Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Holiday Baking

Growing up, my mother always started planning her holiday baking right about now - the first week in November. Mom knew how to make a dime turn into 15 cents somehow, and she'd keep an eye out for sales on items she knew would be needed: brown sugar, white sugar, powdered sugar, flour, chocolate chips, cocoa, spices, dates (for date nut bread) etc.

Speaking of sugar, what's up with 4 lb bags of sugar? Who came up with this idea? Oh yeah, I know - so they can look like they are charging the same amount as 5lb. I said the hell with that - I buy my 10lb bag at Costco thank you.

Here is what I'll be stocking up on for my holiday baking (along with some tips):

Spices: Cinnamon, anise, cloves, ginger, nutmeg. Check out San Francisco Herb Company. I used to shop there when I lived in San Francisco and now I just place my order on the internet. They have the cheapest prices especially for saffron!

Molasses: can't make Gingerbread Cookies without this. I use the unsulphured version, usually Grandma's brand in the brown and yellow labeled jar. I start looking now because it is not on sale very often. Oh, by the way, it is located near the pancake syrups. Who'd a thought?

Sugar: I usually look for sales at my supermarket here in Chicago which is Dominick's. Costco has gotten better about carrying smaller sizes of sugar such as 4lbs of powered sugar (for Royal Icing), 2 lbs of brown sugar and 10 lbs of white sugar.

Vanilla: Costco has the best price for real vanilla extract.

Butter: Costco again - but is it just me or has all dairy gone up in price?

Flour: This is tough. I prefer unbleached which Costco doesn't carry. And their smallest size bag is 25 lbs! I don't have enough storage room for that. So I seek out sales at Dominick's and usually wait until it is 99 cents for a 5 lb bag and buy as many as they allow.

Decorations: I've always hated the fact that when you try to buy cookie decorations in a supermarket, you get these tiny, overpriced containers - even when they are on sale. I tried something new this year - I purchased large 3 lb canisters of decorations from Amazon's grocery division. I couldn't believe the prices for things like sprinkles, sanding sugars, etc. And any order over $25 is shipped for free. And no sales tax! Since our tax is 9% here in Chicago (and going up believe it or not), that makes a big difference. One thing I've found is that seasonal items are full price, while off-season items can be as much as 80% off. I bought several canisters of Christmas decorations for cookies by India Tree back in August. Within a few weeks, they went back to full price as the holidays approached.

UPDATE: I just looked at what Amazon is charging now for these decorations and boy do I feel like a thief! I paid $8.98 and $11.98 for some that are now selling for $21.98 and $31.98!

Here are some things I'll be making during the holiday baking season and the recipes will follow sometime in early December:
  • Gingerbread Cookies with Royal Icing
  • Lime Meltaways
  • Espresso Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Chocolate Pretzel Rods
  • Reindeer Droppings (not what you think - oreos and cream cheese balls dipped in chocolate)