"One of the few times of the year when it's really fun to bake is for the holidays. The things are so good and they're a treat, so it's really wonderful," says Jane Rodmell, owner of specialty food business All the Best Fine Foods in Toronto, which caters and prepares foods.
Whether it's cookies, loaves or a decadent finale for Christmas dinner, seek a new recipe you want to try from a trusted source or concoct a tested family favourite.
Read the recipe through carefully and make sure you have everything you need, including pans, utensils and ingredients.
"If you're baking a loaf, do you have the right size loaf pan or has somebody borrowed them or used them in the garden or something as sometimes happens," says Rodmell.
"Most of the baking I do I do at the cottage and that often happens there that people take off with my pieces of equipment to use in other ways and so I think it's good to check the cookware you've got is what you need."
Esther Brody, the Calgary-based author of "The 250 Best Cookie Recipes" (Robert Rose Inc.), suggests investing in heavy-duty baking sheets.
"Likely they will cost a bit more than some, but I think they are worth it because they won't rust and your cookies will bake more evenly," she writes.
"Cookie sheets differ from baking pans as they don't have sides, which allows the heat to circulate around the cookies, helping to ensure more even baking. If you don't have heavy-duty baking sheets, I recommend lowering the temperature of your oven by 25 F (10 C)."
SEE: 20 easy and amazing cookie recipes for the holidays. Story continues below:
"When I learned to bake first I used a whisk and a wooden spoon and a big bowl with my mum. You don't need fancy equipment to bake cookies."
Several cooling racks are ideal as is parchment paper to line pans to make getting baked items off easier and cleanup a breeze. Holiday cookie cutters come in many shapes and sizes
Measuring cups and spoons with longer handles enable you to scoop ingredients out of deep containers and jars. Metal models won't warp or melt. Spoons that are oblong rather than round will fit into the mouth of spice jars.
When it comes to ingredients, you'll likely need flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and pure vanilla.
Rodmell suggests buying a small container of baking powder and soda and restocking as needed. Once opened, their potency begins to diminish.
Make sure you have enough eggs.
"I've done that before where I've started a recipe and then found that I only had four eggs and I needed five. That's really annoying," says Rodmell. "Once you've got into the groove you don't want to have to rush to the store."
Unsalted butter is preferred by many bakers since it has a purer flavour and lets you control the amount of salt added to the recipe.
You may need good-quality semi-sweet and unsweetened chocolate and cocoa.
A lot of holiday baking includes dates, figs, currants, raisins, sultanas, dried apricots or cranberries, candied citrus fruits or crystallized ginger and nuts, such as walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts.
"Make a trip somewhere that has really good turnover with quality that you know is going to be good and stock up on things like that," suggests Rodmell. Buy just the amount you need.
"You will definitely need to look into your spice cupboard and see that that is in good shape because you will be using probably ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, anise, maybe if you're a little bit adventurous you may need cardamom, the lovely warm spices of the fall and winter months," says Rodmell.
Make sure the spices haven't been languishing in the cupboard, losing flavour. "How often are people using the whole can they bought two or three years ago?
"You can get a whole nutmeg, of course, and then you grate it yourself which is even better rather than using nutmeg that's been sitting already ground forever. The difference in taste of those two is astonishing."
Besides use in baking or garnishing eggnog and lattes, it's also delicious sprinkled over creamy soups.
Decorating suggestions include chocolate or coloured sprinkles, coloured sugars and silver dragees (small beads). Edible goldleaf, though "fearfully expensive," is used "more often to garnish chocolate confections, chocolate mousse or really lovely pots de creme," says Rodmell.
Timing is everything when it comes to baking. Most recipes give a range of times and it's best to check for doneness a few minutes before the time indicated in the recipe, Brody writes. She also advises against making ingredient substitutions or doubling or halving a recipe unless it states you can do so.
Rodmell says she's all for experimenting with savoury recipes, but not when it comes to baking.
"You can't really be too loosey-goosey with the relationship between the sugar, the fat and the liquids. You do have to keep a balance there to have a successful product," she notes.
"You can't just throw in an extra cup of nuts, for instance, and hope it's going to be the same if you hadn't put them in there because the nuts will absorb the moisture and it will be a different texture and so I think you have to be prepared to follow the recipe for the first time fairly exactly even down to the size of the pan and the heat that's recommended and the cooking time."
Put on some music and allow yourself some time to enjoy the activity or invite a friend to join you. But keep your mind on the task at hand.
"I don't think baking is a very good multi-tasking activity," says Rodmell. "Decide you're going to have a baking time and that's what you concentrate on.
"You can't be talking on your cellphone and working on your iPad and being a successful baker, I don't think."