How to Stress Bake Without Waste
Being cooped up inside and always a little on edge has only one natural remedy: stress baking. By this point, we've all made at least three loaves of bread, a couple dozen cookies, a batch or two of muffins, and, hey, just for the heck of it, a thee-tier cake. It felt right.
Thanks to all that stirring, kneading, and recipe-following, our stress is gone. But the 24 slices of bread, 36 cookies, 18 muffins, and remaining three-quarters of a decadent frosted cake—oh boy, they are all very much present. And going stale.
You don't have to force yourself to eat three pieces of cake every day to prevent your goods from going to waste, nor do you have to give up the one activity that still brings you joy. We talked to two seasoned pastry chefs—Chicago-based pastry chef and founder of pastry consulting company Sweet Bee Jessica Ellington and award-winning pastry chef and cookbook author Jenny McCoy—to get all the info and inspo you need for giving your stress bakes a second life. Get their comprehensive tips for freezing and reusing baked goods, then get back in the kitchen—you've got some stress to relieve.
When it comes to baking, the freezer is your friend. "In the pastry world, we really look at the freezer as a part of our tool kit," Ellington says. "Don't be afraid to put things in the freezer."
There are two ways to freeze baked goods: raw or baked. Ellington and McCoy break down the basics of what to freeze and how to freeze it so you can plan your bakes better.
What to freeze raw
Generally, things that aren't liquid-y (aka aren't baked from batter) can be frozen raw. Here are some of the most common baked goods you might want to freeze in their raw form:
- Cookies. Instead of baking up four dozen cookies at once, freeze some of the dough in pre-formed balls, Ellington says. "Scoop them onto a tray, put them in the freezer, and once solid, store them in a zip-top bags so you can pull out what you want when you want to bake them."
- Other doughs. Pie doughs, cobbler doughs, pizza doughs, and biscuits all keep well in their raw states.
- Croissants. Roll and shape your croissants, then pop all or just some of them into the freezer.
- Sweet rolls. Cinnamon rolls or other rolls with filling can be formed and frozen raw.
- Whole pies. "You could freeze an apple pie in its raw state, or something like a French silk pie would freeze really well," Ellington says.
What to freeze baked
Things made from batters generally need to be baked before you can freeze them. Here are some of the most common goods you can freeze baked:
- Quick breads and yeasted breads. "You can slice it up and put the slices in a zip-top bag in the freezer," Ellington says, or you can freeze whole loaves and refresh them in the oven later. (Muffins go in this category!)
- Cake. You can store unassembled cake layers for later use, or you can put filling in them and freeze the entire cake, then just cover with frosting when you're ready to eat.
- Cupcakes. Same idea as with cake, here, as these are just mini cakes: Store un-iced cupcakes in the freezer, then frost before eating.
- Cookies. If you don't go the frozen dough route but still don't want four dozen cookies tempting you on the counter, stick a couple dozen in a zip-top bag and store in the freezer.
How to freeze
"The No. 1 thing to think about when storing baked goods is that air is the enemy," Ellington says. "You want to do whatever you can to prevent air getting to your cookie dough or cake layer." (This rule applies when your baked goods are sitting on the countertop, too.)
Wrap items as tightly as possible in plastic wrap, a wax-coated cloth, foil—anything you've got works. Then place it in a zip-top bag or storage-container, if you can, for extra protection.
With things you want to keep moist, like breads and cakes, don't let them cool completely before wrapping and freezing. "The little bit of remaining heat will come out of the bread as steam, and if you capture that moisture while it's freezing, it will retain it during storage."
How to thaw
Thaw goods the way you store them, Ellington says. If it's something that normally goes in the refrigerator, thaw it in the fridge. If it's something that sits on the counter, thaw it there. But keep things wrapped as they thaw. "That's the most important thing," Ellington says, "because you're going to get condensation going from your cool freezer to the refrigerator or counter, and you want that condensation to land on whatever you have it wrapped in rather than on your dessert."
If you've baked more than you can (or want) to chew—after five days in a row of banana bread, you're kind of over it—and the freezer's not an option, it's time to get creative. Ellington and McCoy have lots of ideas for turning cookies, cakes, and breads into new dishes.
Banana breads, muffins, pancakes, and all other breads you make without yeast (hence the "quick" part) can be transformed into lots of new foods. Here are some ideas:
- Bread pudding. Tear or slice up your leftover bread, combine with custard, and bake into a flavorful bread pudding. This is a great fix for stale bread—the custard and baking will refresh it. Just make sure not to add sugar to the custard, as your banana bread or pound cake's got plenty of sweetness already, McCoy says.
- French toast. Any quick bread could make a tasty (and differently flavored) French toast. Try slicing an un-iced cinnamon roll in half, dipping into an egg mixture, and frying it in butter for French toast unlike any you've had before. Recipe: Try our Spiced French Toast.
- Fancy toast. Sometimes getting creative with toast toppings is all you need to make that bread loaf exciting again. Toast a slice of banana bread and top it with any combination of nut butters, jams, yogurt, fresh fruit, nuts, and more.
- Griddled muffins. Aka muffin toast. Aka the best thing ever. "I slice muffins, melt a little butter in the pan, and just cook them in the butter on each side," McCoy says. "It crisps them up a tiny bit and refreshes them, and they're so good. It's wrong. I only eat muffin toast now."
- Add extract. "When you're turning something old into something new, you have to consider, 'Okay, I didn't get through all that pound cake or banana bread to begin with; am I really going to eat it as bread pudding?'" McCoy says. If you're worn out on the flavor, give it a new taste by adding some extract. A few drops of lemon extract in your pound cake bread pudding or almond extract in your banana bread French toast mix give it a whole new flavor profile.
Everyone's trying to master sourdough right now, which is cool, but when you get sick of toast and already have plenty of breadcrumbs, here are some ways to transform those loaves.
- Panzanella. We all know stale bread makes great croutons, but take it a step further and turn that loaf into a bread-based salad. Just cube your bread, top it with olive oil, and mix with whatever salad fixings you'd like—veggies, fruit, cheese, balsamic. Recipe: Try our Chicken Panzanella Salad.
- Casseroles. Bread is great to toss into casseroles. "I love making baked egg casseroles," McCoy says. Cube bread or layer slices of it with deli meats, cheese, and veggies, then cover it all with custard, sprinkle on whatever spices you want, and bake it into a delicious breakfast (or dinner!) Recipe: Try our Croque Monsieur Casserole.
- French toast and bread pudding. Just as with quick breads, regular loaf breads make delicious slices of French toast or sweet bread pudding. And since your bread's plain, you can get crafty with flavors. Recipe: Try our Sourdough Bread Pudding with Hot Honey Sauce.
If your cookies are starting to go bad or you (gasp!) just aren't that interested in eating them anymore, you can bring their sweet flavor and crunchy texture to plenty of other stuff.
- Pie crust. Grind cookies up into small crumbs, add a bit of melted butter, and press into a pan to form a flavored pie crust.
- Cookie butter. Cookie butter's always good, especially when it's homemade. Grind cookies of any flavor in a food processor until it forms a paste. Generally cookies have plenty of fat and oils already, but if you need to help them along, add a bit of water or melted coconut oil. Keep the butter in the fridge.
- Ice cream sandwiches. Take a dozen or so cookies, sandwich them with ice cream, then pop them in the freezer for quick and easy desserts.
- Streusel. Crumble up cookies and use them as streusel for your other bakes or add the crumbs into your streusel mix for more flavor.
- Sprinkle them on everything. Break your cookies into chunks or crumbs and fold into ice cream, sprinkle atop pancakes, use as layers in a dessert parfait—the possibilities are just about endless.
Cakes & cupcakes
Cakes are fun until day three of eating them, when you start having flashbacks to that scene in Matilda where Bruce Bogtrotter is forced to eat a huge chocolate cake and everyone is watching him with sympathetic yet disgusted faces because it's just not right for a human to eat that much cake. Let's eliminate those flashbacks, shall we, by turning that cake into something less triggering.
- Cake balls. An instant classic and a much more manageable portion size. Frosted cakes will stick together easily, but if you need a bit more "glue," add more frosting or some other paste, like Nutella or nut butter. Dip into melted chocolate or other toppings and store in the fridge.
- Birthday cake ice cream/milkshakes. Fold chunks of whatever cake you made (red velvet would be bomb) into ice cream, or blend a slice of cake with ice cream to make a cake shake.
- Toasted cake crumbs. "I love toasted cake crumbs," Ellington says. "You can sprinkle them on so many things for a sweet crunch." Crumble up un-iced cakes and toast in the oven until they're golden. The toasty crumbs are delicious on ice cream, pie, or anything else.
- Pie crusts and bread pudding. Just as with cookies and breads, you can turn cakes into pie crusts and bread puddings!