Even if you rarely bake the rest of the year, the holidays have a way of bringing out your inner Betty Crocker. Suddenly you find yourself in the kitchen with your counters covered in gluten-free flour and sprinkles. But all the extra mixing, baking and frosting that come with holiday recipes can quickly dampen your spirit.
Here are tips for saving time and effort in the kitchen with the goal of helping preserve your holiday good mood.
1. Gather ingredients and tools before you begin
In professional kitchens, chefs get everything in place for a recipe before they begin.
Putting this timesaving professional technique into practice at home is easy. Read recipes all the way through before you begin. Note everything, from ingredients and kitchen tools to the time required. Many holiday recipes require you to chill dough before baking and it’s good to know that in advance.
Familiarizing yourself with the recipe before baking allows time to shop for any needed ingredients. When you have everything, measure all the non-perishable ingredients into containers and mark each with a slip of paper so you don’t mix up ingredients that look similar. This saves time if you aren’t using pre-mixed gluten-free flour since most gluten-free recipes call for several flours and starches. Next, gather your tools.
On baking day, you only need to measure perishable ingredients, like eggs, and mix the dough. Not having to measure, mix and bake everything at once breaks the process into smaller more manageable steps.
2. Think big
While individual muffins and cupcakes are adorable, they often take more active time in the kitchen than their larger counterparts. You can mix a large Bundt cake, pop it in the oven to bake for an hour or so, and go do something else. The same recipe made into muffins takes longer to prepare and requires your attention about every few minutes to check baking or prepare another pan. You’ll save time by thinking big. Instead of making 12 cupcakes, make one 8×2 round or square cake or one 9x5x4 loaf cake.
Once baked, dust powdered sugar over the cool Bundt or loaf cake through a sieve. For a round dessert layer cake, don’t stress about icing it completely. Simply spread icing between the layers and on top, leaving the sides un-iced. Garnish the top layer with a sprinkle of colored sugar for sparkle or a few slivered, toasted nuts.
3. Make drop cookies
Cut-out cookies are fun to make but drop cookies are easier, quicker and taste just as good.
Chocolate chip cookies, gingersnaps, and snicker doodles are all drop cookies, so called because you simply drop the dough onto a prepared baking sheet.
To make dropping dough even easier, use a cookie scoop. It will make quick work of scooping the dough and ensures that each cookie is the same size. Uniform cookies bake evenly and result in fewer that are burnt or underdone. Plus, some gluten-free dough is softer and stickier than wheat dough and the scoop prevents it from clinging to your hands while you shape the cookies.
4. Decorate cookies before baking
Save time by decorating cutout or drop cookies before they go in the oven. The process is much quicker than icing and decorating cookies after they’re baked – though that’s a nice holiday tradition when you have time. Select an assortment of edible gluten-free colored sugars, nonpareils, jimmies or quins, which are sprinkles that come in shapes like candy canes or snowflakes.
For drop cookies, place the edible décor in a small bowl. To decorate: either press just the top of the cookie dough ball into the bowl—press down firmly so the décor “sticks” to the dough—or roll the entire dough ball into the decorations. Kids love helping with this step!
For cut-out cookies, brush the top of the cookies with a little beaten egg white after placing them on the baking sheet. The egg white helps the sugar stick to the dough and gives cookies an attractive shine. If you are allergic to eggs, use water.
Don’t be shy with the décor. Gluten-free cookies tend to bake a little lighter than their wheat counterpart. The addition of colored sugar or sprinkles makes them appealing to gluten-free and gluten-eaters alike.
5. Make no-bake treats
Holiday goodies don’t need to be baked to be delicious! Recipes for homemade pudding, chocolate bark, peanut brittle, and popcorn balls are often naturally gluten-free and a welcome addition to any holiday table. Since they skip the baking step, they are great time savers.
Elizabeth Barbone is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and is the author of two gluten-free cookbooks, Easy Gluten-Free Baking (Lake Isle Press 2009) and How to Cook (Lake Isle Press 2012). She can be found on-line at glutenfreebaking.com.