Kitchen Q&A: {Holiday Baking Edition}

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Do you know how to make a cookie place card for the holiday table? Or how to make colored sugar or shredded coconut for decorating baking? Do you want to learn how to make your own cookie cutters for fun, festive shapes? When is the best time to bake a fruitcake, right before Christmas day or should it be baked sooner? These questions and more are answered below.

Decorate Cookies Easily By Filling A Small Plastic Bag With Icing & Then Piping A Steady Stream Of Icing

Decorate Cookies Easily By Filling A Small Plastic Bag With Icing & Then Piping A Steady Stream Of Icing

  1. What’s the best icing to use for decorating gingerbread? Use royal icing since it will set hard to hold its shape and won’t smear when stacked together on plates. Dragees pressed into the icing before it hardens makes a nice decorative touch too. Royal icing is also used as the “glue” to hold gingerbread houses together.
  2. I want to bake a whole bunch of cookies at once to freeze and then give as gifts later–what’s the best way to freeze homemade cookies? Freeze the cookies right after baking and they have cooled completely. Store them in containers and stuff with waxed paper to give the cookies protection from bumping around in the freezer. If you’re not using plastic freezer containers (that are airtight), you can freeze in metal or cardboard cartons–just make sure to wrap the outside well with plastic. You can also freeze unbaked cookie dough and then bake them as you need them.
  3. The cookie recipe I have requires using a cookie sheet with no sides, I don’t have any and I don’t want to buy some just to bake these cookies. Suggestions? If your baking sheets have sides, turn them upside down and bake cookies on the bottom, see Tips Guide For Making Homemade Cookies for more tips.
  4. I’d like to give homemade cookie gift bags this year but don’t have a lot of time to set aside for baking–any tips to help me get several dozen cookies baked? You need the cookie baking assembly line setup, here’s how I do it: Holiday Baking Tips: Cookie Assembly Line.
  5. How do you make even holes in cookies to thread ribbons or string through to hang them on a tree? Use a straw or a chopstick to make the holes in unbaked cookies–make sure to leave enough space from all edges so that the cookie will be strong enough to hold its weight when hanging. The hole will close a bit during baking but you’ll still be able to string ribbon through (or you could “recut” the dough with the straw while the cookie is still soft).
  6. I love all the festive shaped cookies I see online and on tv shows but I can’t find any nice cookie cutters where I live, is there a way I can make them? It’s easy to make your own cookie cutters! If it’s a simple shape you’re after, cut it out on heavy cardboard and use that as a template. Lay it on rolled out cookie dough then cut around the shape and voila! you have the cookie shape you were looking for. See How To Make Cookie Cutters for more tips and techniques for designing your own cookie cutters.
  7. How can I make cookie place cards for the holiday table? Place cards that can be eaten are always an added pleasure. Cut cooky dough in rectangular or other desirable shapes, bake carefully and then write the name of each guest on a cooky with icing, using a pastry tube. Have the cooky place card on a small paper doily and put it in place on the table. Source: 26 Cooking & Baking Tips.
  8. What’s the temperature for soft ball stage when making homemade candy? Soft ball stage is 234°F. – 240°F. For the cold water test: Syrup forms a soft ball which flattens on removal. See these Homemade Candy Making Tips for more helpers.
  9. I’d like to decorate my holiday breads this year with almond slices or candied cherries–any suggestions? Trim unbaked holiday breads with sliced almonds arranged, petal fashion around whole or halved candied cherries. Another flower idea: Cut stems and leaves from thin slices of candied citron or bright green gumdrops; use cherries for the blossom. See How To Shape & Decorate Holiday Breads.
  10. Do you have any suggestions for gift packaging baking? Festive cookie jars, baskets (either wicker or cardboard wrapped in decorative paper), cannisters, mason jars, large coffee mugs…see this list for more ideas: Baking Gifts: Creative Container & Filler Ideas.
  11. I prefer baking with real vanilla extract but it’s getting so expensive! Any suggestions? Homemade vanilla is so easy to make and I find the flavor just lovely in my baking. The nice thing about having a jar of homemade vanilla is that you can just keep topping it up with alcohol (so you’ll never run out). This makes a lovely gift too.
  12. When’s the best time to bake homemade fruitcake, right before Christmas so it’s fresh? Fruitcake needs a few weeks to age and ripen its flavors, you should bake fruitcake about 3 weeks before the holidays. See Fruitcake Baking Tips for more suggestions.
  13. I just pulled out all my supplies for baking and found a rock hard brick of brown sugar–any way to soften it quickly? You can use a microwave or low heat on the oven to get that brown sugar usable asap, see 10 Ways To Soften Hard Brown Sugar for more details. Is there a way to help keep it soft? A common method is to keep brown sugar in an airtight container with an apple or piece of bread in it, the apple helps the brown sugar stay soft and moist. A few tips shared by Tipnut readers: Keep brown sugar in the bottom vegetable bin and you’ll never have hard sugar again (submitted by Twister) and Michelle submitted this tip: I always keep my brown sugar in the freezer for storage. It never gets hard and once thawed is ready to go. Never hard or clumpy. I have done it for years and it has never failed me
  14. Is it really necessary to have butter at room temperature when baking? I just pulled the butter from the fridge and it’s hard but I’d like to get started baking asap. Yes the butter should be at room temperature, this is necessary so that more air can get into the batter while being mixed. To soften butter quickly, see these tips: How To Soften Butter: Quick Tips. Note this isn’t standard for all recipes, for things like pastry you want the butter to be very cold.
  15. Why do eggs need to be at room temperature, my favorite cake recipe requires this. Eggs beat up lighter and make finer cake when not too cold. They should be at cool room temperature (60°F. to 70°F.) for best results. When making sponge cakes, especially angel food, remove eggs from refrigerator several hours before using. Source: Kitchen Quick Tips {Eggs} Timeless Wisdom.
  16. Any tips for flaky pie crust? It’s as easy as pie to get a flaky upper crust. Just before putting the pie in the oven, brush top crust lightly with cold water. The result will melt in your mouth. Also always have shortening very cold before using. Mix crust dough the day before baking and leave in ice-box. Roll pastry lightly, using as little flour as possible. Roll from the center of the dough out and up–not back and forth. See Pie Making Tips for more helpful suggestions.
  17. I love homemade fruit pies but hate the mess they make in my oven–any tips to preventing fruit pie boilovers? When making pie, sprinkle the sugar under the fruit instead of on top. This prevents pie from boiling over. Source: 50 Quick Tips For The Kitchen. For a helpful tip sheet on fruit pies, see Fresh Fruit Pies: Kitchen Cheat Sheet.
  18. I find I make a mess when trying to make lattice top pie crusts, any tips? Lattice tops on fruit pies are messy to make if fruit’s juicy. Weave strips of pastry on waxed paper. Slip hand under paper, aim right, then quickly flip lattice top over onto fruit. Source: Quick Tips: Baking Short Cuts.
  19. How do you keep a custard pie from separating while it’s baking? Bake slowly. After the first 10 minutes of high temperature needed to set the crust, reduce temperature. Remove pie from the oven as soon as the filling is done. Source: Baking Secrets Of Success.
  20. Any tips for removing pieces of pie with a graham crust? I find it’s always sloppy. Ease graham cracker crusts from the pan by dipping the pie pan in hot water before slicing and serving. Source: 25 Cooking & Baking Tips.
  21. Is there an easy way to tint shredded coconut? If you’d like to color shredded coconut for toppings on cakes and desserts, simply put the coconut in a clean jar (only one half jar full at a time), add a few drops of food coloring in your choice of color, then cap the jar and shake it until all the coconut is evenly tinted. Source: 50 Quick Tips For The Kitchen.
  22. How can I tint sugar to use as cookie decoration? Keep a small amount of sugar in small glass jars, add a few drops of food coloring and shake jar. You can also do this in ziploc bags, just mix a few drops of food coloring per cup of white granulated sugar, seal bag and work coloring into sugar by squeezing bag for a couple minutes. Source: 45 Cooking & Baking Tips – A Collection Of Timeless Wisdom.
  23. Any tips for keeping squares of cake fresh? They dry out so quickly. Wrap the cut cake with a few slices of fresh apple or cubes of sugar or a slice of fresh bread set inside the cake pan (or in the open space of the cake plate). Make sure to store the cake in an airtight container or wrapped well in plastic wrap. Source: 43 Cake Baking Tips & Tricks. If you’re expecting a crowd, see these neat cake cutting ideas.
  24. Can white sugar be substituted for brown sugar? You can substitute the two successfully, but there will be some difference in taste. Brown sugar also has a bit more moisture to it than white sugar. Measure in equal amounts when substituting but remember to pack the brown sugar firmly when measuring.
  25. Is there a way to frost a cake without getting the plate messy? Place four strips of waxed paper over edge of cake plate. Place cake on strips. Paper will catch surplus frosting as you work. Once you’re done icing the cake, carefully remove waxed-paper strips–you have a spotless plate. Source: How To Frost A Cake (bottom of page).
  26. A friend suggested I try replacing the eggs in a recipe with applesauce, does this really work? Yes it does work! Use 2 TBS applesauce per egg required. See Egg Substitutes: Handy Recipe List.
  27. Any suggestions for cake flour substitute? If you’re running short on cake flour and need it now, here’s a tip for making your own: Add two level tablespoons of corn starch to a one cup measuring cup, then fill with bread flour. Sift three times then use as needed. Source: Handy Substitute Recipes For Baking.

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Published: December 15, 2009
Updated: November 7, 2012

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2 Comments to “Kitchen Q&A: {Holiday Baking Edition}”
  1. Feast on the Cheap says:

    Such great tips!

  2. jane linley bennett says:

    I really,truely believe that if you can’t find an answer here …..then itjust,plain does not exist….been cooking,baking and preserving for a long time and i always find an answer here….your work on this site really pays off…love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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