Final -- 4 houses side view

It has been holiday season in the La Varenne Kitchen. Between baking a dozen loaves of yule bread for neighbors and spicy mince pies for family and friends, I’ve found time to decorate gingerbread houses with grandchildren and even to edit a recipe or two. When there is so much baking to be done, my old tips and tricks come back to me just like riding a bicycle. Here are just a few:

1. Cooking times and temps can fluctuate from oven to oven, so trust your nose, eyes and touch above all.

2. Butter and flour cake pans for an excellent non-stick surface.

3. When lining a baking sheet with parchment paper, put a dab of butter at each corner to stick down the paper.

4. Never scrub sheet pans and cake pans as it ruins the surface so they stick. Simply wipe with a tea towel and watch them get better over time.

5. You know a bread loaf is done when a simple tap on the bottom crust sounds hollow.

6. A cake is done when it shrinks from the sides of the pan.

7. When slicing big cakes, set it on a round of cardboard to steady it before you start.

8. Use small deli cups for frosting and sprinkles. They’re cheap and functional for storage