There is something to be said about having the ability to serve warm, home-baked treats to guests -- last minute or otherwise -- without so much as dirtying the mixer.
The answer? The freezer.
With the upcoming holiday onslaught, it's not a bad idea to get ahead of the game by freezing doughs, cake batter and even fully formed pies before putting them in the oven. There's no shorting the quality, freshly baked treats are ready as needed, and with the aroma of baking in the air, your guests will be none the wiser.
The whole freezer-to-table thing has other benefits, too. Take a fruit pie, for example. The biggest challenge when baking this fresh is keeping the bottom crust from getting soggy, which happens when the juicy filling soaks the base before it cooks. With the pie already frozen, however, the bottom crust starts to bake before the filling has a chance to penetrate it, resulting in flaky, bronzed dough.
Though some fillings won't work quite as well -- custard pies don't hold up in the freezer, nor do those with meringue toppings -- most nuts, berries, juicy stone fruits, apples and pears will do just fine.
Pies might be one of the most labor-intensive -- or, at the very least, intimidating -- desserts to prepare, and this method takes the pressure off. Make pie now for Thanksgiving, and all you have to do on the big day is pop it in the oven.
Freezing a pie once it's already baked doesn't have quite the same effect. The crust will lose the flaky appeal that's the hallmark of this dessert.
Baked cakes do slightly better, but the crumb will begin to dry out soon after landing in the freezer. Better to stop at the batter stage, once it's in the baking pan and ready to go.
Whether it's for a last-minute breakfast, holiday brunch or dessert, a dense sour cream coffee cake will do particularly well straight out of the freezer -- crumb topping and all -- and feed a crowd. You can make this in a more traditional bundt pan, but using a round cake pan saves room, and chances are there's an extra one around that you won't miss if it's living in the freezer for a while.
Both of these desserts require extra time in the oven to bake from frozen, and in the case of the pie, a different baking method to get the bottom crust cooking. For these larger items, you'll still need to plan a bit.
Small items like bite-size appetizers or cookies can travel from the freezer to the plate in minutes. Plus, you can bake only as much as you need.
Savory, cheese-filled puffs, called gougeres, pair nicely with wine or bubbly for a quick appetizer. The pate a choux dough is made and piped onto cookie sheets in advance, then frozen and stored in a zippered plastic bag. These don't last long after baking, so freezing the dough results in hot, feathery puffs right when they're needed.
Use a good melting cheese like fontina and your choice of herbs to flavor the simple dough.
Of course, frozen cookie dough is nothing new. If life is feeling too hectic, I at least try to have a bag in the freezer filled with pre-shaped chocolate chip cookies. Almost any drop cookie can be pre-shaped in this manner.
Once the dough is made, use a small ice cream scoop -- about the size of 2 tablespoons -- to dig out balls of the dough. Line them up side by side on a cookie sheet, and stick the whole thing in the freezer for 30 minutes tops. Then peel them off and freeze the cookies in a container or self-sealing plastic freezer bag. Pull out just as many as you need at any given time, and they'll be ready -- and warm, and gooey -- in less than 15 minutes.
Slice-and-bake cookies are also perfect for freezing. The toasted almond and vanilla bean sables, for example, can be frozen in logs and sliced just before going into the oven.
These traditional French cookies rely on just a few ingredients -- high-quality butter, sugar, flour and egg yolks. Added flavor comes from plump vanilla beans and toasted almonds. They're just what you'd want with a hot cup of tea.
The cookie dough can be made "in a jiff," and the pre-shaped logs will last at least a month in the freezer.
FONTINA AND HERB GOUGERES
Makes about 4 dozen
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup grated fontina cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
Bring the butter, milk and 1/2 cup water to boil in a medium saucepan. Turn heat down to medium; add the flour and a pinch of salt and pepper all at once. Stir vigorously to combine and continue to cook about 1 minute more, stirring constantly, until the dough has formed a ball and leaves a thin film on the bottom and around the sides of the pot. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
Transfer dough to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the cheeses and oregano, and beat on low speed to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition just to incorporate, and scraping down the sides of the bowl, if necessary.
a baking sheet with parchment paper.
If you have a pastry bag, transfer the dough to a bag fitted with a large round tip; pipe the dough in rounds about 1 1/2 inches in diameter onto the baking sheet. You can pipe them close together. If you don't have a pastry bag, use an ice cream scoop to create the rounds.
If you are baking these right away, space them about 2 inches apart (see Note). Use a wet fingertip to push down the peaks and smooth out any peaks on the rounds.
Place the baking sheet in the freezer for at least 1 hour, until the balls are hard and easy to handle. Peel the gougeres off the baking sheet and place in a zippered freezer bag to store up to 1 month.
To bake: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the gougeres (straight from the freezer, if you have frozen them) on a parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheet, spaced about 2 inches apart. Bake for 5 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Bake another 15-18 minutes until golden, turning the tray about halfway through to ensure even cooking. Remove from oven and serve warm.
Note: If baking right after making, be sure the gougeres are at least 2 inches apart on the baking sheet, and bake for a slightly shorter time.
Per gougere: 36 calories, 2 g protein, 0 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat (2 g saturated), 30 mg cholesterol, 45 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.
TOASTED ALMOND AND VANILLA BEAN SABLES
Makes about 4 dozen
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped, pods discarded or reserved for another use
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup powdered sugar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 large egg yolks
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted and coarsely crushed plus more, if desired.
In a small bowl, rub the vanilla bean seeds and sugar together until the seeds are distributed and aren't sticking together in clumps.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, vanilla sugar, powdered sugar and salt until smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Add the almond extract and the egg yolks and beat until combined. Add the flour and sliced almonds and continue to mix on low speed until the flour is just incorporated.
Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times until it comes together as dough, taking care not to overwork it. Cut in half; roll each half into a log about 9-inches long.
If freezing, roll the logs in plenty of plastic wrap and place gently on a flat surface in the freezer. These will last up to a month.
If you want to bake these soon after making the dough, refrigerate the logs for at least two to three hours, or up to two days.
To bake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If the log is frozen, let soften slightly. Slice the dough into rounds about 1/4-inch thick. Place on parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheets about 2 inches apart.
Bake about 13 to 15 minutes (it will be on the longer side if baking from frozen), until lightly golden around the edges. Let cool before serving.
Per cookie: 70 calories, 1 g protein, 7 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat (3 g saturated), 19 mg cholesterol, 34 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.
Be sure to freeze this in a metal pie pan and not a glass one, so that you can take it straight from the freezer to the oven. You'll need a pizza or baking stone on hand if baking the pie directly from the freezer.
APPLE RASPBERRY PIE
Serves 10 to 12
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 to 8 tablespoons ice water plus more, if needed
2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 1/2 pounds Gala or Fuji apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 pound raspberries, rinsed and dried
1 tablespoon butter
To make the crust, combine the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor or bowl. Pulse to combine, or whisk by hand. Add the butter pieces; if using a food processor, pulse to mostly incorporate the butter until you have various-sized crumbs scattered throughout (mostly pea-sized). If mixing by hand, use a pastry cutter to incorporate the butter.
Transfer the flour-butter mixture to a bowl if you've used the food processor, and finish the dough by hand. Add the ice water, starting with 6 tablespoons, and stir together gently until mostly incorporated. Knead the dough together, taking care not to overwork. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and form into a ball. Cut in half, work each piece into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 1-2 hours before rolling.
For the filling: Place the apple slices into a large bowl; add the sugars, cinnamon, lemon juice, flour and salt, and toss well to coat. Add the raspberries; toss gently to combine.
To assemble: Remove one disc of dough from the refrigerator, and
place on a floured work surface. Working from the center out, roll it into large circle until it is about 1/8 -inch thick and 2 inches larger than your inverted pie pan. Transfer the dough to a metal pie pan, gently pushing into the bottom and up along the sides of the pan. Add the filling, and dot the top of the fruit with the butter.
Remove the other disc of dough from the refrigerator and roll out in the same manner as the bottom crust. Gently transfer it so that it drapes over the fruit. Trim the edges of the top and bottom crusts so that you have a 1/2-inch overhang. Working around the edges of the pie, tuck the excess dough under and crimp together. Cut a few small vents in the top of the pie to let steam escape when baked.
To bake: If baking right away, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the pie until the filling is cooked through and the crust is golden brown, about 50-60 minutes.
If freezing, wrap the unbaked pie in plenty of plastic wrap, and then in aluminum foil. Freeze for up to 1 month.
When ready to bake, place one rack on the bottom shelf of the oven and the other rack in the center. Place a pizza or baking stone on the bottom rack and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Take the pie from the freezer, place on the stone and bake 20 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Place a rimmed baking sheet or large sheet of aluminum foil on the center rack. Take the pie off the stone and place it on the sheet or foil; remove the stone from the oven and set aside to cool.
Continue to bake the pie until the top crust is golden brown and the filling has softened, about another 30-45 minutes.
Cool completely (this can take several hours or up to overnight) before serving.
Per serving: 315 calories, 3 g protein, 40 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat (10 g saturated), 44 mg cholesterol, 271 mg sodium, 4 g fiber.
SOUR CREAM COFFEE CAKE
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick butter (4 ounces) at room temperature plus more for greasing the pan
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 egg white
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
For the topping: Mix the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt together in a small bowl. Add the butter and rub into the dry mixture with your hands, working it through until you have different sized crumbs. Set aside.
For the cake: Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a small bowl. Set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until lightened and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, egg white, vanilla and sour cream separately, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined. Take care not to over mix.
Spoon half of the batter into a buttered 8- or 9-inch round baking pan; smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle half of the topping over the batter. Add the remaining batter and gently smooth it over the crumb topping. Sprinkle the remaining topping over the batter.
If freezing, wrap the unbaked cake in the pan tightly in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil. Store in the freezer for up to 1 month.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake approximately 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (about 45 minutes if baking without freezing first).
Let cool slightly; serve warm.
Per serving: 301 calories, 4 g protein, 37 g carbohydrates, 16 g fat (9 g saturated), 72 mg cholesterol, 326 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.