As I think I've mentioned before, I am somewhat of a baking fiend during the fall and winter months (as I know many of you are, too). During my many, many baking adventures, I have come up with a few shortcuts that have really made a difference in terms of time and energy spent in the kitchen. They may elicit a big "DUH" from you readers, but I figured I'd share them anyway with the hopes that some of the shortcuts I use may make a difference in YOUR holiday baking.
1) Sometimes a recipe is just really complex and it overwhelms me to think about doing the whole thing in one night (because, let's face it, nighttime is when my toddler is sleeping peacefully and I have some time to myself). So, in order not to stress myself out, I'll actually measure out the ingredients the night before and then combine and bake the next day. Here's an example of what I did a few days ago when I decided to bake a batch of these amazing cookies:
I combined the dry ingredients in a large bowl and covered, and then put the sugars in the KitchenAid mixer bowl that I would actually be mixing in. I measured out the Nutella in a small bowl, unwrapped the Hershey's Kisses and put them in a tupperware container. The next day all I had to do was dump a stick of softened butter and the vanilla in the KitchenAid bowl with the nutella, mix it up, add the dry ingredients, and then form the cookies. I can't tell you how much time and energy I saved by doing all of the measuring ahead of time.
2) I try to find one-bowl recipes as often as I can. I LOVE the fact that it means very little clean up. So, if you can get your hands on a large Pyrex measuring bowl like this one, you can do a lot of your measuring, and all of your mixing in this one container, and then it's so easy to pour into a cake mold or muffin tins or whatever. These Healthy Banana Muffins are an awesome one-bowl recipe, which I make very often since my family can't seem to finish a bunch of bananas to save our collective lives.
3) Before you start a recipe, look at the measurements it calls for, so you can figure out which measuring cups you can re-use during the process. For example, in that muffin recipe I mentioned above, it calls for 3/4 cups white flour, 3/4 cups wheat flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, etc. So, instead of using a 1/2 cup and a 1/4 cup measuring tool, I just use the 1/4 cup and rinse it when need be. Then, you don't have an extra measuring cup to wash afterwards. It seems like a little thing, but after you're done baking you'll be happy there's one less thing to clean.
4) If you bake a lot of cookies during the holidays, invest in a roll or two of parchment paper. I am adamantly opposed to cleaning cookie sheets and as a result, use parchment paper almost exclusively during my cookie baking. It saves me from having to grease baking sheets, thus wasting valuable time. And then after the cookies are done, you just throw out the parchment paper and put the cookie sheets back in the cabinet after they've cooled. Silpat mats are also great and avoid the greasing process, but then you still have to clean it when you're done. I say nuts to that.
Do you have any great baking/cooking shortcuts? Please share!