Monday, August 17, 2009

The Freezer: The Amazing Baking Sidekick

The number one question I get when I bake is: how do I find the time to do it? The answer: I plan ahead and take full advantage of the freezer. By planning ahead, I don't necessarily just mean finding the time in the day; I can usually can find a weekend morning to relax and to bake, and I usually only need about 2 hours of time, even to make many batches of things. I also look ahead in my calendar, usually 1-2 weeks or so, to see if there are any events coming up where I'd like to bring a baked good. That way, I can figure out one or two things to make where I will yield a certain number of quantities that can be broken out amongst many events, with the help of the freezer. That way, I can minimize the baking when I'm short on time to maximize what I share with friends.

I think the two items I bake and freeze the most are breads (like banana, blueberry, and pumpkin) and cakes and cupcakes. Frankly, I think these things turn out better after a round in the freezer; once they thaw, they are more moist than when they went in. The cake and cupcakes in particular tend to surprise people, but they work really well. For example, for a layer cake, if you bake the layers ahead of time and freeze them, you can pop them in the fridge the night before an event to thaw them. Then, right before you need to take them somewhere, you whip up a quick batch of frosting and you can put together a cake (more easily, I find, because the cake is cold and you get fewer crumbs). Cupcakes are also great, because you often don't need to bring all 24 cupcakes to an event, but if you bake and freeze the cupcakes, you only have to bring what you need. Although most baked goods have a long shelf life, I like to only bake a week ahead of time, or two at the very most, to be conservative.

My freezing sprees tend to pick up around the holidays. Each year, I tend to make 10-15 batches of cookies, so planning ahead is a must. The recipe below is a favorite; it yields a ton, and one batch freezes well and can be brought to many parties. It's a recipe from another close friend of my mom's (they were high school pals - how great! I've also had the wonderful privilege of growing up and being friends with her daughter), and it is always a winner. This recipe is also a favorite because it is the very first thing I ever made for Greg when we were dating, and now we like to make it together.

And did I mention - it's another no-bake recipe! For my readers suffering through the dogs days of summer, I hope you can at least cool off with some chocolate and peanut butter. You can eat these straight from the freezer, which is Greg's preferred method.

Peanut Butter Squares
Yields: 30-40 bars

3/4 lb. graham cracker crumbs*
1 lb. powdered sugar
3/4 lb. non-dairy butter substitute (Earth's Balance, bring it on!)
1 lb. (or a jar roughly this size) shelf-stable creamy peanut butter (I look for ones without trans fat and hydrogenated oils, like Whole Foods 365 Brand)
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
12 oz. milk chocolate chips**

1) Mix together graham cracker crumbs and powdered sugar in a bowl. Set aside.
2) Melt 3/4 lb. non-dairy butter substitute and 1 lb. of peanut butter over low heat.
3) Once the peanut butter mixture is melted, pour over dry ingredients and mix together. Spread in an ungreased 10x15 inch pan.
4) Over low heat or in a double boiler, melt together both bags of chocolate chips. Pour over peanut butter layer.
5) Refrigerate for 30 minutes; cut squares in pan. Return to refrigerator until fully cooled; remove from pan and store in fridge or freezer.

* Don't feel like you have to be a slave to this measurement; I've used boxes with 12 ounces and boxes with 15 ounces, and I've made my own crumbs out of a 14 ounce box. Just use the whole box of whatever you buy, you'll be fine! I also don't know of any vegan graham crackers; most have honey, and some have butter. I will look around and report back, but if anyone has any suggestions, please drop me a line!

If I find a substitute for milk chocolate chips that are non-dairy, I will let you know!

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