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Whether your end-of-year festivities involve mistletoe and ho-ho-ho, a menorah and dreidel, or a kinara and seven colorful candles, holidays of all cultures seem to have one thing in common: baking. Food is an integral part of many celebrations, and whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or a family get-together, chances are there’s a baked good in attendance.
Perhaps you’re thinking of trying your hand at some family recipes you’ve never made before, or want to experiment with favorites from other holiday traditions. Whatever dish you make this holiday season, these baking basics help ensure success:
Stock the staples
A variety of delectable ingredients is one of the many things to love about holiday baking, but some staples show up in many recipes. Plain white flour is the foundation of many holiday baked goods, so be sure to keep plenty on hand. Baking soda and baking powder are also frequent necessities, as are eggs and sugar (white, powdered and brown).
While peppermint may be apropos for Christmas cookies and candies, and cinnamon and cloves impart ethnic flair to Kwanzaa recipes, vanilla is one flavor that appears in nearly every tradition. This year, add Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract to your pantry. Your holiday recipes will benefit from the complex and superior vanilla flavor provided by the Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract as it enhances and deepens the other ingredients in your baking.
When buying ingredients it is important to remember that quality counts. Higher quality ingredients may be slightly higher in price, but you’ll likely need less of them. Keep these staples on hand in your pantry, and you’ll be ready to tackle any holiday recipe, whether tried-and-true or new and daring.
Prep for performance
Pre-cooking preparation will help ensure top kitchen performance. Before you dive into a new recipe, sit down at the kitchen table and read it – beginning to end – twice. Make two lists of ingredients; one for items you already have in your well-stocked pantry, and a second for items you’ll need to buy. Check to be sure you have the necessary bakeware. Nothing’s worse than having all your ingredients assembled only to realize you loaned your springform pan to your sister last year and never got it back.
Once you have all the ingredients and utensils you need, line them up and get started. Prep pans per the recipe directions, such as greasing cake pans or covering cookie sheets with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to the required temperature. Since this can take 10 minutes or more, depending on the age of your oven, it’s a good idea to start the oven before you begin mixing ingredients. Never attempt to bake in an oven that hasn’t been preheated.
Measure dry ingredients first and set them aside, then measure any “wet” ingredients such as oil, shortening, eggs or vanilla extract. Sifting dry ingredients improves the overall texture of baked goods and gets rid of any lumps. Pre-measuring helps ensure a smooth, uninterrupted process when it’s time to begin mixing ingredients together. Be sure to add ingredients according to the recipe, rather than dumping everything into the bowl at once.
Cool for conclusion
One of the most common – and worst – baking mistakes is impatience. Most baked goods require a cooling period before they can be safely removed from the baking pan, tray or sheet. Some recipes may specify the time needed to allow your cookies or cake to cool, while others might simply advise you to wait until the item is cool to the touch. Rushing removal can result in breaking, crumbling, splitting and sticking – the kind of disasters no amount of icing can cover. After removing your holiday goodies from the oven, set them on a rack to cool and go do something else. You’ll be happy you were patient when that fully cooled item slides easily out of the pan.
Baking is an exact science – more so than savory cooking that allows room for improvisation. By following the basics, you can be assured of baking success.
Chewy Macadamia Nut Cookies
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts
Cream the butter, brown sugar and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl using an electric mixer on a medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Add the flour, baking soda, salt, cream of tartar and cinnamon and mix well. Stir in the macadamia nuts. Chill for two hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat an insulated cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
Makes three dozen
When preparing bakery items such as cookies, here’s a tip to enhance the flavor intensity of your product: cream the vanilla into the butter or shortening and sugar first. This step encapsulates the vanilla and helps prevent flavor loss in low mass/low moisture/high heat cookies.