Baking is known for its therapeutic benefits, but baking burnout is also real: there always comes a point during the holidays when all I want to do is sink into the couch and eat a cookie or three instead of whipping up another batch of brownies or that pie whose recipe I bookmarked last year. But through trial and error — and some lessons from my time working in restaurants — I’ve learned that the key to avoiding holiday season baking burnout is simple: just prep as much as you can ahead of time. It’s not too different from the concept of meal prep: doing it all at once while you have the motivation and energy, and thus saving time and effort in the future.
You might not be able to pre-make cake batter and store it for days in the fridge, but there’s actually plenty of work you can do now to help ensure smooth, hassle-free baking when it matters. For me, this means dedicating an afternoon to prepping ingredients I know I’ll use down the road: toasting nuts and shredded coconut on a baking sheet, chopping up dried fruit and chocolate bars (I’m partial to chunks over chips in cookies), and pre-cutting extra parchment paper rounds for my cake pans, for example. Having these “evergreen” elements stored and ready to use on the fly in cakes, cookies, muffins, or scones has been a godsend on those occasions when the act of taking out a cutting board and knife or toasting ingredients interrupts my flow and clutters my (very limited) counter space. Don’t even get me started on tracing and snipping parchment every time I bake a cake.
When I already have a recipe to work from (and anticipate being short on time), I’ll home in on specific components I can knock out a day or two in advance. Pre-making and refrigerating cake glaze (I let it come to room temperature and thoroughly whisk it before using), measuring out dry ingredients and storing them tightly sealed in my pantry, and even mixing, scooping, and freezing cookie dough are do-ahead steps that have tremendously sped up my process on baking day. Having fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies just a freezer drawer away is also a huge plus — and perfect for impressing last-minute guests.
I get that this kind of prep work may not resonate with everyone — some people prefer to work through a recipe from start to finish. But if you, like me, foresee spending a good chunk of your time in the kitchen this holiday season, there’s not much to lose, and a lot to gain, from working ahead while you can — namely more cookies eaten on the couch, and less time spent making them.
Joy Cho is a freelance writer, recipe developer, and pastry chef based in New York City.