‘Tis the season to be jolly! And for dreaming up finger licking Christmas goodies such as decadent puds, cookies, rum balls, cakes, pies and the entire spread that makes baking de riguer and a frenzied activity throughout the month of December. Amidst all the festive hullabaloo—think festive gifting, festive planning and festive parties—the stress of having to bake a storm can throw you out of gear, if not planned well. If the mere thought of the Christmas countdown makes you want to push the panic button, worry not. We’ve rounded up some game-changing baking hacks to take the baking load off your shoulder to make sure you have yourself an effortless baking season.
Upgrade your Store-Bought Doughs and Mixes
If you thought turning to store-bought cookie doughs and cake mixes to make your sweet treats is cheating, think again! Add a personal touch with your favourite spices and sprinkles to give the store-bought variety a homemade flavour. After your pre-made cookie dough has softened, throw in some cinnamon powder, orange zest, almond extract, vanilla extract, grated coconut, nuts, dried fruits, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips or even crushed Oreos. Husna Jumani, Pastry Chef at The Clearing House, Mumbai, says, "a simple chocolate cake can be made special by adding caramel (store bought), roasted nuts, fresh berries, and even some peanut butter. Coming to the cookie doughs, one can simply stuff them with Nutella, dulce de leche, and even marshmallows." This is a super-fun way to add some texture and flavour without having your guests know about your cheat trick! With cake and brownie mixes, you can consider adding a hidden layer of goodness, a layer of candy bars or chocolate cookies amidst the batter for a surprise element! You could also add some variety and colour to the store-bought mixes by simply throwing in some food colours, candied fruits or fruit juices for a healthier twist.
Also read: How to make a Christmas cake from scratch
Bring Ingredients to Room Temperature in a Jiffy
One of the biggest baking fails is to use butter and eggs straight from the fridge. Jumani explains, "Cold ingredients end up giving you less volume, but mind you, butter that's too soft will give you no volume at all. Moreover, adding cold eggs to soft butter will solidify the butter immediately creating lumps in your batter." To prevent this epic fail and bring these ingredients to room temperature at the last minute, you can add some butter sticks into a small bowl and then place it in a saucepan filled with hot water. Alternatively, "you can also place the bowl in the microwave on defrost mode for a few seconds to soften it. "For eggs, all you’ve got to do is place the uncracked eggs in a bowl of lukewarm water, not boiling hot water, for a few minutes to get them to the ideal temperature," says Jumani.
Had no time to whip up some frosting or completely forgot about it? Worry not! Jumani is at your rescue. She says, "The quickest frosting is the American buttercream which uses only 4 ingredients - butter, icing sugar, extract (can use a variety of flavours ) and salt. You can also choose to make a chocolate frosting in minutes if you remember this ratio - 2 parts semi-sweet chocolate and 1 part cream, then simply melt the chocolate and heat the cream, and mix everything together." If all else fails, you could simply turn to some marshmallows to add instant frosting to your delish cupcakes and cookies. For your cupcakes, a large marshmallow could do the trick. If not, you could always use a couple of mini marshmallows. Whatever you decide to go with, simply dip one side of the marshmallow into some water or chocolate sauce so that it stays in place, then place them over your cookies and/or cupcakes during the last three to five minutes of baking. Once they start to melt, take out your baked goodies and using a spoon, spread your quick-fix frosting. Just make sure not to bake your treats for too long as brown marshmallows don’t spread easily. In case, you have no marshmallows at home, sprinkle powdered sugar through a lace for a pretty design.
Other Kitchen Tools to the Rescue
Decorating your cookies and garnishing your cakes has never been easier, thanks to sandwich bags and peelers. Fill a sandwich or zip-lock bag with icing and then simply cut off the corner, and you have your very own custom-made and economical pipette. Keep in mind, the bigger the hole you cut, the thicker the frosting.
You could also re-use old condiment bottles by filling them with icing to decorate your sweet treats. If you are using chocolate sauce, simply place the condiment bottle in some warm water for a smooth and runny flow.
To make chocolate peels for garnishes, you could turn to a potato peeler or a vegetable grater. If you can’t get hold of a broad rolling pin at the last minute, simply re-cycle an old wine or beer bottle, and use it to roll out your doughs.
And now for the last one you thought was the toughest one—if you are using a recipe that calls for only egg whites or yolks, here’s all you’ve got to do—simply clean an empty water bottle and use it to suck up the yolks from a bowl full of eggs. Word of caution: This trick will work only if the yolks are intact, so be careful with the cracking!
Perfect Cookies and Muffins Each Time, Every Time
The best Christmas treats need to look as good as they taste. Nobody would want to dig into deformed cookies or enormous blocks of muffins and brownies. Jumani, therefore, recommends using an ice cream scoop for perfect and uniform cookies. Besides, she says, "Make sure your dough is chilled and the oven is at the required temperature at the time of baking." In case you are using cookie cutters for your gingerbread and sugar cookies, and the dough happens to stick to the cutter, simply flour your cookie cutters before each use. Doing so will let the dough slice easily and help your goodies retain their shape throughout the baking process. For brownies and muffins, instead of using a cookie sheet, you could pour an evenly measured spoonful of dough or batter into muffin tins coated with a non-stick spray to ensure they hold their shapes. If you plan to bake ahead of time, consider storing your baked treats in a tin or container with a slice of bread. This will help ensure that they taste as crispy and crunchy as they did on day one.
If you've run out of eggs or are allergic to them, you could simply use unsweetened applesauce or mashed bananas as a quick substitute for your recipe. Besides, Jumani says that you are also free to use sour cream or milkmaid depending on the product. In case you are looking for a gluten-free alternative, Jumani suggests using almond flour. Plain yoghurt works well for recipes that call for buttermilk or sour cream. If you’ve run out of powdered sugar or have none handy, simply blend a cup of granulated white sugar with one tablespoon of cornstarch in a blender or food processor, until you’ve reached a powdered form. Moreover, if you are looking for natural ways to sweeten your baked goodies, you could use honey, coconut sugar, dates or even maple syrup, says Jumani.
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