Time-saving freeze & bake tips.
There, did I catch your attention?
This time of year – with summer in the rear-view mirror and the holidays not QUITE upon us – is a great time to think about baking for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and how to plan the smoothest, most stress-free season ever.
To me, that means doing a series of quick cost/benefit analyses, and then making a timeline – at least mental, if not on an Excel spreadsheet (which I'd never do, since Excel and I are sworn enemies).
Is it worth parking in this tow zone for the 3 minutes it takes to pick up my dry cleaning, vs. the $25 ticket I might get? Do I risk washing this red dress (the one my daughter HAS to have for school tomorrow) with a load of whites?
Is it worth time now to prep and freeze a bunch of unbaked treats so that on December 13, when guests drop by unexpectedly, I can whip out a plate of fresh-baked cookies in under 30 minutes?
The answers are, respectively, yes (if you're feeling lucky); no (because you know your son would end up with pink gym socks); and YES, absolutely.
Here's the cost of prepping and shaping dough for cookies, scones, and biscuits ahead of time: a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.
And here's the benefit: "OMG, these cookies are soooooo good – and still warm from the oven! What are you, a magician?"
No, just someone who's learned The Secret To Stress-Free Holiday Baking: use the freezer. It's the baker's best friend.
Hot biscuits with a bowl of soup, the most impromptu yet satisfying of suppers?
Oven-fresh scones for the next-door neighbor who just spent 30 minutes up on a ladder with your husband, stringing Christmas lights along the eaves?
Oh, and how about your best girlfriend's "I'll drop by for a couple of minutes Saturday morning" that turns into brunch?
I've convinced you, right? The benefit far, FAR outweighs the cost: make now, freeze, bake (and enjoy) later is the way to go.
Let's take a look at the process, and then I'll share some of my favorite freeze & bake tips.
Make your dough, and scoop it into portions.
Position the future cookies (or biscuits, or scones) on a large baking sheet lined with parchment. You're not going to bake them right now, so there's no need to leave space for expansion; crowd everything together as much as you like.
Cover with plastic, and freeze.
I'm lucky, I have a chest freezer; but this half-sheet pan fits in my regular freezer-top fridge, as well. You'll only have to leave the pan in the freezer for a couple of hours, so don't worry about any long-term juggling.
When fully frozen, bag and label.
Freeze-and-bake cookies, ready to go. You may THINK you'll remember, but do label and date your bags of goodies; then stick them back in the freezer, hopefully at the back so they're not constantly exposed to changing temperatures.
Bake just before serving.
Space frozen cookies on a baking sheet, as you would any cookies. Bake as directed. (Notice I'm baking three types of cookies here; more on that later.)
You may or may not have to add an extra minute or two to the baking time; cookies are so small and have so much surface area they often take the same amount of time to bake frozen as they do fresh.
Using this same method with biscuits and scones will require an increase in baking time; but probably no more than a few minutes, if that.
Speaking of biscuits and scones, let's see how the freeze-and-bake process works with those.
Freeze & bake tip #1: One recipe, many variations.
Our Never-Fail Biscuits include just two – count ’em, two – ingredients: self-rising flour, and heavy cream. And it's easy to take biscuit dough and turn it into cinnamon rolls – just roll up with a schmear of Baker's Cinnamon Filling (for a grand total of three ingredients).
Or make biscuits studded with sausage and cheese. Or just cheese. Or chocolate chips, for a sweet treat.
Start simple – go crazy. Biscuits and scones are particularly easy to dress up for any occasion, whether sweet or savory.
Freeze & bake tip #2: Bake as many (or few) as you like.
You bake fresh biscuits, they're soft and wonderful for about 20 minutes, right? Then you get to deal with the leftovers.
When you've got a stash of treats in the freezer, it's easy to avoid those stale leftovers: bake just as many as you want, and leave the rest frozen for next time.
Freeze & bake tip #3: Instant breakfast.
What's the chance of you having fresh-baked cinnamon rolls hot on the table within 20 minutes of a guest dropping by? Pretty darned good, if you've stashed some ready-to-bake biscuit-dough cinnamon rolls in the freezer.
Biscuits and breakfast are natural partners – split large biscuits for breakfast sandwiches, pile bite-sized sugary nuggets into a pull-apart loaf, or just serve warm, tender biscuits with butter and jam. I've yet to meet anyone who'd turn down hot biscuits at breakfast.
Freeze & bake tip #4: Bake smaller for the holidays.
Instead of dividing that scone dough in half, divvy it into three or four pieces, to make more (smaller) scones. Use a teaspoon scoop for cookies, rather than a tablespoon scoop; a 1 1/2" biscuit cutter, instead of a 2 1/2".
The holidays mean non-stop grazing, with lots of variety; do yourself and your guests a favor by providing bite-sized (rather than multi-bite) treats.
Freeze & bake tip #5: parchment is your best friend. Always.
1. Shape treats on parchment. Once frozen, use parchment to funnel treats into a plastic storage bag.
2. Ditch the cleanup. Pans stay clean; wipe crumbs from parchment and reuse.
3. Bake different cookies with different baking times all at once on separate strips of parchment (below). That way, if one type of cookie is done before the others, simply grab the corners of the parchment they're on, and haul them out.
The holidays are looming. Ready... set... freeze and bake!
And that means dinner rolls, as well. Discover the secret to high-rising, just-in-time dinner rolls.