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Forum food columnist offers tips for getting ready for the holiday baking season

Sarah Nasello talks taking pantry inventory, purchasing ingredients, kitchen prep, storage and more.

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Get your bake on with Sarah this week by taking inventory of your kitchen and pantry stock to get ready for the holiday baking season You can often find these baking staples on sale at grocery stores throughout the holidays.
Contributed / Sarah Nasello
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FARGO — Happy November! The holiday baking season is about to begin, and now is the time to start preparing your kitchen so that you are ready to mix, whip and bake like a pro. This is my all-time favorite food season, and I have created some helpful tips to ensure a smooth and enjoyable time for my fellow home bakers.

1. Plan your recipes

I have family recipes that I bake every year, and each year, I also try two or three new recipes, including a Scandinavian specialty (I am so excited for this year’s new addition!). Once you have your recipe plan, compile a list of the ingredients you will need for each one — many will use the same ingredients, and these are what we call baking staples. I buy these items in large quantities over the holiday season to stretch my budget as far as possible.

2. Take inventory now

Ingredients:

Start by taking an inventory of your baking staples, and make a list of everything that needs to be replenished or has expired. Common ingredients include eggs, butter, all-purpose flour, granulated white sugar, brown sugar, heavy cream, milk, vanilla extract, almond extract, baking soda, baking powder, salt, vegetable oil, pumpkin puree, cocoa powder, chocolate chips, baking chocolate, coconut, nuts, spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom are particularly popular this time of year), peanut butter, jam, dried fruit, powdered sugar, decorative sprinkles and food coloring.

The price of some of the most common baking staples, like eggs and butter, has risen considerably over the past year. Thankfully, grocery stores traditionally have a variety of these items on good sales throughout the holiday season, so pay attention to their weekly specials to maximize your holiday baking budget.

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If you are a prolific holiday baker, Costco and Sam’s are good sources for affordable bulk flour, sugar, butter, nuts, vanilla, oil, peanut butter, dried fruit, cereals and spices. Taking stock of your inventory now will ensure that you are ready when the sales hit, and will leave you with more time to decorate, celebrate and enjoy the holiday season.

Equipment:

Next, make sure that you have all the equipment on hand required for each recipe, and organize it so that it is easy to find come baking time. If one of your recipes calls for a special pan (like my new Scandinavian recipe does), now is the time to add it to your inventory or see if you can borrow it from a friend. Thrift and dollar stores can often be a great source for inexpensive baking supplies and materials.

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Review your equipment inventory and make sure you have a good supply of basic items, including aluminum foil, bowls, plastic wrap, spoons, spatulas, measuring cups and parchment paper.
Contributed / Sarah Nasello

If you have a stand or hand mixer, check that it is working and that you have the necessary attachments on hand. If you don’t have one, you can usually find great deals for these appliances on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Other common baking supplies include baking sheets (I use aluminum half sheet pans, which you can find at Costco and Sam’s), parchment paper, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, plastic baggies, pie pans, wire cooling racks, piping bags, measuring spoons and cups, whisks, rubber spatulas, wooden spoons, mixers, attachments, cookie cutters, ice cream scoops, and specialty cake and bar pans.

Oven:

Check your oven now, and get a thermometer to ensure correct temperatures when baking. You can find basic oven thermometers online and in kitchen and hardware stores. If your oven temperature is off, you should be able to adjust its settings up or down to ensure a correct temperature. This is easy to do, and you can check your user’s manual or look online for directions.

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Sarah uses an oven thermometer to ensure the accuracy of the oven's temperature. Most ovens can be easily calibrated through the control panel.
Contributed / Sarah Nasello

Storage:

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How will you store your baked goods? Some cookies benefit from plastic storage containers like Tupperware and plastic zip bags, while others stay fresh better in a cookie tin. Proper storage will extend the shelf life of your baked goods, so take time to research the best storage options for each recipe. I use a variety of Tupperware containers, cookie tins, plastic bags and platters throughout the holiday season, and you can find a good variety available at craft stores like Hobby Lobby, dollar stores and big-box stores.

3. Prepare your refrigerator, pantry and freezer

Now is the time to clean out your storage units to accommodate your holiday baking. You will need space in your refrigerator for ingredients like eggs, milk, cream and butter, while dry goods, like flour and sugar, can be stored in airtight containers in the pantry. I use my freezer to store butter and baked goods, like pie crusts, scones, cookies and quiches.

Next, think about where you will store your baked goods. Cool storage can extend the shelf life of a host of goodies, and many people in our region dedicate a space in their garage as a wintertime walk-in cooler for containers of baked goods.

Many holiday specialties can be made in advance and stored in the freezer until ready to serve or package up for a gift, while other treats, like my Almond Toffee , Sun Brittle and Triple Nut Spicy Chex Mix , can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature for two to three weeks.

4. Time to get your bake on!

I hope this information helps you get ready and excited for the most wonderful baking time of the year. I have a couple terrific holiday baking recipes that I plan to share with you in the coming weeks (including my new Scandinavian choice for this year), and I have a whole list of holiday recipes posted on my blog at sarahbakesnd.com . I look forward to hearing from you about your holiday baking adventures, and I beg you to be kind to yourself by being prepared, because it is time to get our bake on!

More recipes from Sarah Nasello
This potpourri is the perfect way to make your home smell warm and inviting this Thanksgiving weekend and throughout the holiday season.

Recipe Time Capsule:

This week in...

Recipes can be found with the article at InForum.com.

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.
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