Food and the holidays go hand-in-hand! Holiday cooking magazines are among the first signs of an approaching holiday season.
Sumptuous desserts, winsome cookies, glowing turkeys warm our images of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year.
But oh! My aching feet! Even those of us who lead a Little Debbie life from January to November succumb to holiday baking madness. Cookies. Breads. Pies. Candy. It wouldn't be the holidays without them--but isn't there any way around the baking chores?
Here's a suggestion that can simplify the holiday bake-fest: a baking specialty.
One baked good--cake or cookie or tea bread or candy--that you make each year, in bulk, and give to everyone with a flourish that proclaims it a specialty. Put this time-saving strategy to work for you with these tips.
Make it special
First rule: a specialty should be special. Choose a not-too-common recipe. Or take a perfectly common recipe and go deluxe: add extra chocolate chips, white chocolate chips and grated orange zest to plain old chocolate chip cookies.
"Shape" may make a specialty: bake zucchini bread in small ring pans instead of traditional loaves for a distinctive, simple specialty.
If you live far from family and friends, think regional: showcase pecans in the South, maple syrup in the Northeast, apples in orchard country.
Make it in bulk
Step two: perfect your recipe and make it in bulk. Make it this year. Make it next year. Get so familiar with your specialty that you can recite the ingredients in your sleep.
Become Queen of your specialty, turning out a good consistent product every time--and in large batches. Go double, triple--as large a quantity as your oven, mixer and stamina can tolerate.
Give it a name ... yours!
Third point: christen your specialty, and name it after yourself: "Cynthia Ewer's Sins of the South Cake" is the wickedly-good Southern Comfort butter cake with golden raisins and pecans that I developed while living in Georgia.
Now a resident of Washington state, my current specialty relies on local walnuts, dried cherries, and the Pacific Northwest passion for espresso drinks: Cynthia Ewer's Tangy Tri-Cities Biscotti. Dipped in melted white chocolate and stood on end in a coffee mug, it's a perfect, easy gift!
Make it pretty
Fourth rule: presentation is everything. Use a computer or copy machine to make gift tags or labels. Use colorful graphics, an interesting font, or pre-printed label forms to make your specialty gift tags.
Whether or not to divulge one's recipe is a matter of personal choice. I've gone both ways, hugging my Sins of the South recipe tightly to my chest against the pleading of the Southern belles, while freely distributing the Tangy Tri-Cities Biscotti recipe. Take your pick: mystique, or generosity!
Wrap your specialty nicely. Hint: Stretch-tite Plastic Food Wrap gives a near-professional smooth finish when wrapped tightly around baked goods--and for a fraction of a penny. Apply a pretty label or gift tag.
Admire your finished product!
Give it (and give it and give it and give it!)
You've baked in bulk, selected an extravagant name and mass-produced your beautifully-wrapped specialty. You are ready!
A caller for the church bake sale? "Oh, of course, I'll be sure to donate some of my specialty!"
A pick-up party on Saturday night? "Thank you for inviting us; I hope your family will like my specialty!"
New neighbors down the street? You've got it: "Welcome! I've brought you my specialty!"
By baking in bulk, you've saved time. By being creative, you've invested your specialty with impressive holiday flair. By producing it at every occasion, you've simplified baking and gift-giving. By repeating your specialty, year after year, you've created a holiday tradition.
It's a win-win-win strategy!