In my house, this time of year is all about baking, cooking, and avoiding the cold weather. I spend hours flipping through magazines, pinning cookie ideas, and brainstorming new recipes. As a result, my to-bake list is always way too ambitious and ends up with me buried in flour and cookies in my kitchen as I try to bake ALL THE THINGS on the Saturday before Christmas because I’ve run out of weekends and once again overestimated the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I love making platters of cookies to send to friends, family, and neighbors, but my kitchen is on the smaller side and counter space is at a premium. I dream of the day that we have a big, open, airy kitchen (daydreaming evidence here), but right now we are making it work with a smaller kitchen that has about half the counter space I could really use! I know a lot of folks have kitchens even smaller than the one we’re blessed with – the one I had in my last apartment in DC had about 3 square feet of counter space.
I really don’t want our small kitchens to keep us from baking all the cookies and fudge and pies and brownies and pastries imaginable over the next few months!
To that end, I’m sharing a few of my best tips for surviving holiday baking in a small kitchen! These tips may be obvious, but if you actually put them into action, I think they’ll help you have a stress-free holiday baking adventure.
Before I start cooking anything, I always try to make sure my dishwasher is empty, my sink is completely clean, and my counters have been cleared off. Starting with a clean slate also means spraying and wiping down my counters! It took me a while to catch on to just how helpful this seemingly obvious tip is, but if you have limited counter and sink space then starting with a clean slate will save you time and unnecessary stress in the long run.
For me, any dishes in the sink or drying on the counter are distracting clutter that take up valuable real estate. I also don’t want to find myself holding a hot pan straight out of the oven in one hand and trying to clear off counter space with the other. Starting with a clean slate helps me stay organized and keeps me feeling relaxed in my kitchen, which is essential for holiday cookie baking marathons.
2. Clean as you go.
This is another one that took me a while to learn and one my husband might say I haven’t quite grasped yet! Cleaning as you go is important for keeping valuable space cleared. This doesn’t just mean cleaning bowls and utensils as you go, although that’s also really helpful. But cleaning as you go means putting your ingredients back in their proper home as you are baking.
Here’s what I do. Before I start baking or cooking anything, I take out all the ingredients that I will need for my recipe. Then, as I use each ingredient, I go ahead and put it back in the cabinets or pantry where it belongs. Not only does this help keep my counters as clear as possible, but it’s also really helpful if I get distracted during my baking. If I’ve already put the baking powder back in its home, I won’t find myself coming back into my kitchen to resume baking only to wonder whether I already put baking powder in that bowl full of white ingredients.
Even if I’m baking multiple different recipes that may use baking powder (or whatever ingredient), I put it back each time so I can stay on track and keep up with where I am in the recipe. This is a small kitchen lifesaver for me!
3. Create new counter space.
This is a tip I picked up from my grandmother that works wonders. Once my sink is clean (see tip 1), I place a large, heavy duty wooden cutting board (like this one) over one half of my sink. The cutting board adds a lot of usable “counter space” to my kitchen and provides the perfect place for corralling the ingredients for the recipe I’m working on.
Before I start my cookies or whatever gourmet concoction I’m whipping up, I put all the ingredients on the cutting board and try to even organize them in the order I’ll be using them. This frees up all my counter space for the actual cooking and, because I took time in tip 1 to clean the sink, I still have half of my sink for running water, rinsing out measuring cups, etc.
Another way that you can create “new” space is by clearing your kitchen table off completely before you begin cooking. If I’ve got a lot of ingredients or want to have a staging area for finished goods, my kitchen table (which offers about as much space as my counters) is the perfect place.
It might also be helpful if you have a big kitchen project ahead of you to move unnecessary small appliances to another room for a few hours. Can you unplug your toaster, coffee maker, blender, etc and set them in the living room for a bit? If so, you’ll expand your usable space and have more room for rolling out dough, staging ingredients, and decorating your cookies.
4. Build up.
This might just be my favorite tip of all and one I’ve only recently picked up. It’s always after the cookies are out of the oven and cooling on racks scattered around the kitchen that I find myself really wishing for a bigger kitchen with more counter space. That’s why I’m in love with stackable cooling racks! I have this rack from King Arthur Flour and I’ve seen similar products on Amazon.
As cookies come out, I let them cool in the pans and then transfer them to a cooling rack and add it to the stack. This is a hardly a groundbreaking idea, but it has already proven to be a small kitchen lifesaver for me! I’m thinking of ordering another one before December rolls around.
Now that our counters are cleared off and our cooling racks are ready for stacking, it’s time to bake! Here are a few of my favorite Pinterest boards for baking inspiration: