Surviving the Holiday Baking Marathon

Despite my optimism back in September and the very best of intentions, I did not start my holiday baking until about four days ago. This is late, even for me. I usually get going shortly after Thanksgiving. This gives me sufficient time to try out new recipes and to just start over if I need to. I manage to produce two successful varieties of cookies a weekend for about three weeks and end up with a nice variety of offerings that I package up and deliver to work and friends. This year, I had a bunch of new recipes and just a single weekend to make everything work out. This weekend, I executed my first Holiday Baking Marathon.

Now, my initial intent is similar to what I did last year, in which I shared recipes and techniques while I baked my way through the weeks between Thanksgiving and Yule. And at first I was taking photos. But, once the reality of five batches of cookies in a single day sunk in, I realized there was no time for a do-over. I abandoned the camera and focused solely on my technique to ensure that everything turned out right. While I will try to get a couple of recipes up this weekend, this posting will focus on how to survive the holiday baking marathon. Here are 10 tips to ensure you get through:

1.  Put On Your Sneakers

You will be on your feet for a long time - I was in motion for a good eight hours on Saturday. If you are not wearing proper footwear, your back will give out, and you will fatigue that much quicker. Get those sneakers out of the gym bag and lace up. You're in for a long haul.

2.  Hydrate

While coffee is a wonderful companion to cookie dough (you've got to taste it, right?), you will want to make sure you drink a lot of water. Why? You will be in motion for a good, long day. This really is a bit of a marathon, and you should not underestimate your body's need for water.

3.  Eat a Good Breakfast

You will need to taste a lot of cookie dough, as well as the finished products. Get a good layer of protein in you first. Nothing fancy - a couple of eggs with cheese and a glass of milk should put you in a good place.

4.  Start With a Clean Kitchen

This will save valuable time later. That the time to clean and organize your workspace. Think about the volume of cookies you will be producing and ensure you have sufficient space to mix, roll, cut, sheet, and cool everything. Rearrange if you need to - just get that workspace established and ensure there is enough of it.

5.  Assemble Your Ingredients

Look at your recipes and get out all the ingredients you will need for all of them. This is not as daunting as it sounds as cookies are made of the same basic stuff - butter, sugar, flour, vanilla, eggs, baking powder, spices. Get it all out, plus any tools and utensils you will need, and arrange it all in your workspace.

Getting the workspace together

6.  Use Basic Good Cookie Technique

Regular readers may remember these from

last year's sugar cookie post

- start with room temperature ingredients, preheat the oven, line your sheets with parchment paper, rotate them halfway through baking. Oh, and use your portion-control cookie scoop, because if it looks the same, it cooks the same.

Bonus New Technique:

For shortbread or any other dry dough that is chilled and then rolled and cut, put away that rolling pin and get out the pastry blade. Work the dough by hand initially. Then shape it into a square, drop it on your board - sans flour - and use a smoothing action with the pastry blade and your hands to flatten the dough. When it starts to loose that basic square or rectangular shape, use the pastry blade to press the edges back in place.  Here's a little photo essay to demonstrate:

Once you have it as thick as you want it, cut your cookies. I am partial to British soldiers, and using this technique, I got perfectly shaped shortbread. Of course it helps that my counterpart did the flattening.....

Shortbread soldiers

7.  Take a Break

After once recipe has finished backing and you're cleaned your tools for the next round, sit down for 5-10 minutes. Drink some water. Breathe. Think about the next recipe. Give your feet and back a break. Bend down and touch your toes for a moment to stretch everything out before starting up again.

8.  Clean Up Right Away

Do not procrastinate on this one. You're dealing with butter and sugar - greasy and sticky and messy. You are best off cleaning up as soon as you can.

9.  Package Properly

The best way to store your cookies is a plain old ZipLoc bag. Use one of the jumbo-sized baggies. Lay it flat on the counter and arrange a double-layer of completely cooled cookies inside. If you are planning on storing the cookies for over a week, lay the bagged cookies flat on a shelf in the freezer.

10. Prepare for the Inevitable Sugar Hangover

I posted about this last year as well

. Once you are done with your baking for the day, break out the V-8 and get some veg in you to counter-balance all that sugar.

Happy Baking!