5 Rules for Holiday Baking

'Tis the season for baking – your favorite cookies, cakes, and other goodies that are perfect for sharing with friends and family. Clever Cookstr has 5 rules for holiday baking that are a little unusual, a little out of the ordinary, and sure to be a hit in the days to come. 

Kara Rota
3-minute read
Episode #31

Just as the cold weather drives us to hibernate indoors, invitations to tree-trimming parties, Hanukkah festivities, potlucks, and white elephant swaps fill our mailboxes.

It’s always good policy not to show up to a friend’s home empty-handed, but this time of year, I think it’s even more appreciated to come in from the cold bearing a bottle, a basket, or a baked good.

So here are 5 rules for holiday baking that are a little unusual, a little out of the ordinary, and sure to be a hit in the days to come:

Holiday Baking Rule #1: Don’t Be Afraid to Use Spices

Along with the usual cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg notes, spices like ancho chili powder and black pepper can take a warm cookie up a few notches. Just like adding cayenne pepper to hot chocolate, the combination of sweet and spicy can hit the spot on a cold night. Try these recipes for dessert with a kick:

Holiday Baking Rule #2: No-Bake Desserts Are Not a Cop-Out

Baked goods that don't require baking can be just as elegant and satisfying as their counterparts doing time in the oven.

Popcorn balls might remind you of a Little House on the Prairie-style simpler time, but a version with honey, molasses, and peanut butter is as satisfying as you can get.  And peanut butter squares with vanilla, brown sugar, and a combination of corn flakes and crispy rice cereal will be a big hit with kids and grown-ups alike. Check out these recipes:

Holiday Baking Rule #3: Use Spirits, Coffee, and Tea

From the traditional brandy- or whiskey-soaked plum pudding, to the more avant garde espresso and grand marnier truffles, some of these kitchen experiments really pay off in holiday cheer.

The combination of a sweet and creamy dessert with the sharp bite of coffee - as in one of my all-time favorite desserts, tiramisu - is a delicious way to upgrade a sweet treat. And cake or cupcakes infused with green or black tea are perfect as an afternoon pick-me-up.

Best of all, some desserts that incorporate alcohol are best made a week or so ahead of time, meaning you can check one more thing off your last-minute to-do list. Try these on for size (your party hosts will thank you):

Holiday Baking Rule #4: Use Savory Seasonal Flavors

Everyone knows that the play between sweet and savory is addictive—hence the success of salted caramel ice cream and bacon chocolate bars.

Use that to your advantage when crafting desserts that’ll have guests asking for your recipes. Herbs like sage and rosemary can pair really well with whole wheat or even polenta or buckwheat flour. Check out these easy side dish options:

Holiday Baking Rule #5: Feel Free to Be a Kid Again

Enjoy everything fun about holiday baking with total childish wonder. Embrace the dinosaur cookie cutters, the crooked gingerbread faces, the slightly unevenly rolled dough, This is no time for perfectionism, just deliciousness. Here are some awesomely fun, festive recipes for the season:

What fun desserts will you be baking this holiday season? Share them with us in Comments below or on the Clever Cookstr's Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest pages.

For more tips and tricks from the kitchen of the world's best cooks, check out quickanddirtytips.com/clevercookstr.

About the Author

Kara Rota

Kara Rota headed children’s programming at Chicago’s Green City Market and studied food politics at Sarah Lawrence College. Kara has been a featured speaker at numerous venues including Food Book Fair, the Roger Smith Food Conference, and the Brooklyn Food Conference. She has written about food for Irish America Magazine, West Side Rag, Recipe Relay, and Food + Tech Connect, and is the former Director of Editorial & Partnerships at Cookstr.com.