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The Best Bags and Carriers for Your Holiday Bakes

How to keep your cookies, pies, and cakes pristine from one place to the next

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A collage of a pie box, pie keeper, and an insulated tote bag
PieBox photo by James Ransom/Food52; Picnic Time photo courtesy Food52

Broken crusts. Smushed frosting. Cracked cookies. Tucking your homemade sweets into tote bags and wondering if they’ll survive the subway (or stop-and-go traffic) can make a person wonder why they signed up to bring anything to the holiday office party in the first place. To ease those concerns, we’ve rounded up some bags, carriers, and containers endorsed by pros who cook and carry baked goods all the time. If you want the whole package to look good, consider these tips, but if keeping your hard work intact is all that matters, here’s what to get.

Box your pies

“I think the reality is that good packaging and taking care when you’re transporting things is really important,” says Alex Levin, the executive pastry chef at Schlow Restaurant Group in Washington, DC. Levin, a 2015 Eater Young Gun, also runs a Thanksgiving pop-up bakery, which means he thinks a lot about how to package pies to ensure his customers open the box to find a pie that’s perfectly ready to be reheated, without any mess.

Levin suggests packing pies in cardboard pastry boxes, which come in a variety of sizes, including options for cakes. “If you need to move them around and drive them in a car, you can put them right in your trunk, or into a bag, and not worry that there’s going to be a problem, because they’re securely set up well in that box,” he says.

Maya-Camille Broussard, the founder of Chicago-based Justice of the Pies, uses pizza boxes for pies and tarts. “[They fit] in most 10 x 10 grocery tote bags, and the cardboard construction provides a sturdiness that allows me to stack the boxes as well,” she says. If you’re looking for something reusable, but still under $10, consider the no-frills pie keeper from the Container Store.

Secure cakes in a collapsible carrier

Diana Jeffra, a food stylist based in Virginia, uses a collapsible carrier for cakes. This one, available on Amazon, also includes removable inserts for two rows of cupcakes. In a pinch, Jeffra has also used cardboard boxes, modified to fit the cake. “If you have a box that is the right diameter, you can cut it down to a more manageable height using scissors or a utility knife, and then cover the open top with foil,” she says.

But how you secure the cake inside the carrier is probably more important than which carrier you use. If you’ve frosted your cake atop a cardboard round, Jeffra suggests placing a damp paper towel on the base of the cake carrier to create some traction. Otherwise, the cardboard and the cake might shift, which puts the icing at risk. To further avoid frosting damage, Jeffra will sometimes decorate the cake upon arrival at a location. While it’s not possible for every situation, moving the cake unfrosted means you can use paper towels or a tea towel as a buffer inside the carrier.

Contain cookies in a tin or box

Jeffra typically packs smaller baked goods in a parchment paper-lined tin that she can leave with the host. She also plates cookies and covers them tightly with plastic wrap or packs them in reusable plastic storage containers. “You want the box or whatever you’re using to be tight enough to [the cookies] where stuff doesn’t slide around,” she says. “And you don’t want too much of a gap in there, because then stuff will fly everywhere.”

Consider eco-friendly options

If you’re trying to reduce your plastic and disposables usage, consider wood or canvas carriers. Broussard says her favorite pie carrier is Àplat’s reusable canvas tote, which has a zero-waste design, in addition to being “cute and stylish.” The wooden containers by Pie Box come in different shapes and sizes to accommodate cakes, pies, and cookies (and are recommended by Molly Yeh, host of Girl Meets Farm). If you’re willing to spend a little more, you could invest in a basket that holds up to two pies.

Choosing the right container is only half the battle

Unless you can keep the box in your hands and walk carefully to your party, you’ll need something else to get your secure baked goods to the destination. Tote bags are one solution. Levin suggests a canvas beach-style bag for hauling boxed baked goods; Jeffra is a fan of Planet E totes, which she keeps in the trunk of her car. This $34 insulated potluck tote is more of an expense than the free bags you have stuffed all over your home, but it has lots of extras — like an exterior spoon holder — to keep potluck supplies together.

If you’re driving to your party, the pros recommend taking special care to find a flat surface in your vehicle, like the trunk or behind the front seat. “Don’t put your pies on the car seat; always place them on the floor of the car so that it will stay leveled,” says Broussard. If you’re stowing baked goods in the trunk, Jeffra suggests surrounding them with heavy objects, to discourage any extra movement.

Plotting out every step of transportation may feel a little obsessive, but as Levin says, “There’s nothing worse than working so hard on something and then it doesn’t look quite right. It’s an investment that’s well worth it.” After all, protecting your sweets from damage is really about protecting yourself from disappointment.

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