So say the opening words of the Book of Common Prayer, usually read the first Sunday before Advent.
Always read the entire recipe before you start to bake. This one thing will help you become a much better baker.
For the holiday season, stock your pantry with:
- Sugar: brown, white, and powdered
- All-purpose flour
- Fresh packages of baking powder, baking soda, and salt
- Dried fruits and coconut
- Nuts (store in the freezer in a zip-top bag)
- Cocoa and chocolate
- Spices and real vanilla extract
- Canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce
- Decorative sprinkles and holiday-themed candies
- Condensed and evaporated milks (these are not interchangeable)
- Extra butter can be purchased on sale and stored in the freezer.
Cost Plus World Market and Trader Joe’s are good places to shop for inexpensive and interesting ingredients, containers for home-baked gifts, and holiday trimmings.
Sugar cookie and gingerbread cookie dough may be rolled out between pieces of waxed paper or parchment to fit in a spare cookie sheet pan. Several layers of rolled out dough can be stacked then wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen right in the cookie sheet for later use. The frozen dough is easy to work with and in most cases can be used directly from the freezer.
Have all ingredients gathered before starting. Butter, eggs, and cream cheese should be at room temperature unless otherwise specified in the recipe. Pastry crust recipes usually call for chilled butter.
Measure wet and dry ingredients carefully in the appropriate type of measuring cup: level metal or plastic cups for dry and glass for liquids.
Make notes on your recipes and in your cookbooks for future reference. Note all changes, additions, and omissions you make and how you liked the outcome. Besides being very helpful for the baker, it’s fun for others in the family to read that mom or grandma liked to use brown sugar instead of white sugar for her peanut butter cookies. It’s a good idea to date the recipe and note if you brought it to a holiday function.
Since ovens vary, stay near the oven when baking, especially delicate cookies. To keep cookie bottoms from becoming too brown, use heavy, high-quality baking sheets, rotate pans from front to back half way through recommended baking time, and use double cookie sheets if your oven tends to overheat from the bottom element. Most cookies should be barely golden. Use parchment or silicone baking mats (Silpat is my favorite brand) to line baking sheets for easy clean up and easier cookie release. Always cool cookies thoroughly in a wire rack before decorating or packaging for gifts.
Mincemeat without Meat
Adapted from Marion Cunningham’s recipe in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, this mincemeat recipe is traditional except for the absence of meat. We think you won’t miss it. Marion says the mincemeat keeps indefinitely and mellows with age, so you may plan to make your mincemeat when it fits into your schedule.
- 1 pound suet, ground or vegan shortening, chilled and chopped
- 1 ½ pounds tart apples, peeled, cored, and chopped, we like Granny Smith
- 1 ½ cups brown sugar, packed
- 1 pound raisins
- 1 pound golden raisins
- 1 pound dried currants
- 4 ounces candied lemon peel, diced
- 4 ounces candied orange peel, diced
- Grated rind of 1 orange
- Juice of 3 lemons
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground mace
- 1 cup brandy
Special equipment: very large mixing bowl, 4 pint canning jars, lids, and rings, sterilized according to manufacturers’ instructions, canning funnel, and canning ladle, pressure canner, optional
Makes 4 pints or enough to fill four 8” or 9” pies
- Place all ingredients into mixing bowl and mix with clean hands until well blended.
- Place canning funnel over jar. Ladle mixture into prepared jar, leaving 1” of headspace and securing rings and lids. Repeat with remaining jars.
- Process jars at 10 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes in pressure canner or store jars under refrigeration.
Fanny Farmer’s Mince Pie
Use this easy recipe to show off your homemade mincemeat.
Rolled out pastry dough for a double crust 8” or 9” pie
1 pint aged mincemeat
Preheat oven to 425° F
Special equipment: 8” or 9” pie pan, small paring knife
Males 1 pie
- Line pie pan with half the pastry dough.
- Fill the lined pan with mincemeat
- Place remaining pastry over top. Crimp edges, trimming off excess pastry with paring knife, if needed. Cut a few vents in top crust with paring knife.
- Bake for 10 minutes then lower the oven to 350° F and bake for 40 minutes more or until top is slightly browned.
This recipe is adapted from an advertising booklet for Gold Medal flour, from the 1950’s. It’s described as, “The best of all the real English recipes for plum pudding we ever tested.” And I agree with them.
Special equipment: large mixing bowl, sieve, sturdy wooden spoon or large metal mixing spoon, medium mixing bowl, silicone scraper, heavily buttered 2-quart mold or 2 1-quart molds*, parchment, aluminum foil, kitchen string or heavy-duty rubber bands, rack to fit inside pot, lidded pot large enough to hold pudding mold(s,) cheesecloth, metal tin, optional
Makes 1 or 2 puddings
*A word about pudding molds: the earliest container for steamed puddings was a cheesecloth bag tied with string. Frankly, that too amorphous for me. The next most traditional container is a “pudding basin,” which looks very similar to a stoneware, one quart mixing bowl. Mason Cash is the most popular British brand, recognizable by the tan-colored outsides and cream-colored interiors and thick top rims. If you look carefully at the kitchen scenes in Downton Abby, you’ll see Mrs. Patmore and Daisy using Mason Cash bowls. Luckily for us here in America, the vintage Pyrex set of colored mixing bowls are good stand-ins for pudding basins and hold up to steaming. Vintage and modern metal pudding molds are available in various shapes from simple to elaborate. Whichever vessel is used for steaming, the top rim must have a “lip” so string or rubber bands will keep the foil tightly sealed.
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground mace
- ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1 ½ cups raisins
- 1 ½ cups currants, plumped in brandy if very dry
- ½ cup golden raisins
- ½ cup chopped candied orange peel
- ½ cup chopped candied lemon peel
- ½ cup chopped walnuts or almonds
- 1 ½ soft, fresh bread crumbs
- 2 cups (1 pound) butter, softened (or ground suet, for the traditionalists)
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 6 tablespoons jam or jelly or honey or molasses
- ¼ cup brandy plus more for sprinkling
- Into a large mixing bowl, sieve flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.
- Add to bowl fruit, nuts, and bread crumbs. Stir to combine. Set aside.
- In medium mixing bowl, beat together softened butter, eggs, jam, and brandy. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed. Scrape mixture into fruit mixture and fold together until well mixed
- Pour into prepared mold(s.) Layer a piece of parchment on top of a piece of foil, making a pleat down the center. Cover mold, parchment side down, and secure with kitchen string or rubber bands.
- Set mold on rack in pot. Pour boiling water halfway up sides of mold, being careful to not get water under foil. Steam for 6 hours for large mold, 5 hours for smaller molds. Check water level every hour or two, adding more boiling water, if necessary.
- Cool completely then unmold. Sprinkle with brandy and wrap in cheesecloth. Wrap in foil or place in tin. Store in cool place.
- Every week or two, unwrap pudding and sprinkle with additional brandy.
- To serve: unwrap pudding and place in mold. Steam for one hour or until heated through. Turn out onto heat-proof serving platter (silver is a good choice.) When ready to serve, have guests assembled and someone ready to dim the lights. Heat about two tablespoons of brandy, pour over pudding and ignite. Dim the lights and carry in the pudding to oohs and aahs. Cut in small slices accompanied with hard sauce, if desired.
Hard sauce has the consistency of a thick, spreadable frosting. It is called hard sauce because it traditionally contains hard alcohol, usually brandy. Fresh orange juice can be substituted, if desired, and would still be delicious. It keeps for several weeks under refrigeration, tightly covered.
Beat ½ cup softened butter with 1 cup powdered sugar until smooth. Beat in 2 to 3 teaspoons of brandy, to taste.