Holiday baking can be perfectly imperfect.
Story by Robyn Passante + Photography by Lisa Staff
From frosted cutout sugar cookies to steaming fruit-filled pies, holiday baking is an essential part of the season. So, too, says local baker Jennifer Gleitsmann, is sharing that magic with kids.
“I think a lot of kids don’t do that anymore and I think it’s so important to get kids involved with cooking in general,” she says. “It helps them understand where food comes from, and it gives them a better appreciation for it.”
The trick to such an endeavor, she says, is to succumb to the messy imperfection of it.
“Dedicate two hours to say, ‘I’m not gonna do anything else, we’re gonna make a mess, it’s not gonna be perfect,’ but it’s going to be a memory that your kids will remember,” says Gleitsmann, mother of two young bakers and owner of Marmalade Homemade Baking. “Even if you’re going to order your holiday desserts, you can have an extra plate of whatever it is you and the kids made.”
Letting go of the aspiration for a perfect- looking dessert is something holiday bakers should do regardless of whether little hands are helping in the kitchen, Gleitsmann says.
“I follow some people on Instagram whose pies are works of art. Most of those people don’t sell their work. There’d be no way to charge for that, because it takes hours and hours and hours,” says Gleitsmann, who works as a business architect for a medical management company by day and follows her creative passion for baking in a second kitchen in her family’s home by night. “I like that my pies and tarts and quiches are almost perfectly imperfect. They taste good and they look homemade.”
Gleitsmann’s side business is booming this time of year, as harried homemakers rely on her to provide delicious homemade desserts, savory pies, quiches and tarts for family gatherings, parties and more.
“I think a lot of people around here want a homemade dessert without making it themselves,” she says. “I have a lot of people here who are busy, they want to make the holiday dinner, they want to have people over, but it’s not necessarily something they want to do to also make the dessert.”
Gleitsmann’s favorite thing to make right now is a tart, but that’s partly because she already mastered her first challenge: The perfect pie dough.
“Tomato tart is my new favorite thing to make. It’s delicious,” she says. “Tarts are nice because there are no eggs in tarts, so they’re thinner … so it’s like eating a slice of pizza, with gruyere, thyme, fresh herbs … and they’re pretty. They’re a nice gift.”
Gleitsmann’s gift to us is a handful of tips to make our own baking better this holiday season.
Tip 1: Ingredients
Baking the best pie starts at the farmer’s market and grocery store. “Use the best ingredients you can find, because it really does make a difference. Use the good butter, use organic fruits and vegetables when you can, use local eggs.”
Tip 2: Crust
To make pie crust submit to your will, stay cool. “You just have to work quickly and keep everything cold. Keep the butter in the freezer, use ice water. … I cut the butter into pieces, let the food processor whiz (the ingredients) around, and then I finish the dough by hand.”
Tip 3: Flavors
“Experiment with different flavors. Use something unexpected – ginger, cardamom— to give a traditional coffee cake or pie a richer flavor rather than just cinnamon.”
One to try: Chinese five spice powder, a blend of cinnamon, cloves, fennel, star anise and Szechuan peppercorn. “It’s a little bit different.”
Tip 4: Don’t rush
“If you need to make a cake, give yourself time to make it. You can’t rush a cake. And make sure your layers on your cake are flat, or else you’ll get a wonky cake.”
One to try: Apple pie cake. “There’s a layer of pie crust and apple pie filling in the middle of the layers of cake.”
Tip 5: Know your ratios
The secret to a light and fluffy quiche is a matter of math. “I have a specific ratio — 1/2 cup of milk or cream to one egg. It makes a really nice custard in the quiche.”
Tip 6: Outside in
Always bake the quiche shell first. “Use pie weights or beans or rice (to weigh down the shell) and bake it to where it’s lightly golden. Then add your filling and finish it.”
Tip 7: Research
For baking inspiration, listen to a baking podcast. One to try: “Flour Hour.” “It’s hosted by two amazing bakers and they interview other amazing bakers that I follow on Instagram, so it’s super entertaining and helpful.”
Your favorite single crust pie dough
1 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups pitted cherries (can be fresh or frozen)
Zest of one orange
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water or cream)
Directions  Press dough into an 8- or 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom, making sure to push the pastry into the ridges without stretching it. Run a rolling pin over the top of the tart pan to remove the excess dough, and place into the freezer for 20 minutes to chill. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Mix filling ingredients together and press evenly into the chilled crust. Brush the pastry lightly with the egg wash. Place tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the crust is golden brown, about 1 hour. Rotate midway for even browning if needed.  Once baked, cool completely on a rack and remove the tart carefully from the pan.  Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or your favorite ice cream.