Dear Friends & Readers,
the holiday season is so close you can almost smell the boozy eggnog that Aunt Mary Margaret will serve you on Boxing Day! The second week of December is usually dedicated to the holiday parties and the third week to baking the Christmas cookies. I confess, we don’t swap cookies in Italy. Every family has a special recipe for Struffoli and Chestnut Fritters and that is what I bake. Fear not, as Christmas approaches I will make sure to share with you my traditions so you can try your hand at the real Italian Christmas Desserts. But the common denominator of all cultures during the holiday seasons is that we spend a lot of time cooking and baking. If you have a small urban kitchen, this may be one of the most stressful times because seriously who wants to slave off in the kitchen and also have to clean up the mess? So I thought of imparting on you some of my secrets for a mess free Holiday Baking.
Know your recipe:
If the recipe you are using is a seasoned one (you have made it so many times it is written in your brain with indelible ink), you don’t need this step. If you are using a new recipe, read the ingredients and the process twice, taking notes, if necessary. You should see my cookbooks… they have strange Italian scribbles all over!
Measure all the ingredients:
Once you have a grasp on the recipe, the fun begins. Start measuring all the dry ingredients first, then move to the wet ingredients. You may be tempted to measure everything on the fly but I would not recommend it. If you have all the ingredients pre measured the risk of making a mess spilling flour or sugar is reduced. This is especially important if you are cooking with kids. Even if they spill some of the ingredients, it won’t be the whole gallon of milk but maybe just a cup, saving you time and … acido!
Mise En Place:
Place measured ingredients and all other necessary ingredients on the right side kitchen counter. As you add more ingredients to the batter or mixture, move the used measuring cups or ingredients to the left side of the counter so that everything is accounted for at all times. This tip comes out of pure necessity… sometimes you are trying to bake and the phone rings, it’s your bestie who wants to gossip… only when you come back you can’t remember if you put salt in the batter and you end up with savory muffins.
Avoid Cross Contamination:
No matter how clean your kitchen sink is… it is still the kitchen sink! When we prepare food we are always tempted to use utensils and then put them down in the kitchen sink… only later we realize that we need those utensils again, but they are now contaminated. My solution is simple: prepare a clean tray (even a large dish will do) next to the area where you are cooking. Place all the utensils you use during the preparation in the clean tray so that should you need them again they can be quickly retrieved and you don’t need to rewash them. Clean up will be even easier because you already have everything in one place.
Make your life easier:
I can’t stress that enough. Parchment paper is one of the key elements of my kitchen. I use it to line every baking sheet and mold regardless of what I am cooking. Can you say easy cleanup? What’s more is that you don’t need to butter the pan and your baked goods won’t stick. Go to your closest Costco and get yourself the longest roll of parchment paper. It is worth every penny! Another lifesaver is non stick spray. Whether you are baking or flipping crepes nothing should stick and ruin your work product. Non stick spray is all you need: a quick zap will anchor parchment paper to the baking sheet and preserve the sharp edge of your baked goods.
Even if you have a dishwasher, cleaning up the sticky residue from utensils after you have baked can be problematic. I am thinking of some batters that are sugar and butter based, they tend to become like cement when the residue dries up and even the most powerful dishwasher can fail the cleaning test. I place all the utensils in the bowl and soak with hot water and soap to loosen the residue. Let the tools soak for about 15 minutes and then place them in the dishwasher, the residue will come out without scrubbing.
Finally may I suggest that you try this super simple and delicious cookie recipe, this year? Of maybe you can make some panettone bread pudding? I know for a fact that kids and parents alike love them both!