10 Holiday Baking Projects That Are Perfect for This Year
From gingerbread and strudel to cookies and fruitcake (it’s delicious, we promise!), dig into these sweet recipes.
The holidays are coming, and while they are going to look a lot different for everyone this year, one of the stalwarts is going to be baking. We are all baking more than ever, and as we ramp up towards the holidays, and anticipate some long weekends and days off, it is actually going to be the perfect time to tackle some fun, but slightly more complicated, baking projects.
For starters, if there is anything you have ever wanted to try and make but have had problems fitting it into your busy schedule, this will be the time to circle back. Whether it is finally mastering your Oma’s kugelhopf or your Bubbe’s babka, what better time than the present to connect meaningfully to your family through baking? If you don't have an old family favorite you want to master, perhaps it's time to dig up the list you've been keeping after 10 seasons of The Great British Baking Show. In other words, maybe it is time to try your hand at a Swedish princessatorte or a festive Battenberg.
Beyond the fact that baking improves your skills, or tests your mettle, it is also a wonderful way to gift this holiday season. Being able to send treats across the street or across the country is the best way to say you care. Further, baking projects can involve the whole family and be a way to bond and connect. On the other hand, a solo project can be a form of much-needed self care, with the meditative focus of measuring soothing a frazzled mind.
Here are 10 seasonal baking projects that are ideal for right now.
These traditional German cookies need the batter to rest for at least a month, but up to two, so while the dough isn’t hard to make, they are a long-term project. The resulting cookies are not only fantastic, they last for months and are not fragile, so they are perfect for shipping.
Yeah, I know, but hear me out. Don’t think of those fruitcakes with the green and red candied cherries. Think of dark rich spice cakes dense with dried fruit and nuts and redolent of brandy or rum. These cakes require several days of work, from soaking the fruits to making the batter, baking and then often basting with booze before they are ready to eat. But they are a project worth tackling. Try my favorite Dark Spiced Fruitcake or this traditional Black Cake with Caribbean roots that is often a Kwanzaa celebration cake.
This Italian Christmas bread is notoriously finicky, but even the less than perfect attempts are delicious. And once you master this light yeasted sweet bread, you can adapt with all sorts of flavor combinations.
The act of making strudel dough from scratch is an exercise in patience. Stretching the elastic dough to paper thinness requires gentle focus, but no store-bought phyllo or puff pastry compares to the results of making it yourself. Once you have the dough you can fill with any manner of filling (apple is traditional).
Bûche de Noël
A French tradition, the “yule log” cake is a fairly simple baking project with serious curb appeal. A simple roulade-style cake, the fancy is in the decoration (think meringue mushrooms or tempered-chocolate bark). Practice rolling and filling a couple of times to get comfortable, and then play and experiment to your heart's content.
Sugar work is one of those projects that can seem so daunting, but simple ribbon candy is the place to start. And with a little practice, you can get really great at it! The hard candy travels well, so it makes wonderful homemade gifts, and even clunky results can be strung on ribbon to add to your Christmas tree, or added to the Hanukkah gelt on the festive table.
Never was a simple cookie so maddening. A macaron is both utterly simple (a basic batter of meringue and almond flour) and completely fussy, needing precise mixing, piping, and drying. Susceptible to shifts in weather, this delicate French treat is one of those baking projects that delivers the maximum in terms of both pleasure and pride once mastered. And at often $2-4 a pop when purchased in pastry shops, you’ll save a fortune by learning to make them yourself.
You’ll find no more versatile pastry dough than choux paste. From cheesy gougères to crunchy chouquettes, long elegant eclairs, chunky cream puffs, profiteroles, even classic patisserie offerings like Paris Brest or St. Honore cakes. Once you master the basic dough, an unusual cooked dough that comes together in a saucepan, there is no end of sweet and savory treats you can make. Top them with crunchy craquelin topping or glaze them with chocolate, or even stack them to the sky with caramel for a towering croquembouche.
Bagels, like many of these bakes, are a gift that keeps on giving. Once you master the unique process of boiling before baking, you can make wonderfully chewy bagels at home with ease and topped however you like. If you are keeping a sourdough starter, you can make a sourdough version. You can make miniature ones with your kids or rainbow versions for some fun.
Last but not least, try a gingerbread house. There might be no more famous holiday baking project than a gingerbread house, and most people leave the complex part to the pros, buying pre-made kits that just need assembly and decoration. But this is the year to go from scratch, either with a template or by making your own custom pattern. If you are assembling as a family, the decoration can be as simple as decorating entirely with frosting and candy for little ones, or as cheffy as sugar “glass” windows for older kids. Want an even bigger project? Place your house on a large board and set a full scene with edible trees, rocks, woodland creatures. Whatever your imagination can dream up, embrace your inner Willy Wonka and go for it.