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Bake ahead and freeze for the holidays

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:00 PM

Does the thought of holiday baking make your mouth water and your head spin at the same time?

With Thanksgiving just around the corner and Christmas to follow, no doubt, the thought of baking your traditional favorites comes to mind. Do you wonder how you can get all the baking done you would like and not end up in a holi-daze?

Why not try to bake ahead and freeze to avoid some of the last minute stresses of holiday food preparation. Here are some guidelines to help you start your bake ahead and freeze plans.

Remember, some foods will freeze better than others. If you are in doubt about a particular favorite recipe of yours, contact your local OSU Extension Office for advice.

Or, you can try a small batch of a particular recipe early in the season. Freeze it and see how it turns out. Then bake and freeze more, or consider your efforts an experiment for this year and apply what you learn next holiday season.

An important thing to remember is commercial manufacturers have access to equipment and ingredients unavailable to home bakers. They can successfully freeze products that you cannot at home. Commercial products also contain preservatives that permit longer storage in the freezer, under refrigeration and at room temperature.

The coverings and wrapping used to freeze baked goods and all foods are probably the most important keys to success and product quality. It is important to use materials designed for freezer use. Check the labels on products for specific information about whether the wrappings are designed for freezer use. These materials are heavy duty, designed to protect food, keep moisture out, and resist tearing.

Materials should be moisture and vapor resistant. Suitable materials include freezer paper, plastic freezer bags, plastic wrap designed for freezer use and extra heavy or heavy duty freezer aluminum foil. Look for large freezer bags in 2 to 2 1/2 gallon size which are suitable for larger sizefoods.

Rigid containers will protect food better than just a wrapping, preventing crushing and include plastic, glass and ceramic containers labeled suitable for freezing. Carefully read manufacturer's directions about safe handling when using glass or ceramic dishes labeled freezer/microwave/oven safe. These can be handy because foods can be safely prepared, thawed and/or reheated right in the container. Foil pans work well for foods you will be reheating in the oven. Cover the pan tightly with freezer-quality foil, paper, plastic wrap or a plastic bag.

Choose a container that fits the amount of food you are freezing. Too much air space will result in moisture loss and loss of product quality. If there is more than about 1/2 inch space between the surface of a baked product and the top of the container, wrap the food in a layer of freezer wrapping before placing it in the container.

Some containers are not designed for freezer use. For example, milk cartons, cottage cheese containers, margarine tubs, or whip topping bowls are not designed for reuse or for freezer storage. They are not moisture/vapor resistant enough.

Air and moisture are the main variables to control in order to protect quality. Pack food compactly and try to remove as much air from packaging as possible. Quality of food declines quickly when air remains in packaging. Wrap well and seal tightly to keep moisture out.

"Freezer Burn," when the surface of the food appears light colored and dried out, occurs when moisture on the surface evaporates. Proper cooling, air removal, moisture/vapor resistant packaging, a tight seal, and an appropriate length of storage help prevent freezer burn. Food that has freezer burn will be safe to eat but the flavor and quality will suffer.

Other tips for success include:

Thoroughly cool baked goods before freezing or they will become soggy.

To ensure food safety, complete the cooling process of perishable foods like cheesecakes in the refrigerator.

Remember the maximum time perishable food should remain at room temperature is 2 hours. This time is cumulative and includes preparation, cooling, thawing and serving.

Thaw in the refrigerator. Remove any wrapping that might stick to the product, foil or plastic wrap for example, before thawing.

Label each package with the contents, amount and date frozen. You might also want to include a suggested "use by date" or package foods for specific events and include the event date on the label. Keep a written list of baked goods frozen specifically for the holidays.

Check the temperature of your freezer. It should be zero degrees Fahrenheit or below.

Avoid overloading your freezer with too much unfrozen product at one time, adding only about 10 percent of the freezer's available capacity at a time. Leave space between packages so air can circulate around them. When food is frozen, stack food to take up less space.

It is difficult to give an exact recommendation for storage time which will vary widely for different types of food. Food will remain safe indefinitely at zero degrees Fahrenheit but the quality will decline over time. Check out the OSU Extension Freezer Storage Factsheet on Ohioline atwww.ohioline.osu.edu. for suggestions for specific foods or contact your local OSU Extension Office.

What foods do not freeze well? Low fat muffins and biscuits, cream type fillings, cooked frostings like seven minute icing or other egg-white-based frosting, meringue based cookies, fragile cookies, meringue pies, custard and cream pies, and pumpkin pie. Mark your calendar for B-Day, that is baking day. Get all your ingredients organized, play some holiday music, and enjoy yourself as you bake your holiday favorites ahead and freeze.

Deb Angell is the Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Educator for Huron County's Ohio State University Extension Office, 180 Milan Ave., Suite 1, Norwalk, OH 44857. She can be reached by phone at (419) 668-8219 or via e-mail at angell.20@osu.edu.

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