The holiday season is upon us once more, and in my house, that means one thing: It's time to grease up the cupcake pan and get baking. Making holiday treats for neighbors and co-workers is a simple and tasty way to show you care. Follow these tips to make sure your holiday baked goods come out perfect every time.
--Bake cakes at a lower temperature for easier frosting. Baking cakes and cupcakes at the recommended temperature often leads to unsightly rounded tops that need to be leveled off or filled with frosting for a perfectly flat cake. To minimize rounding, lower the temperature on your oven by up to 50 degrees and increase the baking time by about 10 minutes.
It's always a good idea to ensure your cakes are cooked thoroughly, especially when not following the recipe's baking instructions. Insert a knife or toothpick into the thickest part of the cake and pull it out. When the knife comes out without any batter residue, the cake is cooked safely.
--Never decorate a warm cake. When using buttercream or any sort of icing, heat is not your friend. Icing a warm cake can lead to melting or crumbling frosting. Make sure to cool your cakes for at least six hours before decorating. You can accelerate this by putting the cake in the freezer for a couple of hours.
--Fill your cakes and cupcakes. There's nothing more disappointing than biting into a beautifully decorated cupcake to find it bland and dry. Simply adding a layer of fruity pie filling to a cake or a core of buttercream to a cupcake can make a world of difference. A cake leveler can be used to easily cut a cake into two layers between which a layer of frosting or filling can be placed. For cupcakes, use the large end of a decorating tip to remove the center of the cupcake like coring an apple.
--A little embellishment goes a long way. One of the simplest things to do to set off your decorations is to add sprinkles. There are virtually endless styles and varieties of sprinkles that can be added to any baked treat to take the aesthetic from ordinary to extraordinary.
--Don't skimp on the wrapping. Just as gift-wrapping is an important part of the gift-giving experience, the wrapping on your baked good is very important. Cupcakes can be placed in small cardboard cake boxes when given as individual gifts, or they can be placed in boxes that hold a dozen. Cake boxes come in lots of shapes and designs. Cookies can be put in festive cookie jars or a woven basket. Choosing the right container for your treats can take them to the next level.
Below are some great baking projects to use as holiday gifts or party favors. There are many more ideas for projects available online on sites such as Tumblr and Pinterest.
--Coconut snow cake. Bake a cake, optionally filled or layered. Ice the cake with white icing. While the icing is still wet, cover the whole cake in shredded coconut. The powdery coconut gives the cake the appearance of being covered in snow.
--Festive mini-cupcakes. Mini-cupcakes are the perfect treat to bring to a party -- they are bite-sized and offer a great opportunity to show off some icing techniques. Some ideas for festive cupcakes include a red-and-white frosted Santa hat, layered red, green and white frosting, and the coconut technique mentioned above.
--Iced cookies. Bake your favorite holiday-inspired cookie recipe -- I'm a big fan of eggnog cookies -- and cut them into holiday shapes using cookie cutters. Once baked, ice the cookies using any frosting.
With these tips and project ideas up your sleeve, you are ready to whip up festive holiday treats to delight your friends and family.