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Bake now, enjoy later

December 06, 2006|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Instead of baking to a frazzle this holiday season, try chilling out. Bake ahead and freeze foods to avoid last-minute hassles.

If you're in doubt about whether a food will freeze well, it's always a good idea to give it a trial run. Try making and freezing a small batch earlier in the season and see if you're satisfied with the results. Or experiment with a small amount this year and apply what you learn next year.

You must thoroughly cool baked goods before freezing or they'll become soggy. Place food on a wire cooling rack to allow air to circulate around the food and promote faster cooling. For food safety reasons, you may need to complete cooling perishable foods like cheesecakes in the refrigerator. The recommended time for holding perishable foods at room temperature (including cooling time following cooking and, later, time spent on the serving table) is a total of two hours.

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Wraps and containers

Suitable wrapping materials for freezer storage include freezer paper, plastic freezer bags, plastic wrap designed for freezer use, and extra heavy or heavy-duty freezer aluminum foil.

Check product labels for specific information about whether the wrappings work for freezing. For example, not all plastic wraps are designed for freezer use. It's important to use materials intended for freezing, as they're more likely to keep moisture out and are less likely to tear in the freezer.

Rigid freezer containers include plastic, glass and ceramic containers; make sure they're labeled as suitable for freezing. Foil pans work well for freezing foods you'll re-heat in the oven. You can bake food in foil pans and then freeze it in the baking pan. Cover pan tightly with freezer-quality foil, paper, plastic wrap or a plastic bag. Plastic freezer/microwave safe containers are a good choice for foods you'll reheat in the microwave.

Choose a container that fits the amount of food you're freezing. If there's greater than about 1/2 inch of space between the surface of a baked product and the top of the container, wrap the food with a layer of freezer wrapping before placing it in the container. This helps prevent moisture loss.

Some containers aren't suitable for freezing. For example, milk and cottage cheese cartons aren't moisture-vapor-resistant enough for freezing.

When using glass and ceramic containers, use only those designed for freezing. Other types of glass and ceramics may break in the freezer.

Freezing breads

Quick breads, such as banana or cranberry bread and muffins, typically freeze well for one to two months. Bake as usual, then allow the breads to cool completely before wrapping them in freezer paper or heavy-duty aluminum foil or placing them in a freezer bag. Squeeze air out before sealing, then label and date the package.

Allow quick breads and muffins to thaw at room temperature (in their freezer wrap) before re-wrapping as a gift or serving.

Yeast breads - such as tea rings, coffee cakes, cinnamon and dinner rolls - and loaves of bread also are good candidates for early preparation. Bake as usual and cool completely before wrapping and freezing them. If well wrapped and sealed, yeast breads typically freeze well for one to two months.

Like quick breads, yeast breads should be thawed at room temperature (in their freezer wrap). While quality can suffer slightly, reheating before serving can revive fresh-baked flavor. It's a good idea to wait to drizzle frosting over cinnamon rolls or a tea ring just before serving.

Freezing cookies

Cookies generally freeze well, though some, such as fancy or lacy cookies prepared with several egg whites, can toughen during the freezing process.

For best results, choose a standard recipe that is familiar. Bake and cool cookies as directed before placing them in a freezer container. Separating layers with waxed or parchment paper usually keeps cookies from sticking together. Cookies can usually be frozen for several months.

Some cookie dough can be frozen raw, and then baked as needed. Shape dough, such as certain sugar or ginger cookie recipes, in balls and place on a cookie sheet in the freezer until frozen. Transfer frozen dough balls to a freezer container to store.

When ready to bake, place frozen dough balls on a cookie sheet and allow them to thaw (to room temperature) before baking them in a preheated oven.

Homemade refrigerator cookie dough, similar to packaged refrigerated cookie rolls sold commercially, can be wrapped and stored in the refrigerator, then sliced and baked as needed.

Freezing pie crusts and fillings

Traditional pie crusts can be shaped and baked before freezing or wrapped and frozen unbaked. Use parchment or waxed paper to separate pie crusts that will be stacked before wrapping them for the freezer.

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