Six months ago, you agreed to host Christmas dinner. It’ll be fun, you thought. Fast-forward to now, and you wonder why the heck Past You let Future You get into this mess. There are turkeys to roast and side dishes to make and big-batch cocktails to simmer and, most importantly, a full spread of cookies, cakes, pies and other goodies to bake. Overwhelming is an understatement.
So we turned to PureWow recipes editor Erin McDowell, author of the acclaimed new cookbook The Fearless Baker, for help. She’s not only a professional baker, but she’s also the queen of holiday hosting, whipping up hundreds of treats for her family and friends every December. Her secret? It’s all in the timing.
“Here’s the biggest trick that separates a home cook from a pro,” McDowell tells us. “Use your time as wisely as possible to prep absolutely everything you can in advance.” Before starting a recipe, separate every element you might be able to make the night—or even a few days—before. “That includes everything from pie fillings and sauces to icing.” These extras can be stored in your fridge, then brought back up to room temperature before using.
McDowell even bakes cakes a few days in advance, then leaves them unfrosted and wrapped tightly in plastic wrap until she’s ready to assemble them. This way, the only thing that’s left to do is add that creamy frosting or caramel sauce—you know, the stuff you prepped two days ago.
Then, instead of a chaotic kitchen where you’re trying to bake 15 things at once, it’s just about putting together the puzzle pieces you’ve thoughtfully prepped all week. So take a deep breath. You’ve got this. Now the only thing you need to worry about is playing fridge Tetris.