There’s no better time to cut your teeth on recipes and baking techniques than in the rushed and festive winter season each year. I remember my mom baking for weeks on end, only pausing the first few weeks of December to do her Christmas shopping and decorating. All that baking amounted to dozens of baskets of cheer for friends and family, and hours of learning for me. Now that I’m grown and trying to teach my daughters about the kitchen, it’s fun to reflect on the sometimes humorous ways I absorbed certain things. (And don’t worry; we have a yummy gluten free recipe or two for you, too!)
1. Eggs crack, fish them shells back
“Whoever breaks a tooth gets a prize!” Mom’s curls would bounce as she chuckled, serving up pieces of cake or sweet bread. One Sunday, I helped with a brunch quiche, and spent the better part of half an hour using every small utensil we owned (and my fingernails) to try to get the near-invisible white specks out of the slimy membranes, spinach leaves, and other filling ingredients.
Soon after that, we discovered that cracking the egg on a flat surface and separately in a bowl first made finding and fishing out any shells was much easier. And no one broke a tooth later.
1 1/4 cups blanched almond flour
2 tbsp. coconut flour
1 egg, cracked in a separate bowl to remove any lone ranger shell bits
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tablespoon water
Mix all ingredients together and press into a pie plate. Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes and remove to cool before filling. Then bake at 350 degrees F until filling sets.
2. Sometimes, Improvisation Doesn’t Pan Out
Recipes are important. That is evident from the multimillion cookbook and cooking show industry in the United States. You know what else is important? Sticking to the recipe. I still remember my mother asking me to make a simple batch of sugar cookies for a winter bake sale at my elementary school. I got the butter out to soften at room temperature and started gathering ingredients on the counter. But I couldn’t find the sugar anywhere! I looked through our baking cupboard one more time, and noticed corn syrup. I tasted it, content that it was as sweet as sugar, and substituted it in the batter.
Don’t ever substitute corn syrup for sugar in cookies. Just don’t do it.
3. One Minute More is Too Much
One of my favorite holiday treats is the Mexican wedding cookie. Some people know them as snowball cookies, others Russian tea cakes. Whatever you call them, they are delicious. They also require a specific amount of time in the oven, 11 minutes.
My mom is a master planner, impressing me with her ability to pair types of baked goods in temperature and still pull them out at precisely the right time. Maybe it’s her super smeller or I just don’t ever remember timers dinging. But I was in awe.
So when this particular batch smelled just right, Mom asked me to pull them out while she went to the bathroom. As usual, I had my nose in a book. “I’ve got a minute to finish this page,” I thought. A minute or three later, a whiff of char caught my nose. Mom and I rushed to the oven together and stared sadly at my favorite cookies, blackened beyond repair.
4. Let it Sit
There’s almost no better way to eat zucchini than in a moist sweetbread. My mom used to make mini loaves to include in the goodie baskets, wrapping them in colorful saran wrap and letting me and my sister cover them with festive stickers.
One year, I felt important when she asked me to help her with the wrapping of the loaves. She pulled them out of the oven and started another batter. I used a knife to loosen the hot bread from their pans, and then flipped the pans over to get the bottom to loosen. After a few minutes like that, I lifted a pan. The bread had split in half and crumbled in a heap. Horrified, I did the same with bread, and another. I ruined seven loaves before my mother noticed and rushed to my side.
“No, Emily. You have to let the loaves rest and cool,” she exclaimed, shaking her head with a chuckle.
This recipe is flourless, but you still need to let it sit!
Flourless, Glutenless Zucchini Spice Bread
Use our Make-Ahead, Flour Free, Gluten Free Bread recipe, but up the honey or maple syrup to 2 tablespoons. Also add 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon to the dry ingredients, and stir a cup and a half of grated zucchini into the batter after you combine wet and dry ingredients together. Bake as per the directions, cool completely and enjoy! (And it still freezes wonderfully!)
5. Don’t Stop Stirring
When a nut brittle recipe says keep stirring they mean it. In my case, I got distracted by my sister playing in some cookie dough. It only took about two minutes for the sugar to burn and seize. And of course, it was a big batch. Dad was dispatched to the store for more sugar and peanuts.
6. Never Underestimate the Power of Giving
The most important part of almost every winter holiday is giving; giving of your time, your energy, your skills, your money, and your home. The joy in someone’s eyes when you hand them a basket of home baked goodies is unsurpassed. Each year, Mom added someone to the list that hadn’t been on it for the last bake-a-thon. I loved helping mom give those out, and to watch the joy and appreciation well up in people.
What special baking memories resurface this time of year? What lessons have you learned in the kitchen? Please share with us in the comments below.