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Pastry Chef Gemma Stafford Offers 5 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Baking

Whip up cookies, cakes, and pies with ease.

Holiday baking is in full swing! With Christmas cookie exchanges, pies for parties and potlucks, and sweets for the holiday table, my kitchen turns into a dessert factory this time of year. Doing “all of the things,” as the kids say, requires planning and patience, but the reward is seeing my friends and family light up when they get a treat made from scratch. And it doesn’t have to be stressful. Gemma Stafford, pastry chef and author of Bigger Bolder Baking Every Day (Buy from Amazon, $29.25) says making five small changes to your holiday baking regimen will make the experience a whole lot sweeter.

How To Nail Holiday Baked Treats

Stafford started the Bigger Bolder Baking platform to give home bakers a confidence boost — and to help them simplify recipes, when possible. “With all my years of experience, I realize baking can be daunting. As somebody who has done it literally all of my life, [I can reassure you that] it shouldn’t be,” she tells Woman’s World. “It should bring people joy, especially around the holidays when the thought of making a homemade pie crust makes them shiver.”

Here are Stafford’s five tips for making cookies, cakes, and pies hassle-free:

  1. Stay organized. I write out the desserts I have to make; and, even with a shopping list, I plan everything out and use it as a schedule. That also means doing something simple, such as weighing out dry ingredients, the night before [in order ]to make baking the next day easier.
  2. Make adjustments for high-altitude baking. I used to work in a bakery in South Lake Tahoe, in the mountains on the border of Nevada and California. So, we had to alter all of our recipes to accommodate the high altitude. Adjustments like reducing the amount of baking powder and increasing the oven’s temperature help to combat low air pressure due to increased elevation levels. Ultimately, this prevents cakes and other baked goods from collapsing while baking. (Take a look at Stafford’s guide on high altitude baking to learn more.)
  3. Utilize the freezer. Make your cookie dough now. I made mine weeks ago. Keep dough in a plastic bag in the freezer, defrost, and bake the cookies when you’re ready. Cookie dough will last for up to three months in the freezer. (Bonus: For homemade pies, check out our story on how to store them in the freezer for up to two months.)
  4. Keep decorations simple. Around the holidays, I make my Soft Sugar Cookies recipe, and just decorate the cookies with different colored frostings for the December festivities. It’s not just Christmas; we have Hanukkah and lots of other holidays. I also love to keep it simple so that kids and little ones can participate and decorate, too.
  5. Allow baked goods with icing to dry before packing them. I always let my icing dry really well before I transport my cookies. For example, for Christmas cookies with icing and decorations, I decorate the night before, let them dry uncovered, and then pack them up. That way icing won’t smear everywhere as I’m traveling with the baked treats.

Time To Bake

If your holiday wish list includes serving delicious desserts, put Stafford’s baking tips to use. Not only will it remove the stress, but for those including kids or grandkids in their baking plans, it will make the process a whole lot smoother. Watch Stafford’s video below for tips on decorating cookies with kids as a fun Christmas-themed activity.

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