How to Make and Freeze Every Single Holiday Baked Good Ahead of Time
Take it from a recipe developer — these instructions will make your holidays much less stressful, and set you up perfectly for gifting (and mailing!) treats.
I have always been a make-ahead-and-freeze person when it comes to holiday baking due to my type-A (okay, controlling) personality. Folks like me enjoy nothing more than crossing tasks off our lists in advance of their due date. Oh, and we also dig a list. Plus my early training in a professional bakery (where making ahead and freezing is a time- and space-saving necessity) reinforced my understanding that the freezer is a baker's best friend. And it enlightened me to the fact that a number of baked goods that can be made ahead and frozen, with no negative impact on taste or texture, is way higher than you might think.
Making ahead and freezing during a hectic holiday season can also be a stress-reliever of sorts, as it provides us all with 1) a little sense of control; 2) reassurance that our frozen baked goods make it to the post office and to our loved-ones with time to spare; and 3) the power to put a little bounce in your step when all your sweets and treats have been carefully wrapped and placed in the freezer (either pre or post-bake, depending on the item) ahead of schedule.
Here are some suggestions and tips for making baked goods ahead, and packaging and freezing sweets and treats, so they arrive to your far-away loved ones (or your kitchen table!) looking and tasting great.
Sturdy cookies (such drop cookies, like chocolate chip, sugar cookies or ginger cookies) are excellent for making ahead and freezing either pre or post-bake. To freeze cookie dough, scoop it into cookie-sized portions (I like 1/4 cup scoops, as large baked goods are my jam). Place your scoops on a baking sheet, place the sheet in the freezer, and once the scoops are frozen, place them in a zippered plastic bag wrapped in foil for up to a month. Bake the cookies from frozen (adding a little extra time to make up for their frozen state) and voila: you have freshly baked warm cookies whenever the urge hits.
If you’re hand delivering a box of cookies, try baking them off and cooling them right before delivering, for maximum freshness. If you're gifting via the mail, freeze baked cookies as soon as they cool, place the frozen cookies in a zippered plastic bag in two layers, with a piece of parchment or wax paper between them, wrap the bag in foil and be sure your packing materials include something soft with which to cushion the cookies.
Tea Loaves, Bundts, Cornbread
Hearty cakes, such as loaf cakes, bundts and cornbread not only freeze beautifully, but are excellent travelers. Once removed from their pan and cooled to room temperature, each can be wrapped in plastic wrap and foil and frozen for up to a month. Bring to room temperature if serving at home, but if gifting, consider doing so frozen, to insure freshness. If mailing, no need to remove the plastic wrap and foil — and it is best if you do not glaze or frost it. But no matter: if you choose a recipe that calls for oil, rather than butter, your loaf will get better with age, and its delectable moistness will make up for the lack of a sugar-y embellishment.
Individually wrapped caramels, nut brittle, chocolate bark and fudge are all great to make ahead and freeze — and they're perfect for the mail. When making caramel or fudge, let it cool to room temperature and remove it in a solid block from the pan. Before slicing, wrap the block in plastic wrap or place in a zippered plastic bag wrapped in foil and freeze for up to a month. Let defrost only until soft enough to slice. Slice and individually wrap the caramels as the recipe dictates, and place in a decorative box for hand delivery or into a zippered plastic bag wrapped in foil for the mail. Slice the fudge and package the same. Once cooled to room temperature, nut brittles and barks can be frozen in one piece, wrapped in plastic wrap and foil, and should only be broken right before packaging for either hand delivery or the mail. If mailing, place the frozen pieces in a zippered plastic bag wrapped in foil.
Brownies and Blondies
Really all sturdy bar cookies were made for freezing and gifting, as their shape makes packaging them up a breeze and (practically) insures they will not be jostled on their journey. Like the caramels and fudge, let your bar cookies cool, remove them from the pan, but do not slice them. Instead, wrap in plastic wrap or place in a zippered plastic bag wrapped in foil and freeze for up to a month. Let defrost only until sliceable and then slice (the colder the bar cookie, the cleaner the cut). Transfer the bars to a decorative box (for hand delivery) or into a zippered plastic bag wrapped in foil for the mail. Alternatively, if you are less concerned about clean slices and more concerned with mailing your bars while still frozen, slice the bars once cooled to room temperature and then freeze them sliced.
Yeasted Dinner Rolls
Yeasted dinner rolls can be baked ahead of time and frozen — requiring nothing more from you but pulling them from the freezer and reheating the day you want to eat them. Let the baked rolls cool to room temperature and then place on a cookie sheet and into the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the rolls to a zippered plastic bag wrapped in foil for up to a month. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and bake them for 20 to 30 minutes wrapped in a sheet of foil.
Overnight Baked French Toast or Bread Pudding
Although not a great choice for gifting, an overnight baked French toast makes for an excellent do-ahead holiday breakfast or brunch. Cover the dish in a sheet of plastic wrap and a layer of foil right after assembling and freeze for up to a month. The night before your holiday breakfast or brunch, transfer it to the refrigerator and bake it off the next morning as the recipe dictates. The same make-ahead and freeze rules apply to bread pudding.
Biscuits and Scones
Biscuits and scones are a dream come true for those of us in the make-ahead and freeze camp. Once shaped, place unbaked biscuits/scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet and place them into the freezer. Then, once frozen, transfer them to a zippered plastic bag, wrap in foil and freeze for up to a month. When ready to serve, follow your recipe’s instructions for egg wash, baking temp, etc., adding a few minutes to the suggested bake time.
Pies are excellent for making ahead as their assembly can be a bit laborious — how nice it is to get that done a few days early (or up to a month!). Simply assemble your pie, following your recipe’s instructions (egg wash and all!) and then place your unbaked pie in the freezer. Once frozen, wrap in plastic wrap and foil and freeze for up to a month. When it's time to bake, merely follow your recipe’s directions, adding a few minutes or more to the bake time.
Additionally, you can make your pie dough in advance, too. After forming it into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap and foik and freeze for up a month. Transfer the disc to the refrigerator the night before you want to roll it out. Streusel and crumb toppings — for crumb-topped pies (and muffins) — can also be made ahead and frozen. Simply place the topping in a freezer-proof container and freeze for up to a month.
This one might blow some minds, but you can bake and frost and decorate a layer cake ahead of time and then freeze it for up to a month! Once frosted and decorated, place the cake in the freezer until frozen solid. Carefully wrap in plastic wrap, and then a sheet of foil and freeze for up to a month. When ready to serve, remove from the freezer, remove its protective wrappings and place on the counter to defrost — this can take several hours depending on the size of your cake and the temperature of your kitchen, so plan accordingly.
Last but not least, one of my personal faves for the holidays — whoopie pies. Not only can you bake off the whoopie "cakes" ahead of time and freeze them (place them on a baking sheet and once frozen, transfer to a zippered plastic bag wrapped in foil for up to a month; then fill the whoopie pies straight from the freezer with your frosting of choice when you're ready), but you can also bake and fill the pies and freeze them already assembled — like a frosted cake. Once assembled, let them freeze until solid on a parchment-lined baking sheet and then transfer to a zippered plastic bag wrapped in foil for up to a month. Remove from their protective wrapping, place on a serving plate and let come to room temperature before serving.