Bake in Bulk

Cooking and baking from scratch are hallmarks of the homesteading movement.  In fact, a majority of people who opt to homestead got started on their journey due to a desire to eat and feed their families better.  What begins with a goal of three wholesome meals, loving prepared, often turns into a chore.  Planning, shopping, and preparing meals takes work!  And the time spent in the kitchen can be used on other homestead projects.  Fortunately, it is very easy to cut the time you spend in the kitchen while still feeding your family the very best.  With a little planning, you can bake in bulk, keep a supply of freezer meals on hand, and create your own DIY TV dinners.  Garden surplus and baking ingredients can also be frozen, allowing you to make use of everything you have worked so hard to grow.

Whether you set aside a full day each week to bake and freeze, or double each meal you cook, your freezer will quickly fill up with homemade meals.  Freezing is a basic preservation technique, but there are some tricks that will increase the quality of the food, decrease the risk of foodborne illness, and save you a ton of time and stress.

First, before wrapping any food for the freezer, it must be thoroughly cooled.  Wrapping warm baked goods will cause them to become soggy.  Freezing warm foods also presents a safety concern, as it can cause the frozen foods in your freezer to defrost slightly, making them susceptible to contamination.

The second thing you should always do is label the containers with the name of the item and the date you popped it into the freezer.  You think you will remember what is in all those freezer bags, but you won’t.  There are few things more disappointing than discovering the strawberries you are thawing for your ice cream are actually beets. A clear label will save time and prevent unnecessary mistakes.

Another tip for hassle-free meals is to freeze your items in the appropriate portion sizes.  A family of three doesn’t need to freeze a lasagna for twelve.  You may also want to freeze individual portions as well as those large enough for the whole family.

Finally, treat your home kitchen as if it were a commercial kitchen.  When preserving foods at home, it is especially important to rotate foods by date.  Restaurants call this “first in, first out.”  A good rotation system prevents food waste and ensures you are consuming your meals before the suggested expiration date.

Before you can begin freezing surplus in earnest, you need to prepare your kitchen for cooking and baking in bulk.  Make the most of your oven space by adding a heat-safe cooling rack to the bottom, giving you another surface to cook on.  On the day of the big bake, clean off a large space on your counter so you have plenty of space both to prep your food and cool it when it comes out of the oven.

Freezing Baked Goods

Baked goods are very simple to make and freeze, and despite what you may have heard, freezing baked goods often increases the moisture content.  Baked items store and reheat better if you freeze them individually before storing a batch in a container or freezer bag.

Pancakes, waffles, and biscuits are perfect candidates for the freezer because it does not take any extra time to double or triple the recipe and they are a lifesaver on hectic mornings.  Completely cool your extra items and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer.  When biscuits are frozen, toss them into a freezer bag (labeled and dated).  Freeze waffles and pancakes on a cookie sheet as well, but when they are frozen, layer waxed paper between each portion and store them in a container or freezer bag.  The waxed paper prevents them from sticking together, making it easy to grab and go.

Cookies can be frozen in two different ways.  If you want to have cookies at the ready for a quick snack or to offer unexpected guests, make a batch, freeze, and store as you would pancakes.  They can thaw in the refrigerator or you can warm them in the oven.  If, on the other hand, you love the smell of cookies baking, simply mix the batter, wrap, and freeze.  If you roll your batter into a log and wrap it in plastic wrap, you have slice-and-bake cookies.

Cakes can be baked three months in advance, wrapped in foil or plastic wrap, and frozen in individual layers.  Let the cake thaw in the refrigerator before frosting.  Buttercream icing will freeze well for two months.  Let it defrost overnight in the refrigerator, bring it to room temperature, and beat it briefly before spreading it on your cake.

Bread dough is a surprisingly successful freezer item.  When making bread, double the recipe and freeze the second portion.  Bread dough can be frozen after it has been punched down after proofing.  Freeze it on a lightly oiled cookie sheet before wrapping in cling wrap.  Bread dough can be frozen for up to six months.  When you are ready to bake, remove the plastic wrap, place it on a lightly oiled sheet, and cover it with a damp tea towel.  Let it thaw and rise until it has doubled in bulk and bake as usual.

Freezing Ingredients

Full meals can be cooked and frozen, and I recommend you stock your freezer with a couple of ready meals, a.k.a. DIY TV dinners.  However, since cooking is the heart of the family for a lot of people, it can be a better idea to freeze ingredients in bulk.  This allows you to make good use of any garden and farmers’ market surplus, cuts cooking time, and allows for the family time that is part of cooking.

Rice plays a big role in a lot of meals and it is an ingredient that is very easy to freeze.  Simply cook the rice of your choice according to package instructions, let cool completely, and freeze it in a container or freezer bag.  Reheat frozen rice in a pan with a small amount of water on medium-low.  For recipes that call for rice to be added in, such as stews or casseroles, simply add the frozen rice directly.

If your garden had an abundance of leafy greens, or you scored a good deal at your local market, you can freeze them in portion sizes as well.  Freezing greens is straightforward, but it does require a bit more preparation.  First, discard any discolored or wilted leaves.  Small leaves can be frozen whole but the larger leaves should be chopped into smaller pieces.  Wash the greens then blanch them in small batches.  Cool immediately in ice water then drain well.  Pack the greens in freezer containers and top with ice water, leaving a ½” headspace for expansion.  Greens can stay in the freezer for a year.

Bunches of Fresh Herbs from the garden for cooking

Herbs can be frozen as well.  Remove leaves from the stem and pack in ice trays.  Cover with water or oil, depending on how you will cook with them, and freeze.  Once frozen, store herb ice cubes in a freezer bag.

Eggs can also be frozen.  To freeze egg whites, separate eggs, making sure you have removed all the yolk.  Freeze the whites in ice cube trays before transferring them to a freezer bag. To freeze egg yolks successfully, you need to beat in either 1/8 teaspoon of salt or 1 ½ teaspoon of sugar per four yolks.  This prevents the yolks from becoming overly gelatinous.  Freeze in ice cube trays before transferring to a freezer bag.  When you label the egg yolks, be sure to note whether you added salt (savory dishes) or sugar (sweet items).

Baking and cooking in bulk is an easy way to alleviate stress, save time and money, and enjoy home-cooked meals.  As homesteaders, we try to always work smarter, not harder. There is no reason this maxim should not extend to the kitchen!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.