7 Warning Signs Your Holiday Baking Will End in Murder
1. You expect the process to look like an episode of The Pioneer Woman.
It's easy to picture: everyone gathered around the kitchen island, soft lighting illuminating glistening smiles, children covered in just the right amount of flour, and perfectly shaped cookies every time.
Riiiiiight. Sometimes it's valuable to temper expectations, and holiday baking fits the bill, especially if you have little ones. Are you baking Christmas cookies to force a memory? Are you dipping a million peanut butter balls in melted chocolate because that's what you always did as a kid but your kids are meh, except for the eating part?
There's nothing wrong with making memories; just make sure you're still happy if they start off looking like Norman Rockwell but end up looking more like Dr. Suess.
2. You only make something the day you need it.
Baking always takes twice as long as you think it will; you can't fight it. So when it's time to take cookies to the office Christmas party or deliver bundles of treats to every neighbor within a five-mile radius, doing all the work on that day is MADNESS.
Listen, freezing stuff isn't sexy, but it's practical. Like I tell every sweet thing about to go on her honeymoon, don't pack only lingerie. You won't be having sexy time every second, and wearing a lacy situation when you and your dude are eating room service and watching Fixer Upper isn't as romantic as you'd think. Put the word "juicy" on your butt if you want, but there is nothing wrong with practical sweatpants.
You guys, your freezer is a pair of sweatpants. Make a big batch of cookie dough, portion out little balls, and freeze them. Once frozen, put them in a gallon freezer bag. Now you can make however many cookies you need when you need them without all the madness.
All cookie dough can freeze. So can baked cake layers (unfrosted), baked brownies, muffins, sweetbreads, and even discs of sugar cookie dough for cutting out sprinkle-covered Christmas trees. If you plan on doing a lot of baking, don't ignore this. I beg of you for the sake of your loved ones; they deserve to live long and happy lives.
Wear those sweatpants, y'all. Your freezer is your unsexy friend.
3. You say yes to all the things.
Y'all. Don't do it. Overbooking the holidays is the quickest way to becoming Scrooge, and we all know it. Yet, we still keep saying yes to things we don't actually want to do! Or else we think that cramming the holidays with food and fun is the best way to make memories, when it's actually the best way to kill every family member with a whisk.
You can't force memories, but you can force yourself into madness by doing too much.
4. You don't have the proper baking hack tools.
- a cookie scoop // Scoops make evenly portioning cookies painless and fast. I use some of my bigger scoops to put batter in muffin tins, too. Baking is a science (ew), and making your treats the same size will ensure they bake at the same rate which will keep you from going insane.
- a bench scraper // A bench scraper is like Ann from Arrested Development. When people first meet Ann, they say, "Her?" She's unimpressive at best, but her boyfriend, George Michael, thinks she's awesome and wants everybody to know it. That's how I feel about a bench scraper. Once you discover all the ways one can help you, you'll want two. It perfectly cuts slice-and-bake cookies, cleans floury counters with robotic precision, lifts too-sticky dough effortlessly, generously scoops chocolate chips and walnuts into cookie dough... there are a million uses, and you need to discover every single one.
- parchment paper // This is the magical tool that prevents you from washing extra dishes. Bake your cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets, sift your dry ingredients onto a sheet of parchment instead of in a separate bowl, and decorate sugar cookies on parchment so you won't need an jackhammer to get all the icing off your counter. It is the best thing to keep you from losing your mind in the kitchen.
You don't need fancy mixers and double ovens to be a great baker. Bake smart with simple tools, and you'll enjoy the process so much more.
5. You try untested recipes.
The Internet is mean and sometimes spits out stupid recipes. Of course it's fun to try new things, but try recipes from trusted sources, especially when you're filling cookie tins for your extended family and just need to get out the door to Grandma's. Otherwise, that murderous glint fills your eyes again, and we all want to make it to New Years.
Don't try new recipes from untrusted sources. Stick with your recipe friends to keep the stress level at a minimum.
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6. You decide cookies have too many calories.
Child, please. I'm tired of hearing us whine about calories or "Christmas calories not counting" or "I'll just run later and it'll be fine" and then berating ourselves when we don't. I'll fully get on this soapbox another day, but did you know that when you tell your brain that a food is bad, your body goes into a stress response, shooting out hormones that actually make you hold onto fat to protect itself? What we tell ourselves about food is just as important, if not more, than what we actually eat.
Please don't bum everybody out by talking about calories and hips and New Years Resolutions, especially when you're about to serve those people butterscotch blondies. It only does two things: makes your brain and body hormonally freak out, and makes everyone around you feel guilty because they were actually enjoying their desserts instead of chastising themselves over them.
Give yourself permission to enjoy food like a normal person, and stop worrying about calories.
7. You turn giving into a system and then burn out.
A few years ago, I decided to give homemade gifts to all my friends. I made a list of people, and it quickly turned into a directory of everyone I'd ever known. It's like the wedding guest list monstrosity. If you invite one person, it opens the door to 10,000 more. Where does it stop? That particular Christmas, it stopped with me legit crying on the couch from emotional and physical exhaustion. I made something for literally everyone, and because I rarely see so many of those people, I spent days delivering little tins of treats to people who were glad to see me but also like Umm, what is she doing here I haven't seen her in two years. I'll be honest; it was not worth it.
Of course it's part of the holiday fun to give bags of sugar cookies and buckeyes to friends and family, but don't paint yourself into a murderous corner by thinking and planning too much. If an old friend is visiting from out of town, fire up your oven and bake some of those cookie dough balls hanging out in your freezer to give her when she arrives. Do you see your neighbors outside hanging Christmas lights? Package up a few treats, and casually head to their yard, gifting them with something sweet without it being a huge production.
Giving the gift of holiday treats is glorious indeed, but don't lose the luster by going all out for everyone you've ever known. It feels doable on December 1st, but you'll be in jail by the 15th.
Feel better? Bake, have fun, make memories, but be a genius about it by being lazier than you think you should be. That's how everyone will make it out alive.
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