From early October through New Year’s Day, my family has plenty of birthdays, school festivals, holidays, and other occasions in which a yummy baked good is front and center. It’s no wonder my oven is working overtime turning out cupcakes, pies, biscuits, breads, cookies, and more.
The way I buy certain ingredients, how I plan my baking schedule, and using my oven wisely all help minimize the use of ingredients and resources. Use these tips to keep your holiday kitchen humming along sustainably:
- Plan a baking day. I remember in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book about pioneer life, Little House in the Big Woods, Ma Ingalls had a certain day each week designated to doing her baking. This still makes sense if you have a few different things to bake on a given week. You’ll save energy by doing all the baking while the oven is already on and preheated. In a similar vein, on baking day, plan the night’s dinner to be roast chicken, an oven-braised roast, or a casserole to take advantage of the hot oven.
- Use scratch ingredients. “Shortcut” recipes that use packaged cookie dough, tubes of crescent rolls, or candy bars are fun and tempting. But your baked goods will be nutritionally better for you if you avoid processed foods, which are also likely to have excessive, wasteful packaging. Stick to butter, eggs, flour, and sugar, and you can’t go wrong.
- Choose unbleached flour and unrefined sugar. Bleached flour is processed with chemicals such as chlorine to give it a whiter appearance and finer texture. You won’t notice a discernable difference in taste or texture if you switch to unbleached flour, and you’ll be encouraging less chemical use. Similarly, unrefined sugar has been through fewer chemical processes. You might notice a slight difference in the end result, as unrefined sugar will give a hint of molasses flavor rather than just pure sweetness.
- Buy your ingredients in bulk or the largest possible sizes. Especially if you know you’ll be doing lots of baking, try to plan a single trip to a supermarket or, better yet, a natural foods store or a warehouse club, to stock up on everything you’ll need for the coming weeks of baking. Seek out a retailer where you can refill canisters of flour, sugar, and spices from bulk bins. You’ll save money and eliminate a lot of wasteful packaging. Buying single large packages of some of the most common ingredients will also help minimize packaging waste.
- Keep your oven on just as long as you need it. Learn how long your oven takes to preheat and turn in just that amount of time before you’ll need it. And the second that last batch is finished baking – or even 5 or so minutes before – turn the oven off.
- If you have a convection setting, use it. Convection cooking, which circulates the hot air, can cook food faster and produce a crisper exterior since it makes the oven environment more dry. Some foods are better suited to convection cooking than others, though. Pies and cookies yield great results, while cakes and breads do better with a conventional oven.
- Leave a pizza stone in the oven. A pizza stone, or some unglazed quarry tiles, kept in the oven will help regulate the temperature so that the oven won’t have to work as hard to reheat the interior if you open the door. But that said…
- Stop opening the oven door! Check the progress of your baked goods through the oven window, and avoid the temptation to keep opening the door to check on them. If you do need to check the doneness of something, remove it from the oven and close the door to test it, rather than leaving it on the rack, and letting the oven door stay open, while you’re testing.
- Choose reusable baking mats over parchment or nonstick sprays. Invest in a few silicone baking mats and you won’t need to spray your pans with chemical-laced, aerosol nonstick spray, or use wasteful parchment paper. If you can’t break an addiction to parchment paper (I can relate!) at least reuse it several times before throwing it away.