What's 4 Dinner: Holiday baking tips, recipes

Essential tips for baking this holiday season

Published On: Dec 15 2013 12:00:00 AM EST   Updated On: Dec 13 2013 12:00:00 AM EST

Holiday baking should be fun – not stressful! Use these tips to help take the stress out of holiday baking, and to sneak in a few healthier baking alternatives as well.

Essential tips for baking

1. Purchase fresh baking powder, baking soda and yeast for best results
2. Use parchment paper, or rimless baking sheets
3. Measuring cups, spoons: Use liquid measuring cups for oils and liquids. Use nested measuring cups for flours and solids (* Important! Fluff your flour before measuring)
4. For best quality and flavor use: large-sized eggs, unsalted butter and nuts, and pure extracts of vanilla or almond.
5. Do not over-mix or over-bake cookie dough or quick bread batter.
6. Pre-heat oven before baking.
7. Chill dough for cut-out cookies. Soften at room temperature for a few minutes before rolling out (roll 1/4" for easy to handle cookies).
a. Freeze cut cookie dough prior to baking to help cookies retain shape.
b. Leave about two inches of space between cookies on baking sheets so they don't spread into each other.
c. Cool baked cookies completely before decorating.

Shhhh…make it healthier, they will never know the difference!

1. Use Meijer white whole wheat flour in place of all-purpose flour (whole grain bonus)
2. Bake with healthier fats: Smart balance butter blend sticks, Land O' Lakes Canola oil-butter blend, trans-fat free margarine.
3. Replace part or all of oil with fruit puree (applesauce or plum puree)
4. Sneak in a ground flaxseed and / or oats.
5. Boost the flavor and nutrition by adding chopped dried fruit such as apricots, cherries, cranberries, dates, prunes or raisins.
6. Add small amounts of chopped nuts; lightly toast the nuts first to really enhance flavor.
7. Reduce sugar by 25% (no one will notice). If using sugar substitutes, consult the package or manufacturer’s website for the correct substitution amounts for granulated sugar.

Storing your baked goods

1. Most cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 3-4 weeks, or in the freezer for up to 3-6 months. Store frosted cookies and cookies containing highly perishable ingredients (i.e., cream cheese) in the refrigerator.
2. If stored cookies harden, place a slice of bread in the storage container and the cookies will soften.
3. Store cookies in food storage containers with tight fitting lids. Use wax paper to separate cookie layers. Always cool cookies completely cooled before storing.
4. If preparing multiple types of cooking, store each type separately to preserve the cookie's unique flavors.
5. When baking cookies in advance for holidays, select cookies that are easy to store. Fragile cookies and iced cookies do not freeze well. For cookies that call for frosting, freeze them unfrosted and then frost after completely thawed.

Recipes

Apple Cinnamon Bread (Makes 1 loaf)

--1½ cups Meijer white whole wheat flour
--2 tsps. McCormick® cinnamon
--1 tsp. baking soda
--½ tsp. salt
--½ tsp. McCormick® ground allspice
--¼ tsp. McCormick® ground cloves
--2 eggs
--1/3 cup Meijer canola oil
--¼ cup Meijer applesauce
--1 tsp. McCormick® vanilla extract
--1 cup granulated sugar
--2 cups peeled and chopped Michigan apples (about 1½ to 2 apples)

Topping
--2 Tbsps. brown sugar
--1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
--1 tsp. cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease an 8x4-inch loaf pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper; set the pan aside.
2. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, allspice and cloves. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs on medium speed for about 30 seconds. Add in the oil, applesauce and vanilla and mix until smooth. Next, add the sugar and mix until well-combined.
4. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add in the flour mixture and mix until the flour is just barely combined. Gently fold in the apples with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
5. In a small bowl mix together the brown sugar, granulated sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over the batter in the loaf pan. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the loaf is golden and a thin knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
6. Cool the bread in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a dull knife around the sides of the loaf and turn it out on a cooling rack, remove the parchment paper and place right-side up. Cool completely before slicing. Wrap leftover loaf in plastic wrap and store at room temperature.

Shortcut Sugar Cookies (Makes about 3 dozen)

Ingredients:
--1 17.5 oz. pkg. Sugar cookie mix
--2 Tbsp. ground flaxseed
--1 egg
--1/2 cup Smart Balance Butter
Decorating supplies:
--Cookie cutters, garlic press
--Decorator writing icing, String licorice, Mini-candies (mini-M&Ms), White icing (canned), Colored sugar and sprinkles

Directions:
1. In medium bowl, stir cookie mix, flaxseed, butter and egg until soft dough forms. Cover and refrigerate dough for 1-2 hours (or more.)
2. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Remove dough from refrigerator and let stand for 10 minutes. Lightly dust rolling pin and rolling surface with flour. Roll a “handful” of dough 1/4” thick and cut shapes using cookie cutters. Place on cookies sheets lined with parchment paper. Add leftover cut out dough to the batch of remaining dough. Repeat rolling and cutting until all dough is used. Tip: Freeze cut cookies, bake from frozen state to help retain shape.
3. If desired, lightly brush cookies with egg white. Bake 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool completely. Decorate as desired.

Holiday Cherry-Chocolate Chip Cookies (Makes 3 dozen cookies)

Ingredients:
--2 1/4 Cups Meijer White Whole Wheat Flour (“fluff” flour with a spoon prior to measuring)
--1/2 Cup Oatmeal
--1/4 Cup Ground Flax Seed (Flax meal)
--3/4 tsp. Salt
--1 tsp. Baking Soda
--3/4 Cup Loosely Packed Meijer Brown Sugar
--3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
--3/4 Cup Smart Balance Butter (1 1/2 sticks)
--1 tsp. McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract
--2 Eggs
--1 Pkg. (12 oz.) Chocolate Chips
--1/2 cup dried cherries
--Optional: 1 Cup chopped nuts

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine flour, oat bran, flax meal, salt and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.
3. Cream butter, add brown sugar and beat until smooth. Add granulated sugar and beat until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and beat again until smooth.
4. Add half of the mixed dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix well. Add remaining dry ingredients and mix well. Add chocolate chips and dried cherries (and nuts if desired) and mix until well blended.
Drop by rounded teaspoons onto ungreased cookie sheets (line with parchment paper for easier clean up). Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Makes approximately 5 dozen 2” cookies. (For best results, refrigerate dough for 1 to 2 hours before baking.)

Layered Cranberry Cheesecake Bars

Ingredients:
--2 cups Meijer White Whole Wheat flour (fluff flour with spoon before measuring)
--1 1/2 cups Meijer oats
--3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. firmly packed Meijer brown sugar
--1 cup “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” trans-fat free margarine
--1 8-oz. package Meijer reduced-fat cream cheese (not fat free), softened
--1 14-oz. can Meijer sweetened condensed milk (Not evaporated milk)
--1/4 cup ReaLemon Lemon Juice from concentrate
--2 Tbsp. Meijer Cornstarch
--1 (16-oz.) can Meijer whole berry cranberry sauce

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large mixer bowl, combine flour, oats 3/4 cup sugar, mix well. Add spreadable butter and mix until crumbly. Reserve 1 1/2 cup of crumb mixture. Press remainder of crumb mixture firmly on the bottom of a greased 13x9 inch baking pan. Bake 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl beat cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk until smooth. Add lemon juice and mix until well blended. Spread cream cheese mixture evenly over baked crust.
4. Mix cornstarch and 1 Tbls brown sugar in a small mixing bowl. Add cranberry sauce and mix well. Spread evenly over the top of the cream cheese mixture.
5. Top with reserved crumb mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes, until golden. Cool and store in refrigerator. Makes 24 to 36 bars.

Chocolate Dipped Figs (Makes 8 servings)

--4 oz. dark chocolate
Approx. 12 fresh figs

1. Chop or break chocolate in pieces and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Place microwave on 50% power and melt for 30 seconds. Stir thoroughly and microwave at 15 second intervals until chocolate is melted.
2. Holding the figs by the stem, dip into the chocolate, coating the bottom 1/3 of the fig. Place on waxed-lined sheet and refrigerate until set.