It’s Day Two of the holiday celebrations here at Urban Cottage Life and I’m excited to share my favourite recipes with you. But before we jump into that, this is a good time to talk about planning ahead and a great strategy to avoid being overwhelmed by your ambitious holiday baking plans: Make-Ahead & Freeze Baking. This approach helps me manage my seasonal baking workload and always have something on hand and ready to be baked off when the occasion arises.
‘Tis the Season for Baking …
I’ve been a baking enthusiast since the age of eight or so. During the years when my children were young, I went into baking overdrive for the holidays — so many cookies, bars and more! Working full-time, I had many a worknight baking marathon that didn’t end until one in the morning or so. In more recent (pre-pandemic) years, a lot of my Christmas baking energy was channelled into preparing for my open houses or coffee mingles, or bringing baked goods to others. December is definitely baking season for me! And it’s also a time when my freezer gets loaded up.
As with any big undertaking, the time you take to plan ahead is always worthwhile. I suggest sitting down around the beginning of December to consider the events and occasions you’ll be baking for (even if you’re baking just for yourself and your immediate household), and develop a list of what you’ll be making.
Once you have your list of recipes, add up the quantities of pantry staples and special items you’ll need to have on hand. Check that against your supplies, write your shopping list and head to the store to ensure you stock up on everything you need. If you’re like me, you’ll be going through a lot of flour, sugar, butter, and more.
This is also a good time to check that your baking powder and baking soda are still fresh and can get the job done.
Even if you’re not launching a major baking campaign, make sure you have a reasonable supply of the items that you typically use in your special occasion baking. For instance, you’ll want to have baking chocolate, dried fruit, and nuts on hand for when the urge strikes to make yourself a batch of your favourite Christmas cookies, or someone makes a special request.
Finally, don’t forget that planning ahead includes making sure there’s enough room in the freezer for all the goodies you plan to stash in there. This is the time to get rid of those half-empty bags of freezer-burned peas and other long-forgotten items. It’s also time to organize the freezer to optimize space.
The Magic of the Make-Ahead & Freeze Approach
I’m an advocate of doing batch baking ahead of time and using the freezer for storage until needed. In the past, I used to freeze cookies, bars and other freezer-friendly items after they were baked, just like my mom did. At this time of year I always had big plastic containers with assortments of treats in the freezer.
However, baked goods can take up a lot of room in the freezer, and also, ahem, encourage snacking (yes, I’ve been known to gnaw on frozen baked goods when the holiday stress gets to me, haha). In recent years, my strategy has been to make ahead and freeze shaped but unbaked dough for things like cookies, scones, and gougeres.
The Advantages of Freezing Shaped, Raw Dough
There are several advantages to freezing shaped but unbaked dough:
- Time — Your advance prep only requires time to mix the dough and shape it into balls or whatever form you need; the baking is done later
- Space — 50 frozen balls of cookie dough can be stored in a single airtight freezer bag or other container, whereas that quantity of baked cookies takes up more room in your freezer
- Energy Management (Yours) — You can prepare and freeze dough over the course of the first two or three weeks of the month, so that when it’s time to focus on the big turkey and all the trimmings you won’t be fretting over the baking too
- Convenience — Having frozen dough on hand means that if someone drops by, you can serve them freshly baked sweet or savoury treats (and the house will smell divine too)
- Satisfaction — It’s such a good feeling to know that there’s a selection of sweet and savoury treats in your freezer, just waiting to be baked when you need them (or want them, but that’s the same thing, right?)
The Make-Ahead & Freeze Method
Once I’ve mixed the dough, I shape it according to how it will be used. So, for instance, for scones I pat out the dough and then cut it into wedges or use a cookie cutter to make rounds. For drop cookies, I can scoop out dough and drop it with two spoons, or use a small ice cream scoop for more uniformity. I also use the ice cream scoop method for gougeres.
No matter what you’re making, place the shaped dough on parchment-paper-lined baking trays (make sure they fit into your freezer!). Make sure the balls or other shapes are as close together as possible without touching, to minimize the number of trays you need. Set the trays in the freezer and, once the pieces are frozen, remove them to airtight freezer bags or other containers. Label them, unless you like adventure or can readily identify the items.
Most frozen sweets and items like gougeres will keep in the freezer for two months or so. (I admit, I’ve often gone longer before baking them, but I can attest that once they have ice crystals or freezer burn they’re definitely past their best-before time.)
For baking, pre-heat the oven to whatever temperature the recipe calls for. Shortly before the oven is fully heated, place the items on baking trays (lined or not, depending on what’s needed) and the appropriate distance apart. You will find that baking the frozen raw dough may call for anywhere from a couple to four or five minutes longer — it depends on what you’re making. If you’re not sure of the timing, check frequently once the “normal” baking time is reached and make a record for future reference of how much longer is needed.
My Make-Ahead and Freeze Successes
I’ve used the frozen raw dough method for a great variety of cookies, scones and gougeres. I wouldn’t use it for things like brownies and bars, because I don’t think it’s possible to shape that kind of dough. I freeze baked goods of that nature after they’ve been baked and sliced.
If you’re not sure if a particular recipe lends itself well to unbaked freezing, the next time you make it freeze one or two test items and then bake them off a couple of days later to see how they fare.
Here are some recipes that have worked very well for me when frozen unbaked:
- Any variety of gougere (cheese and choux pastry bites)
- Dark Chocolate Sour Cherry Cookies
- Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies
- Ginger and Sour Cherry Puffs
- Scones, like these Cheese Scones
Happy Holiday Baking!
I hope that these tips for planning ahead and freezing unbaked treats helps you find even more enjoyment in your holiday baking this year.