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Prep your pantry for holiday baking success

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When you’re getting ready to start your Christmas baking, it might feel like you need to steer an enormous cart down the baking aisle of the grocery store and grab one of everything. It doesn’t have to be that intense. From making a list (and checking it twice), to taking advantage of sales, here are a few tips on stocking up for a season of holiday baking.

Plan ahead

  • Make a list of the recipes you plan to make and what ingredients they require. Check to see what you already have on hand. Weed out any expired items.
  • Pick up one or two ingredients each week leading up to your Christmas baking sessions to keep your grocery bills more manageable. 
  • If you don’t bake much other than at Christmas, buy the smallest size of the ingredients you know you’ll never finish before they go bad (e.g. baking soda, baking powder and/or cocoa).
  • Butter keeps well in the freezer, so buy more than you think you’ll need because it’s going to be in almost everything you’ll bake this time of year.
  • Stock up on the basics when they go on sale. Vanilla extract is in almost every dessert recipe, such as cookies, squares, cakes and pies — not to mention frostings and glazes. Look for deals on white and brown (golden) sugar. You’ll only need to buy icing sugar if you plan on frosting any cookies, cakes or brownies.
  • Don’t forget the extras that might not be mentioned in recipes. If you’ll be making pies, for example, you’ll probably want vanilla ice cream for the side or whipped cream to dollop on top.
  • When your pantry is well-stocked with the ingredients you need, make sure everyone else in the house knows what’s not to be touched. You don’t want someone accidentally polishing off your chocolate chips or the ice cream reserved for your apple pie.

Check your cupboards 

Before you start a Christmas baking marathon, it’s a good idea to clean out your old, expired ingredients first so you don’t accidentally mix in your new ingredients. However, you don’t necessarily need to toss an ingredient just because you haven’t used it in recent months. Baking ingredients can last a lot longer than you’d think, which helps to cut down on those extra-high pre-Christmas grocery bills. 

Here’s a rundown on how to check the ingredients in your cupboard to see if they’ll do the job this Christmas.

Baking soda: Put a spoonful of baking soda in a bowl and add a splash of vinegar or lemon juice. If it’s nice and fizzy, the baking soda is still effective. If it barely fizzles, it’s not going to have the power to puff those pastries.

Baking powder: If you think your baking powder might be too old, put half a teaspoon into a bowl and cover it with a quarter cup of boiling water. If it bubbles up, it’s still working. (If it’s no longer bubbly, remember that it makes a great abrasive cleaning scrub for sinks.)

Flour: Check the expiration date on the bag, but know that white flour is considered to be OK for a full year after that date if it’s kept at room temperature and even longer if it’s in your fridge or freezer. Whole-grain flour only lasts three months longer than its expiration date, since it contains more oil.

Chocolate chips: Semi-sweet chocolate chips usually last about two years, but you can tell they’ve gone off if they have a white coating or feel gritty. 

Spices: Ground spices lose their potency after two or three years, so you may need to buy fresh allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger or nutmeg, depending on your recipes. 

Sugars: Rock-hard brown or white sugar can be refreshed by dumping it into a microwave-safe bowl and nuking it in 20-second intervals, using a fork to break up the clumps. (White sugar may require a light sprinkle of water to get it to soften up in the microwave.)

Easy baking hacks

Recipes, traditions and more in our Holidays section
Recipes, traditions and more in our Holidays section

If you’re in a rush or don’t like to bake, here are some holiday baking hacks that will have you strolling into the next Christmas party with a plate of homemade goodness in no time at all. 

Cookies: Buy a tube of premade chocolate chip cookie dough and bake them yourself, being sure to undercook them by a minute or two for a chewy, tastes-like-homemade effect. If you really want to look fancy, stick some colourful chocolate candies in them before baking. 

Pie: Buy a frozen pie crust — they come in sets of two — so all you have to do is pour in the filling, add the top crust and bake it. No messing around with pastry tools or overworking dough until it’s too tough. Frozen pie crusts are a miracle of the modern world. 

Cake: Buy a cake mix, but don’t follow the directions exactly. If you replace the oil with melted butter and replace the water with milk and add an extra egg, the finished product will taste more like it was baked from scratch. 

Brownies: Buy boxed brownie mix and live your best life. 

Frosting: No shortcuts here, but you’ll never go back to the canned stuff once you’ve tried making your own. With icing sugar, butter, milk, vanilla extract and a pinch of salt, you’ll have a vanilla buttercream that’s so good, people will be licking their dessert plates. 

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