Holiday hams, festive cookies, and family favourites! Cooking and baking during the holidays is a time-honoured tradition that brings people together to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year.
But while a quick online search for recipes or baking ideas can give you a sense that every holiday dish turns out picture-perfect, the reality is quite different. Getting that roasted turkey just right is hard, and perfecting mom’s holiday cookies is no easy feat. Let’s just say that not every attempt at home cooking is necessarily ready to be photographed.
When it comes to baking, the margin for error is slim. A bit too much heat or not quite enough water and your perfect cake can turn into a holiday disaster. To help guide you through some of the common do’s and don’ts of holiday baking, we spoke with our expert cooks. Luckily, it doesn’t take much to turn a baking fail into a delicious fix!
Baking Fail: Pie crusts can be tricky. If you’re not careful, they can crack when being rolled out, or they can burn easily or shrink when being baked.
Delicious Fix: The trick is to keep the crust cold. Before making your crust, chill all of the ingredients. After mixing everything together, form the dough into a flat disc shape, cover with plastic wrap, and let it cool in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Before rolling it out, take the dough out of the fridge for 10 minutes to let it warm slightly. Then carefully roll it out, from the centre to the sides, applying even pressure in all directions. Pie dough is different from bread dough: you want to handle it as little as possible so the crust stays flaky and light.
Cooking Fail: The meat ends up rare or frozen on the inside, and burned on the outside.
Delicious Fix: If you’re working with a roast, turkey, or chicken that’s frozen, you need to allow sufficient time for it to thaw. This can take days in the refrigerator, so plan well in advance. When the time comes to cook, allow your meat to reach room temperature. If you’re cooking your meat directly out of the refrigerator, it can result in what’s called the “bullseye effect” — which means it’s rare on the inside and well done on the outside.
Baking Fail: When baked, cookies tend to spread and lose their shape.
Delicious Fix: When it comes to keeping your cookies the right shape, your refrigerator is your best friend. Once you’ve finished making your cookie dough, place it in the refrigerator for roughly one hour. Then remove the dough, roll it out, and cut the shapes using a cookie cutter. Place the cookie cut-outs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place back into the refrigerator for at least another hour before baking.
Delicious Fix: Place the eggs in a pot of cold water, and bring the water and eggs to a boil together. Doing this allows the eggs to cook more evenly, and they’re less likely to crack in the water or overcook. Once you’ve cooked your eggs long enough — depending on the desired level of doneness — remove them from the boiling water and quickly place them in ice water to stop the cooking process. For the easiest peeling, either use older eggs (newer eggs have lower pH and the whites stick more to the membrane) or add some baking soda to the pot of water.
Cooking Fail: Overcooked vegetables can be mushy and lose their vibrant colours.
Delicious Fix: People tend to forget that vegetables keep cooking once they’re off the heat, which can lead to a mushy result. One way to make sure your vegetables stay perfectly cooked and retain their bright colours is to blanch them (boil or steam for a short time) and then shock them. “Shocking” means removing the cooked veggies from the boiling water or steam and quickly submerging them in an ice bath to stop the cooking, retain colour, and keep a crispy texture. You can even add a bit of salt to the ice bath for additional flavour.