Be in Santa's good books by following his principles of Christmas baking
Santa Claus knows Christmas cookies better than (almost) anyone in the world.
After all, the right jolly old elf has eaten enough chocolate drops while circumnavigating the globe every Christmas Eve. You have to figure that Mrs. Claus and the elves bake mountains of cookies, not to mention pudding, pie, fruitcake, and scrumptious breads. But St. Nicholas still insists on rolling up his red-and-white sleeves, drinking a mug of hot cocoa, and feeding cookie dough to the reindeer while making fresh gingerbread.
As always, Santa does beautiful work and his cookies are a hit with the North Pole crowd. So let Santa Claus teach you his 5 principles of Christmas baking. Even though you may not have dozens of elves, reindeer and North Pole magic to assist you in your Christmas baking, you can still follow Santa’s 5 time-honored tested, tried and true principles for creating yummy Christmas desserts, treats and other Christmas goodies.
Make your (ingredient) list and check it twice!
Santa loves making lists, and not just the infamous “naughty or nice” girls and boys inventory. He makes lists of all the toys and especially all the Christmas cookies, pies, breads, pastries, cakes and desserts. He has a running list of ingredients for all the Christmas goodies. You can be that organized even this close to Christmas Day and get a jump on baking for next Christmas!
And if you need a hint of inspiration, check out our collection of easy Christmas dessert recipe ideas.
Make notes of the quantities you’ll need. By gathering together a recipe list, you’ll have a tally of what you need.
Your master list of ingredients will usually include:
* Milk, including half-and-half and soy milk substitutes
* Vanilla extract
* Baking flour
* Powdered and super fine confectioners’ sugar
* Brown sugar
* Chocolate/caramel/butterscotch/white chocolate chips
* Sprinkles, nonpareils
* Cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, blackberries
Know who’s been naughty or nice.
Make sure all your ingredients are fresh, especially baking soda and baking powder. Use fresh ingredients. Stale ingredients can impart their flavors and odors to your cookies and you will be disappointed in the outcome. Do not use nuts, flour, chocolate, or anything else that is past its prime. You’ll know it’s past its prime if you’ve had it in the cupboard since last Christmas or it smells funny.
Except when the recipe calls for food substitutes, use all-natural, genuine authentic ingredients. If you use quality chocolate, real butter, and genuine vanilla extract your cookies are always going to taste better than if you use generic chocolate, margarine or butter-flavored shortening, and artificial vanilla. You really can taste the difference. However, use shortening or margarine if the recipe specifically calls for it because this will have an effect on the texture of the cookie or other baked goods.
You better not pout, you better not cry…
It’s easy to overschedule and overstress yourself. Unfortunately, your baked goods will show that stress and unhappiness. You know the saying “love in every bite.” Granted, Santa has a whole year and a North Pole full of helpers to prepare for Christmas. But you too can get organized and enjoy making Christmas baked goods without feeling rushed by last-minute chores, gift wrapping, holiday guests and trips to the mall. Christmas baking should be a joyous experience. You don’t have to be Martha Stewart to enjoy mixing batter for bread, slicing fruitcake, and decorating chocolate cookies. Use chocolate chips! Your baked goods will demonstrate the care and craftsmanship if you relax and carve out time to just be in the kitchen.
It’s easy to let Christmas baking slide when you’ve got so many other items on your to-do list. However, if you choose, say, the week after Thanksgiving to do your baking, or even start in November, then outline all the recipes you want to do with a time frame for each recipe, especially the complicated ones, you’ll be well on your way to great baking. In this crucial Christmas “eleventh hour” week, you can even raid your recipe box or search online to find baked goods you can whip up in minutes to hours.
Also, remember that with several cookies, pies and cakes, you can make dough and batter and freeze ahead of time.
Be a giver.
The more time and ingredients and care you give, the better your cookies will taste. Christmas cookies really are for sharing, and the sharing doesn’t start when you give those wrapped trays and tins full of your Christmas treasures. The sharing begins long before, when you plan to give someone your fabulous fudge brownies, or take them to a Christmas party.
Sometimes we obsess so much about being perfect, even the best chefs make mistakes. We forget that love seeps into every cookie, every cake, every bread. Remember the romantic comedy with Sarah Michelle Gellar, “Simply Irresistible,” in which the heroine’s emotion literally infuses her cooking, making people go crazy for her delicious dishes? It isn’t a fantasy. Our mothers’ and grandmothers’ cooking tasted wonderful because of the old-fashioned love and care that went into every scoop, every kneading of bread dough, and every pie crust.
Ah, but what about fruitcake? Surely no one likes fruitcake!
Yes, Virginia, you can like fruitcake. Not everyone will like all your baked goods. Even Santa can’t please all the children on earth. And admittedly, the hard-as-concrete overly sweet wedges your Uncle Jerry likes to give aren’t worth the eating. Sometimes all that fruitcake needs is a makeover. You might even make your own. I like The Fruitcake Hater’s Fruitcake recipe, courtesy of www.christmas-cookies.com.
The Fruitcake Hater's Fruitcake recipe:
- For the cake: 3 oranges, 1 cup dried cranberries or cherries, 3/4 cup golden raisins, 1/2 cup currants, 1/2 cup dried apricots chopped, 2 cups granulated sugar, 1 cup butter softened, 4 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 3 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 cup buttermilk, 1 cup chopped walnuts
- For the icing: 10 ounces cream cheese softened, 8 tablespoons powdered sugar, dried fruit for garnish, butter, flour and a 10" tube pan
- Preheat oven to 325 °F. Grate 2 tbsp zest from oranges. Squeeze oranges to make 1 cup juice. Set aside. In medium saucepan, combine dried fruits and 2/3 cup orange juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain well and set aside. In large mixing bowl, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, then add orange zest and vanilla, beat well. Alternately, add combined dry ingredients and buttermilk to the creamed mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Stir in walnuts and fruit. Pour batter into prepared pan.
- Bake about 1 hour and 15 minutes or until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove to wire rack and cool completely.
- For icing, beat together cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Add 1/3 cup orange juice, beat well. Spread icing on cake, garnish with dried fruit.
- Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 min. before serving. To freeze, wrap tightly in freezer wrap, heavy-duty aluminum foil or plastic freezer-safe bags. Freeze up to 2 months. Bring to room temperature 45 min. before serving. Cake can be made 5 days ahead.
Bake with your whole heart and, like Santa, you won’t regret it.
Lastly, don’t forget to leave some of those baked goods for St. Nicholas. But first of all…enjoy the fruits, nuts, and chocolate cupcakes of your Christmas labors!