Holiday baking shouldn’t be stressful—here’s how to keep things fun

We talked to baking experts about staying sane during the holiday baking frenzy.

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Girl with soot-covered face holds burnt cake
Photo: skynesher (Getty Images)

I made the most gorgeous cookie spreadsheet last night. The spreadsheet is an attempt to stay organized during my annual holiday cookie spree, a new tradition I started last year to stave off pandemic dread. Instead of stressing about gifts for friends and coworkers, I bake up five or six different types of cookies, throw ‘em into decorative tins, and distribute them along with tidings of comfort and joy.

To be honest, this year’s lineup makes me a little nervous. I’ve got 12 tins to distribute, five different cookie varieties of varying difficulty, and about a week and a half to get it all done. As my blood pressure rose, I decided to ask a few baking experts: How do you stay organized during the holiday baking frenzy?


Start clean, end clean

“Always start clean and end clean so if you need to pause during baking, the cleanup won’t be a big process and when you resume baking, you’ll come back to a clean workspace.”—Gio Jackson, home baker, Long Beach, California; currently taking orders here.

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Write everything down

“My biggest tip for staying organized this holiday season is constantly making lists! Whenever I’m testing out a recipe or mass baking, I jot down the ingredients I have to buy from the grocery store, bake times, and tweaks all in one place. I swear by the Notes app and syncing over iCloud because it’s so useful to not only have these lists on my phone, but on my laptop as well. I’m so scatter-brained that I highly recommend counting aloud when you measure ingredients too. When it’s chaotic in the kitchen, anything helps to make sure you’re on track.”—Abi Balingit, baker and blogger, The Dusky Kitchen (Instagram)

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Keep it simple

“Since holiday baking can be very time consuming, it may not be best to do super intricate details or décor. If you are one that loves to add intricate details and décor to your baked goods, sometimes making everything from scratch isn’t necessary. Look into outsourcing items like sugar flowers, chocolate toppers, sprinkle mixes, and more. I’ve found a great pastry store near me and use them to buy fun chocolate décor for any holiday.”—Sadé McMullen, owner, Sam & Izzy’s Sweets

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Assess your ingredient storage

“Store all butter in the freezer for freshness, and so the sticks are cold when you need them for doughs. Then, try grating in your frozen butter; this is faster than chopping and mixing and it yields smaller butter pieces than which will be covered in flour faster so you don’t have to do too much mixing to the dough, accidentally creating too much gluten.”—Gio Jackson, home baker, Long Beach, California; currently taking orders here.

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Make it an event

“Before the holiday rush, I stock up on bakery bags from Amazon (or your local, more ethical store) and put a hand-typed note in each bag. My advice is to make an event out of the bake-day; you could even double it as a gingerbread man cookie decorating party and use the final products as your gifts for those who couldn’t attend.”—Kevin T. Porter, baker, Kevin Bakin’

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Timing is everything

“One of my biggest tips is to create a timeline. Begin your planning by writing out a list of what can be made ahead of time, and that can be done in the beginning of the week. Assembly and finishing orders can be done one to two days prior to the pickup or delivery date. Let’s say my holiday baking only consisted of different pound cakes. My timeline on a Monday or Tuesday would be to scale out all ingredients and place them in disposable prep containers with a label—my mise en place. A typical Wednesday and Thursday, I will make all the batters and refrigerate them, and use my Friday to bake everything off, let it cool, and package.”—Sadé McMullen, owner, Sam & Izzy’s Sweets

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Don’t forget to give back

“This will be my third year in a row spending Christmas in L.A. away from family. Two years ago—pre-pandemic—I would bake cookies and pass them out to people who had to work on Christmas Day (Starbucks employees, animal emergency clinic workers, movie theater ushers). Living under the pandemic means people might be a little more wary about eating gifts from a stranger, so now I just stick to friends who also happen to be in L.A. for the day. If you’re in a similar position of being away from family, I recommend this strategy for a Christmas Day activity. My dog Dexter will be my little elf-helper in the car this year as we drive from place to place to give folks their cookies and cakes and bars and pies!”—Kevin T. Porter, baker, Kevin Bakin’