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Baking Secrets for the Holiday Season

Sandra Olivier
http://www.longtail.co.za

There's something magical about this time of year when everything is trimmed with tinsel and various shades of red and green. Festive music is playing in every shop and people are having parties, entertaining friends and enjoying time with family. In that spirit, we've decided to share some of our best baking secrets with you to ensure that your holiday baking will be the best it's ever been.

1. Start out Fresh: Last season's ingredients just won't cut it. Start out fresh and stock up on fresh holiday cookie baking ingredients. A holiday cookie that tastes likes stale flour just won't do it. Sugar might be able to keep for quite a while, put products like, baking soda and flavored extracts can quickly become stale and dull-tasting.

2. Easy on the Oven: Overbaking will result in dry hard cookies. Follow the recipes time for baking closely, and remember to pre-heat your oven before sticking the cookies inside. Most cookies should be removed from the oven while they're still soft and just lightly browned around the edges. They should be moist & chewy and will firm up after cooling. Be sure to store them in an airtight container to keep them fresh.

3. Keep the Cookies Handy: Fresh cookies are the best cookies, so when baking, make an extra batch or two. Store cookie dough in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for when you need it.

4. Keep it Clean: For easy clean up, grease a tray or dish with margarine without getting your hands dirty: put your hands inside a small plastic sandwich bag. When you are done, just turn the bag inside out and throw it away!

5. Don't use Guesswork: Baking is not like cooking. Mostly with cooking you can easily alternate and improvise ingredients to your liking and experiment with various quantities and still cook up a perfect meal. Baking takes a lot more precision and you need to ensure that the recipe ingredients and measurements are spot on. There are however exception, if you want to change the flavour of a cookie recipe dough you can easily exchange it for another and still come out with a perfect batch.

6. Freezing to Make it Easy: If you are not going to be serving your cookies in the next three days, freeze them. To freeze, cool the cookies thoroughly before wrapping them well. Good packaging keeps cookies in prime condition and prevents dry freezer air from drying them out. Freeze cookies in layers, separated by a sheet of waxed paper. To thaw, let the cookies stand for 15 minutes in the container at room temperature.

7. Tasty Nutty Treats: Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees and spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake 5 to 7 minutes, or until lightly toasted. Or, toast in the microwave by spreading nuts in a single layer on a microwave plate and microwave on High for 2 minutes. Stir nuts, then continue cooking 1 to 2 minutes longer, until nuts are fragrant and toasted to taste.

8. Chocolate to Top it all Off: Sweet, smooth, and decadent, chocolate makes the ultimate garnish for any baking. Make small curls by drawing a vegetable peeler across the narrow side of a chocolate bar. To make large curls, draw the vegetable peeler across the wide side of a chocolate bar. Milk chocolate is the easiest chocolate to use for making curls.

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