Holiday baking made easy

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I love the holidays, especially the Christmas season. This is my time to shine because ladies and gentlemen, I’m an avid baker and confectionery maven. I love to bake anything and everything. Box mixes or from scratch, it makes me happy. The fall and winter are my times to show off my skills and make up lots of goodies for friends. It’s also the time when I can gain 15 pounds in a few months and not feel at all bad about it. Hey, someone’s gotta do the taste tests, right?

As much as I love to bake, it can be such a time-suck. Along the way, I’ve found great tricks to make all of my holiday goodies as yummy and visually presentable as possible, without sucking up lots of time in my day to do it. Here are a few of my favorite pointers:

Boxed is OK!
Yes, you read right. Boxed cookie or cake mixes are just fine if that’s what you are good at making. When I first started out, that’s exactly what I used and I was still proud of what I made. Still to this day, I do use a few box mixes for holiday baking, but I add my own twists to them to make the recipes mine (I’ll share those in the next few pointers). Remember, during this time of year, your effort is appreciated most of all, so if you can only muster up a few brownies made from a box, then do so. Trust me, they will get gobbled up.

Add a cream, any cream
One of my favorite tricks is to add sour cream or cream cheese to box mixes and items I make from scratch. The sour cream is a great addition to all cakes and brownies. It makes them super moist and causes a “melt in your mouth” effect when you bit into them. I only add about a half a cup of sour cream to the batter.
Now, cream cheese…..ah, cream cheese. That has been my secret to my cookie recipes for the past 5 years. Hubby still asks me what that “extra taste” is when he eats them. And every year, my friends try to guess what that yummy taste is. This works especially well with cookie mixes. It relieves it of having that “store bought” taste and they just immediately taste homemade. In sugar cookie recipes, I add an 8oz block of cream cheese and in chocolate cookie recipes, I just add half a block (4oz). I’ll probably kick myself for revealing that secret once my friends read this post, but there ya go!

Just a pinch of nutmeg, two bits!
When I use the cream cheese in my chocolate chip cookie recipes, it makes the cookies more cake like. I also like to add a pinch of nutmeg to get rid of the “box mix” taste. Nutmeg gives yet another one of those “what is that taste?” reaction from friends and family. They know they’ve had it before, but can’t figure out what it is. Also, nutmeg (in high amounts) is addictive, so they’ll keep eating your cookies and won’t know why. Hahahahhaha!

Chill that dough, baby
This is a common tip but one that I can’t get enough of. I always chill my dough before I bake it. Whether it’s 15 minutes in the fridge, or scooped out on a cookie sheet and frozen for later use, the dough always get chilled. It just produced a better cookie. The butter gets to relax and harden again and your cookies are less likely to burn in the oven. Plus, if you scoop out the dough onto a cookie sheet covered in wax paper, you can make your own “pillsbury pop off” cookies to make when you don’t want to make a whole dozen, but have a craving for a good cookie. For some reason, this happens to me once a month. Actually, it’s more like every 28 days. I still don’t know why.

Color is you friend
I love to keep all types of food coloring, sprinkles and the like, in my pantry. They can make an ordinary dessert so much better, especially during the holiday season. One of my favorite things to make are regular sugar cookies(with my secret ingredients) but lightly tinted in red or green. It brings a pop of color to your batch of cookies you are handing out without it being a difficult recipe that you slaved over. I mean, its a sugar cookie, but people go crazy over them! Sometimes I might just do a green and red sprinkle over the top before I bake them and I get the same result. Gold or silver candies would be fabulous too. Just be creative with your colors! And remember, red colorings can be used again for Valentine’s day (red velvet cake, anyone?) and green is perfect for St. Patty’s Day.

Ok, I know that real confectioners and bakers frown on the use of microwaves for anything having to do with their craft, but I actually found a few candy recipes that thrive in the microwave. Peanut brittle, peanut butter fudge and walnut fudge has always come out best for me in the microwave. I’ve tried it the long, boring, frustrating way and not only is the microwave easier, but I noticed that the treats made there get eaten faster than the ones I slaved over. Go figure. I also melt the chocolate for my bark in the microwave. This is a short cut that I have appreciated so much in the last few years. It’s allowed me to include these candy-like items in my packages without stressing about if the simple sugar or caramel was being temperamental or not.

Pipe you way into their hearts

Remember the colored sugar cookies I talked about? Well, one of my favorite tricks to do with those is place the dough in a freezer bag that is equipped with one of my piping tips, and make the cookie into one you would only see in the bakery. A big star tip is my favorite to use because the ridges make that dang sugar cookie look so professional. It also makes the cookies a bit smaller than usual, thus creating “cookie bites” for those that have this illusion that a smaller cookie is healthier than eating one of the big ones. You can use any tip you want for this little diddy. These “dew drop” cookies look so great in a Christmas tin lined with tissue paper(of a contrasting color).

Extract the he!! out of it!
One of my all time favorite pointers. This one I learned from Food Network’s Sandra Lee. She emphasizes the idea of using extracts of all kinds in your baking goods, whether they are from a box or homemade. The addition of vanilla flavoring to any cookie mix is wonderful for the taste. Just think, they can’t put vanilla extract in the powdered mixes, now can they? So add some in there! My favorite is rum extract. I love to put it in pound cakes and of course, my sugar cookie bites. Other great ones are almond extract (which tastes oddly enough like cherries), orange extract and coconut extract. Peppermint extract is a great addition to any chocolate bark you may make. Just crumble up some peppermint candies and put them on top to keep with the flavor theme.

Pick you battles
I talked a good deal about “doctoring up” store bought items, but please do make a few things from scratch. I like to pick items that I know I can’t reciprocate in box form. Last year it was homemade marshmallows, and this year it will be strawberry rugelach and Portuguese sweet rolls. Give yourself at least one challenge. Who knows? THAT recipe may be the one you are remembered for. Just make sure that you don’t feel overwhelmed from it. No need in making things from scratch if you dislike the process of making it.

How about you all? Have any great tips to make that holiday baking easier and less time consuming, without depleting the “yum factor”?

About Amiyrah

My name is Amiyrah and I'm an an African American fashion & lifestyle blogger based in Ohio.

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  1. 12.3.08
    Precious said:

    Thanks for the tips. I just wish that I loved to bake! I would much rather cook something. My sons used to do all of our baking when they lived at home.

  2. 12.3.08
    Amiyrah said:

    precious, you sound like me before I was bit by the baking bug(whoa that’s a lot of b’s!). That’s why I started with box mixes. If I screwed it up, hey, it was just a dollar or two so no biggie. Once I got into it, I really started to take off. I think it might also be genes though….my grandmother was good at the southern baking specialties and my mom is a confectioner and cake decorator :o) but she won’t teach me how to bake. Weird but true….

  3. 12.3.08
    Brooke said:

    It sounds like you like to bake as much as I do! I love it and can’t get enough!!


  4. 12.3.08
    Charlene said:

    Amiyrah–I am passing along a “Lemonade Award”, for a blog that shows “Attitude or Gratitude”. You can see the details here.

  5. 12.3.08
    Katy said:

    Amiyrah – thank you for sharing these great tips! I’m not a great at baking, mostly because I get discouraged when things don’t come out right. I am anxious to try your suggestions, and to see the recipes you will be sharing! Will you have pictures too? I would love to see what some of your “piped” cookie bites look like! Happy holidays to you, hubby, and sonny boy!

  6. 12.3.08
    Anonymous said:

    Thanks for all these tips! I love baking too, but can get easily frustrated when recipes don’t work as planned. A bundt cake is my secret weapon – it makes any cake look fancier! Any tricks for using a cookie press? I always have trouble getting mine to release the dough. ~ Curry

  7. 12.3.08
    kc said:

    Thanks for tips! Baking is about all I really do, and I am not even great at that! I will definitely try out some of your tips this year!

  8. 12.3.08
    Amiyrah said:


    no cookie press here. we’re a free form family lol. Actually, when I use the piping tip, it reminds me of a cookie that would come out of a cookie press, except I just use a freezer bag. I never have jamming issues with it. You might want to give it a try and see how you feel about it.