Holiday Baking Favourites You Can Make Ahead

Holiday baking doesn’t have to be complicated. While you may want to tackle a festive trifle or any of the intricate creations you see on televised baking competitions–and kudos to you if you do–a simple approach also works. A few holiday standards can supplement a showstopper or be the star of the show in and of themselves. The holiday I celebrate is Christmas, so these recipes may seem to skew in that direction, but I think they’re suitable to just about any occasion. 

In the spirit of keeping things simple, I’ve chosen just four recipes, all of which make significant quantities and can be prepared ahead.  

Sugar Plums

Like anyone who has read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas or seen The Nutcracker, I first heard of sugar plums as a child, but had no idea what they actually were until I came across a recipe in Chatelaine many years ago. I liked them so much I clipped the recipe and, in fact, still have the original page from the 2004 holiday issue of the magazine. If you like dried fruit and nuts with a hint of rum, you will love these. Prepared as individual portions, they are ready to serve or box up for gifts whenever you need them. Spoon Spoon Spoon

Notes & Tweaks

  • I don’t think I’ve ever made these without alcohol–no surprise to those who know me–but there is an option to use orange juice instead. I can’t speak to how the booze-free version tastes, but I’m sure it would be just fine, given the strong flavours from all the other ingredients.  
  • Using a food processor for chopping the dried fruit and nuts makes things easier, but rolling that mixture into balls is a messy business. Be prepared to get sticky. 
  • This recipe makes a lot so you may want to cut it in half or plan to give sugar plums away as a gift. As the recipe says, sugar plums last a very long time, but 75 is a lot for one family to get through. They are delicious, but a little goes a long way.

Try the recipe here: Tipsy Sugar Plums

Cran-Caramel Streusel Squares

The name says it all. These squares have a shortbread base topped with store-bought caramel sauce, cranberries, nuts, and streusel. This is another Chatelaine recipe and it is one of my all-time favourites.   Spoon Spoon  

Notes & Tweaks

  • No tweaks come to mind. This recipe comes together perfectly, just as written. Using store-bought caramel sauce saves time without sacrificing flavour. 
  • These squares freeze really well. Freezing the squares individually makes it easy to take out just the number you need whenever the occasion calls for a bit of dessert. I cut individual portions, freeze them on a parchment-lined baking pan until solid, and then pack them in freezer bags or containers, following the instructions noted in the recipe. Freezing the squares individually before packaging helps prevent them from sticking together. Just don’t leave them too long uncovered in the freezer or they could dry out. I’ve never had any issue with drying, as long as I package the squares after a few hours in the freezer. 

Try the recipe here: Cran-caramel Streusel Squares

Sugar Cookies

There are hundreds of sugar cookie recipes online, but I’ve stuck with this one since I first found it in 2002. Like the others here, it is also from Chatelaine. (The magazine had a good run of holiday recipes in the early aughts.) Sugar cookies are typically cut into shapes and decorated, which makes them fairly labour-intensive. If you have kids, get them involved. They’ll love the chance to add sprinkles and icing to cookies. As noted below, you can freeze the dough, so there is no need to bake all the cookies at once. Spoon Spoon Spoon

Notes & Tweaks

  • A mixer is pretty much essential for blending the eggs and butter well. A cookie cutter is also required, unless you want to cut shapes by hand. 
  • If you are new to sugar cookies it may take some time to get a feel for the dough, but the directions manage to describe it well–the dough should just form a ball and not be sticky.
  • I have frozen this dough with great success. Freezing it in small portions, as the recipe suggests, means you’ll be able to whip up a batch of cookies anytime. Just let it thaw overnight in your fridge. In a pinch, you can also thaw it for a couple of hours on your counter, but you have to make sure the dough is cold so it rolls well. (According to this post on Gimme Some Oven, you can also pre-cut your cookie dough into shapes, freeze the individual cookies, then bake them at a later date. I have never tried this, but it sounds like a great idea.) 
  • Coarse sugar and sprinkles should go on before baking. As the recipe notes, toppings stick better if you brush the cookies with a little bit of water first–emphasis on “little” as you do not want them soaked with water. Too much water will impede baking and could also make the colour from the sugar or sprinkles run.
  • If you plan to decorate the cookies with icing, be sure they are completely cooled first. 
  • The beauty of sugar cookies is their versatility. You can cut them into shapes that suit a theme or just leave them round or square, and you can decorate them in any colour scheme you choose. 

Try the recipe here: Sugar Cookies

Pistachio Cranberry Mini Scones

I adapted my standard scone recipe and added a more decadent glaze to create a treat fit for a holiday cookie tray. Spoon Spoon

Notes & Tweaks

This is my recipe so all the notes are already in there. Enjoy!

Try the recipe here: Pistachio Cranberry Mini Scones

Recipe box image by Crystal Smith

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