Whether it's your first time baking for Christmas or you are an experienced holiday baker, we are sharing our comprehensive Christmas Baking Guide, featuring everything you need to know about common baking ingredients and tools, how to measure ingredients the right way, tons of tips including storing and packaging tips (with common mistakes to avoid!), Christmas dessert recipes and ideas, and free checklists to help you prepare for holiday baking like a pro this year!
Christmas is coming, and it's a holiday that many of us have been looking forward to all year. But it also comes with an overwhelming amount of preparation. There’s shopping to be done, relatives to visit, and an overwhelming amount of baking to tackle. Make baking a little less intimidating by using our handy Christmas Baking Guide jam-packed with information and tips including all things ingredients and tools, plus special tips for baking things ahead of time and mailing cookies to friends and family.
- Common Baking Ingredients
- Room Temperature Ingredients
- How to Choose the Right Ingredients
- How to Measure Ingredients
- Essential Baking Tools
- Common Baking Terms
- Tips for Making Ahead and Storing
- How to Package and Mail Cookies
- Avoid Common Baking Mistakes
- Our Best Baking Tips
- Free Christmas Baking Checklists
- Baking Recipes
- Final Tips
Common Baking Ingredients
- Flour. There are many different types of flour, including all-purpose flour, bread flour, cake flour, self-rising flour, whole wheat flour, gluten free flour, and more. They vary by protein content and purpose.
- Granulated sugar. Typical granulated sugar is also called white sugar or cane sugar, though there are many forms of granulated sugar or sugar substitutes like coconut sugar, date sugar, stevia, and Swerve.
- Brown sugar. Brown sugar is also often granulated like white sugar, but contains molasses for a deeper color and flavor.
- Confectioners' sugar. Confectioner’s sugar is finely ground and is often used to finish baked goods or make delicate frostings and meringues.
- Baking soda & baking powder. Baking soda and baking powder are two leavening agents that help baked goods rise and create structure.
- Salt. Finely ground salt is a key ingredient to balance flavor in most recipes, but some goods may call for a flakey finishing salt to add texture and a burst of umami flavor to compliment sweets.
- Vanilla extract. Vanilla extract gives goods an aromatic, vanilla base and can be replaced with a richer vanilla bean paste in almost any recipe.
- Cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is used to give a chocolatey flavor to baked goods and garnishes. Most recipes call for an unsweetened cocoa powder.
- Chocolate chips. Chocolate chips are mix-ins needed for things like cookies and brownies to fudge and candies.
- Nuts. Walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and pistachios are all types of nuts that are common in holiday baking.
- Oil. Vegetable oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil are used in recipes to keep baked goods moist and prevent them from sticking to pans.
- Yeast. Yeast helps breads, cakes, and other pastries rise to their traditional shapes.
- Butter. Butter serves many purposes in baking: it helps give pastries and cakes structure, enhances flavors, and makes treats moist and tender.
- Milk. Whole milk is used in baking recipes to help brown evenly and enhance flavor.
- Heavy whipping cream. Heavy cream is used to make rich, creamy desserts and create fluffy frostings and toppings for baked treats.
- Eggs. Most recipes call for large eggs. The color of the shell typically doesn’t matter in baking recipes.
Room Temperature Ingredients
Why do some recipes specify that some of the ingredients need to be room temperature? Butter, eggs and milk are typically the most common ingredients that need to be brought to room temperature before using in a recipe, but it oftens take a while to do so. Try these tips to speed things up:
- Butter. To bring butter up to temperature, pour hot water into an empty bowl or cup and allow it to sit for several minutes. Once the vessel is warm, dump out the water and set the butter in the warm cup and cover it with a lid or heavy cloth for several minutes.
- Eggs. To warm up cold eggs, submerge them in a bowl of warm water (not hot water) for approximately five minutes.
- Milk. To bring milk up to room temperature, microwave it on the lowest power setting in ten-second increments until it’s reached the desired temperature.
How to Choose the Right Ingredients
Butter vs. Margarine
Butter and margarine are both sources of fat, which is a critical component to many baking recipes. Butter will usually result in a tender baked good with a richer flavor. Margarine has a higher water content than butter and should be used as a finishing agent for spreads and frostings.
In most recipes, you can use any neutrally-flavored oil like vegetable oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil. Some have stronger flavor than others, so keep this in mind when deciding which oil to use.
All-Purpose Flour vs. Specialty Flour
Recipes will typically tell you when to use all-purpose vs. a more specialized flour. Bread recipes may call for bread flour or 00 flour, cake recipes may call for cake flour, etc. You can always use all-purpose if you don’t have a certain type of wheat flour on hand, but it may change the texture of the final product.
Most recipes call for large eggs, but smaller eggs will work. If they’re especially small or the recipe calls for more than one egg, double the number of small eggs you’re using.
Milk vs. Milk Alternatives
Milk is typically used as a baking ingredient because of its natural fat content. Milk alternatives typically have less fat, but can be used in place of milk whenever you want to make a recipe dairy-free.
Granulated vs. Confectioners' Sugar
Confectioner’s sugar is typically used to create light and fluffy or delicate frostings and glazes or as a finishing touch for baked goods. It dissolves faster than granulated sugar. Granulated sugar has a coarser crystal and is typically used in the mix to sweeten baked goods.
How to Measure Ingredients
Using a kitchen scale
Make sure to “zero out” or tare your scale every time you measure a new ingredient. Place your empty measuring vessel on the kitchen scale and press the tare or zero button before adding ingredients to make sure you’re not including the weight of the cup or the bowl.
Measuring dry ingredients without a kitchen scale
Pour or scoop ingredients into a flat measuring cup or spoon. Use the back of a flat-bladed knife (such as a butter knife) across the surface to level the ingredients.
Measuring liquid ingredients without a kitchen scale
Use a liquid measuring cup (or normal measuring spoons) to measure liquids by volume instead of weight. Make sure to place the measuring cup on a flat surface so that it is level. Then, get down to eye level with the liquid measuring cup so that you can read the most accurate measurement.
Measuring spoons also measure wet and dry ingredients and typically range from ⅛ teaspoon up to a tablespoon.
Kitchen scale s can be either digital or analog and are used for weighing precise amounts of ingredients.
Silicone spatulas come in several sizes and are great for mixing batter and scraping bowls to remove batter.
Flat spatulas (also known as turner spatulas) are typically made of metal, plastic, and/or silicone and are for removing or flipping baked items with flat bottoms like pancakes or cookies.
Icing spatulas (also known as a frosting spatula or palette knife) are designed for spreading creamy substances onto a flat surface such as frosting on a cake.
A rolling pin is a long wooden, plastic, or stone cylinder used to gently flatten and shape doughs.
Chef knives are typically between 6-12 inches long with a curved blade and are used for everyday cooking and cutting things in baking.
A bench scraper is a tool that is used for cutting dough (anything from bread dough, puff pastry, pizza dough, pie crusts, and more). They don't stick to the dough and are useful for cutting and portioning out dough.
Wooden spoons are sturdy spoons that are made of wood and come in different sizes for simple stirring and mixing.
A cookie scoop helps you scoop out cookies of the same size as well as helps to scoop out cupcake or muffin batter into muffin tins with minimal mess. They come in all different sizes.
Hand or stand mixer
Blender or food processor
Blenders and food processors can come in several sizes and usually consist of a container and lid with a sharp rotating blade inside to help blend, puree, or combine ingredients to different degrees of incorporation.
Round pans come in several sizes and are used for making circular layer cakes. Some common sizes are 6-inch round pan, 8-inch round pan, 9-inch round pan, and 10-inch round pan. Round pans can also be springform which means the sides detach easily. This is great for making cheesecakes or any other cake that you don't necessary want to invert to get out. We always use our 8-inch springform pan.
Pie tins can be made of metal or glass and are used to shape, build, and bake pies and tarts. The most standard size is a 9-inch pie dish.
Wire cooling rack
Wire racks are metal racks that raise baked goods off a surface while they’re cooled, allowing air to reach all sides of the goods and cool faster.
Whisking incorporates air into a mixture by using a fork or whisk to rapidly stir ingredients together.
Creaming is beating softened butter (and sometimes sugar) at a high speed until it becomes light and fluffy.
Gently combine two ingredients (usually two liquids or a liquid and a solid) by using a spoon or soft spatula to scoop and smooth the ingredients together until they’ve incorporated. You often fold in mix ins to cookie dough such as chocolate chips or nuts.
Kneading refers to working or pressing bread dough (by hand or in a stand mixer with a kneading hook) to smooth the dough and form strands of gluten to give the bread shape when it bakes.
Rise or Proof
Rising or proofing is when you allow allow the dough to rise and expand before it’s baked, usually in bread recipes with yeast.
Punching is the act of pressing dough down to deflate it after it has risen, also usually in bread recipes.
Cutting in usually refers to butter or other solid fats being incorporated into flour by using knives, a pastry cutter, or your hands to create small crumbs of flour and fat.
Scoring typically means adding a quick cut or slash to the surface of a bread or pie using a sharp blade or knife.
Sealing the edges of pies, tarts, and some pastries by folding and pressing them together, usually with a fork or pinching together with your fingers.
Also known as blind baking, parbaking involves baking a pie crust without the filling to ensure it stays crispy when the filling is added.
Grease (or Grease and Flour)
Greasing a pan or tin involves lubricating the surface with a fat to prevent your baked goods from sticking to the pan. Typically, oil, butter, or shortening is used. Adding a dusting of flour over the top of the grease adds a second layer of protection.
Tips for Making Ahead and Storing
- Cookies. Scoops of raw cookie dough can be refrigerated for 2-4 days. Cookie dough can be frozen for up to 3 months. To freeze cookie dough, scoop it out into cookie balls and freeze on a lined baking sheet for 1-2 hours until hard. Then, transfer to an airtight container or freezer bag. Store baked cookies in an airtight container with a slice of bread to keep them soft, or freeze for up to 3 months. Set them out on the counter for 12-24 hours to thaw before serving.
- Muffins. Muffin batter can be made a day ahead and baked fresh. Cooked and cooled muffins can be wrapped individually in plastic wrap and then frozen for up to 3 months in advance of the holiday.
- Scones. Baked scones, like muffins, can be individually wrapped in plastic wrap once they’ve completely cooled. Freeze for up to 3 months. If the scone recipe calls for a glaze, freeze without the glaze and then add it when they’re ready to be served.
- Cakes. Allow cakes to cool completely, wrap in plastic cling wrap and then a layer of aluminum foil to prevent freezer burn, and freeze for up to 3 months. Move your cake to the refrigerator 24 hours before you intend to serve it, and move it to the counter to come up to room temperature for 1-2 hours. If your cake is frosted, freeze it for an hour before wrapping in plastic wrap to harden the frosting and follow the rest of the steps as described.
- Pies. Make the pie crust ahead of time or use a store-bought crust and focus on the filling. Blind-baked crusts can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 3 months in a plastic freezer bag. You can also choose to make the whole pie four or five days ahead, refrigerate it, and then reheat it in the oven to allow it to crisp up again.
- Other Pastries. Pre-make a flaky pastry dough and freeze it for up to 3 months, then thaw in the refrigerator overnight and bring up to room temperature before shaping and baking. Some types of pastry filling can be made 3-4 days in advance and refrigerated prior to baking.
- Candies. Truffles, fudge, chocolate-coated nuts, butterscotch candies, homemade peppermints, and more can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 7-10 days in advance (depending on the recipe) or frozen for up to three months.
- Breads and Rolls. Yeasted breads and rolls can be refrigerated for 8-12 hours during the first and/or second rise to slow down the process, buying you up to 24 hours of time to check other things off your list before baking.
How to Package and Mail Cookies
It wouldn’t be a real holiday baking guide without a section on mailing cookies. It’s not as easy as just making cookies, tossing them in a box, and then dropping them off at the post office. It requires a little bit of thought concerning the type of cookie you send and when you send them!
Choose your cookies. Not all cookies are shipping-friendly. Sturdy cookies without elaborate decoration or gooey fillings are the best to ship because they don’t run the risk of falling apart or getting ruined in the post. Try to stay away from dusted cookies, as the powdered sugar will dissolve in the mail.
Package carefully. Once your cookies have fully cooled and any decorations or glazes are dry and set (ideally overnight), you can start to package them. You’ll need two boxes: an outer box and an inner box or a cookie tin, some cushioning material like bubble wrap, aluminum foil, or parchment paper, and some plastic cling wrap and/or Ziploc bags.
Then follow these steps:
- Separate cookies by flavor, layer them with pieces of parchment paper, and tightly wrap them in several layers of plastic cling wrap or place them in Ziploc bags with all of the air pressed out.
- Place them in the inner box or cookie tin, filling in gaps with rolled up plastic shopping bags or bubble wrap to prevent the cookies from sliding around in transit. We love these Christmas cookie tins or holiday cookie boxes.
- Line the larger shipping box with bubble wrap, filling all the gaps, and place the smaller box inside.
- Seal tightly with packing tape, label it clearly, add appropriate postage and take it to the post office!
You can also ship frozen cookies, which will slowly thaw on their way to their destination.
Pick your postage. The total weight of the cookies plus the boxes and insulating materials is taken into account with the destination when determining the price of shipping (which usually comes to between $10 and $30, depending on how many cookies you send and how far they’re going).
You’ll want to pick a faster option that gets cookies to their intended recipient within two or three days so they’re as fresh as possible. Keep the usual holiday shipping delays in mind when deciding how early in the holiday season to send the cookies.
Avoid Common Baking Mistakes
- Read the recipe before you start. The biggest mistake most bakers make? Not reading the recipe all the way through before you start. Many people just look at the preparation time and the ingredients list before starting a recipe. Taking the extra few minutes to fully read the recipe will help you prepare and prevent you from running into a potentially derailing surprise step down the road. This may be the most important tip in the Christmas baking guide!
- Double check the temperature. The temperature on the oven display and the actual temperature in the oven aren’t always the same. Get a more accurate reading of the oven temperature by using an oven thermometer to reduce the risk of under- or overcooking your baked goods.
- Don’t scoop flour with measuring cups. Another common mistake in baking? Scooping flour out of the bag with measuring cups. This compacts the flour in some spots and leaves unseen holes in other spots, resulting in inaccurate measurements. Avoid this by spooning flour into the measuring cup instead, and level the cup with a flat surface like the back of a butterknife.
- Use a kitchen scale. Weigh the ingredients on a kitchen scale for an even more precise measurement — ounces are fine, but grams are the most precise.
- Don’t skip the chill. Make sure you set aside enough time to chill your baking project if a recipe calls for it. Chilling does many things: ensures cookies don’t spread too much, prevents pie crusts from breaking down in the oven, improves the crust on brownies, and so much more.
- Let baked goods cool. Similarly, you should allow baked goods to cool for an appropriate amount of time before you dig into them or risk them falling apart before you even get a bite.
Our Best Baking Tips
- Create a baking plan. If you plan on hosting or otherwise plan to bake several types of goods, creating a baking plan will help you stay organized and allow you to use your time and kitchen resources in the most efficient way. A baking plan might consist of a complete shopping list for all the ingredients you’ll need, a checklist for the types of equipment you’ll have to use, and a baking schedule to get goods in the oven in succession. Grab a copy of our essential checklists in the next section below — for free!
- Prepare ahead. As mentioned above in this Christmas Baking Guide, several things can be prepped for baking or baked and stored prior to the big day! Most kinds of cookie dough can be refrigerated or frozen and then baked right before they’re needed. Brownie batter can be refrigerated for several days before baking. Pies can be made several days in advance and refrigerated or frozen!
- Gather your tools and ingredients. Don’t wait until you’re halfway through each recipe to dig through the utensil drawer or pantry. Gather all of your ingredients and the necessary tools ahead of time and organize them into groups based on the recipe they’ll be needed for to streamline the baking process.
Free Christmas Baking Checklists
Get our FREE Christmas Baking Checklists now which includes 3 of our essential holiday baking checklists:
- Christmas Baking List
- Pantry Checklist for Baking
- Shopping List
No Christmas Baking Guide is complete without a list of our best and most popular holiday baking recipes. Here are our latest Christmas cookie recipes, Christmas cakes and desserts, and Christmas pie recipes. Click the links below to browse more.
- Dress things up. You don’t need a degree in decorating to make beautiful holiday desserts and breads! Add garnishes like fresh or candied cranberries, sprigs of rosemary or thyme, dried orange slices, or a dusting of powdered sugar to take ordinary baked goods to the next level.
- Don’t forget about servingware. Speaking of the next level, you can really go the extra mile by breaking out your best servingware to display your finished baking projects.
- Use dry beans or lentils as weights for pie crusts. It’s often necessary to blind bake pie crusts using pie weights to make sure the crust stays crispy. You can skip the pie weights, though, if you have dry beans or lentils hanging out in your pantry! Use them in place of the weights and hang on to them for future pie crusts.