walnut butter cookies.  That one batch turned into about seven batches of three different types of cookies.  Needless to say, no assignment was completed during the mad dash cookie baking, but some equilibrium was restored.

Right after the semester was concluded, I baked another 150 or so cookies for coworkers as small holiday tokens.  It is definitely not as impressive as Marianne’s cookie marathon, but my sense of balance was restored with endless creaming butter and sugar, waiting for the dough to set, and kneading.

Walnut cookies with powdered sugar that reminds me of snow. #baking #food
Walnut butter cookies

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My Stollen Adventure: History

My Stollen Adventure: History

This post has been under preparation for a long time; in fact, I started this draft since December of last year but did not get to finished until now.  Originally, I wanted to combine both the background and the making of the Stollen in one post, but I decided that would be too long.  In this post, I will outline how I become acquainted with Stollen and its history.  It is important to know a bit of history and significance of a food item, in my opinion, so one can appreciate the evolution and experience that are embodied by the food.  I hope you will enjoy it and that it will not take me another year to write the subsequent post!

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Goals for 2014

Goals for 2014

I do realize that I have overlooked this blog for way too long and I am also a bit late to set goals for 2014.  To be honest, New Year Resolutions and I are never friends because I often experience the frustration of not being able to attain the lofty goals I set at the beginning of the year.  Instead of giving in to my forgetfulness and frustration, I often designate small projects as goals and cross them off as I attempt them.  In addition, this “resolution” can be renew every month as I find different challenges I would like to attempt.
Inspired by Timbuk2’s “Real Resolutions“, here is my humble list:

  • Learn how to make some of my commonly used items from scratch, if possible.  So far, I was able to make a hazelnut chocolate spread similar to Nutella and coconut shampoo.  
  • Finish some of the half-done knitting projects, no matter how repetitive the patterns are.
  • Start writing simple knitting patterns.  They do not need to look elaborated.
  • Try at least one new baking/cooking recipe per month.  Life is too short to taste bland food!
What are you goals in the new year?  Do not forget, every day is a new beginning, hence you can make daily goals as well!