Teaching students about baking and pastry isn’t all technique and ingredients. I also like to work on how to be more efficient and less crazy in the kitchen. This means, do what the professionals do and work ahead.
When I was at Salish Lodge and Spa, Thanksgiving was the biggest day of the year. We served 450+ in the dining room for a multi-course whole turkey dinner and another 250 at our Thanksgiving buffet. I learned a lot of lessons about planning while preparing for this day and now I’m passing those tips on to you. If you use them, you’ll find your Thanksgiving will be less stressful and more relaxing – even if you’re the one putting on the dinner.
Make Pie Dough Ahead. Pie dough will last in the refrigerator about two days and in the freezer up to two weeks. Best practice is to make the pie dough this week, freeze it and then move it from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before you’re planning on rolling it. (If you need tips on making pie dough, see my Pie Crust Survival Guide.)
Roll, Shape and Freeze Crusts. Your pie crust will bake best (and hold its shape) if baked while very cold or frozen. If pumpkin pie, pecan pie or another single crust pie is on your menu, this tip is for you. 1-2 days before your pie baking day, roll out and shape your single crust pie shell. Wrap it in plastic wrap (or slide it into a clean kitchen garbage bag) and freeze it (at least overnight). Remove the pie shell from the freezer just before filling it and then pop it right into the oven. A frozen pie shell will bake before it starts melt.
Make Pie Fillings Ahead. Many pie fillings can be made ahead of time – sometimes up to five days. Two great Thanksgiving examples are pumpkin and pecan pie fillings. (For pecan pie filling, you may want to make the filling ahead and then lay the pecans on top just before baking.) Pick a day to make your fillings and then store them covered in the refrigerator. Be sure to stir them well before filling your pie crust as some of the ingredients may have settled to the bottom over time.
Cranberry Bread. This is a no-brainer. Quick breads are better when they’ve sat for a few days, frozen or not. This is also a bread that can be wrapped while it is just a little warm (same with pumpkin, banana and zucchini breads). The slight warmth helps the bread retain moisture. If you’re a real planner, you can make this bread WAY ahead – several weeks is not too far. Wrap it twice in plastic and store it in your freezer. The day before serving it, transfer it from the freezer to your counter and let it thaw at room temperature. Quick breads should always be served at room temperature for best flavor.
I’m just covering the baking side here, but there are plenty of other make-ahead tips. Sweet potatoes can be baked ahead, peeled and stored in the fridge overnight – or just make the entire sweet potato casserole of your choice and chill it overnight ready to go right into the oven. Most turkey dressings can be made ahead and chilled the day before. (This also keeps you from putting warm dressing inside a cold bird – a big food safety no-no.) Vegetables can be cleaned and cut 1-2 days before. And of course, don’t forget that your turkey (even fresh) is usually pretty frozen inside, so give it 2-3 days in the refrigerator to thaw.
Need a little more help with your pie crust? I’ll be continuing my free All About Pie demos at King County Libraries across the system. Check out the schedule here.