The start of the holiday season is signaled, for me, by Bake Day. Bake Day is a tradition carried on by my best friends (who are twins) that was handed down from their mom. Bake day occurs the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and a group of us spend a whole day baking everything we will need for the coming holiday season.
We spend a few days in advance deciding what we’d like to make, including some classics like rum balls, praline grahams and cheese crackers, as well as new things that we feel like trying. A couple of years ago we made edible ornaments from melted Jolly Ranchers with shaped gingerbread frames. Sounds weird, but they were tasty, and beautiful.
I’ve hosted Bake Day with as few as two people and as many as nine, all crammed into my busy kitchen and living room. It’s a good thing the extra tables are still set up from Thanksgiving, or we’d never have the room to fit all the activity. I usually man the oven, because I know its temperament; everyone else works together on each recipe, handing me tray after tray of cookies and snacks to bake. I love baking at this time of the year because it’s usually cold outside, so I can use the porch table to cool the cookies, and the process goes a little faster.
Each invited guest brings a recipe or two along with its ingredients and any tools or extras that might be needed—somehow we never have enough butter—and we get started at about nine a.m. with coffee, holiday music, and The Sweet Smell of Christmas, a recipe for homemade potpourri my Gramma used to make (see below for the recipe). We take random dance breaks whenever somebody (usually me) feels the need. When anyone hears “Dance break!” they have to stop whatever they’re doing and dance.
At around noon, we stop for lunch, which over the years has ranged from sandwiches, to a meat and cheese tray, to hand-rolled sushi. Somehow no one’s very hungry, though, with all the tasting we do. We take time over lunch to regroup and figure out what is left to do, then we switch to 80’s music and dance our way through the rest of the work, hopefully finishing by four p.m. We always say, “We’re not going to make so much this year.” But we all know that’s a lie. We always end up with a lot more than we planned. I’m just glad one of the twins works at the police department, so she can spoil our law enforcement officers with any excess treats.
The best part of Bake Day is the reward at the end: all that collective hard work gets shared among all of us. No one takes home only what they brought. After some general cleanup, we lay all the baked goods on the tables, take a group picture, and then divvy everything up. Each person gets an equal share of everything, which means a great variety of treats for all the different social occasions that arise over the coming weeks.
By the time this article is published, we will be elbow-deep in cookie dough, dancing to classic ’80s music and wondering how we’re going to finish everything before dark. It’s worth it, though. Nothing is better to kick off the holiday season than fresh-baked cookies with too many sprinkles, and the chance to catch up with friends over a job well done.
The Sweet Smell of Christmas
1 stick of cinnamon
1 teaspoon whole cloves
½ an orange peel, diced
½ a lemon peel, diced
1 bay leaf
Simmer all ingredients with a cup of water in a mini-crockpot or pan on the stove, set to low. Add water as needed.