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Holidays and small ovens can bake up memories

By Stephanie Stone | China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-04 08:55
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Anyone will tell you that, aside from the people, the best part of any holiday is the food. Unequivocally. Holiday foods are iconic: Thanksgiving turkeys. Mid-Autumn Festival mooncakes. Fourth of July BBQ. Dragon Boat festival zongzi. For Christmas, cookies are king! It's not a Christmas party without a platter of at least three different types of cookies. Frosted sugar cookies, chocolate crinkles and spiced molasses are among my Christmas favorites, not to mention my family classic, pizzelles, which require a special waffle-style press to make.

Families spend days making cookies. It's akin to stuffing and crimping dumplings. It's not too difficult, just takes time. Gathering everyone around the table to help out and chat is a delightful way to get into the holiday spirit. Whether living in a full house or as a single, I've always enjoyed baking and found it calming. It's such a part of my holiday habit that it's a borderline compulsion. I can't not bake cookies at Christmas!

The challenge of baking in China is that a critical component is often missing. An oven. Chinese cuisine is impressively diverse and the need for an oven never seems to have arisen so the majority of apartments are, understandably, sans oven. Here's where foreigners, if they haven't done so already, quickly learn to use Taobao and buy themselves a toaster oven. This is an excellent kitchen addition, though they are significantly smaller than a standard oven. It also means that holiday baking time is doubled. You will literally spend days baking after work, even though cookie dough comes together in under 20 minutes. Six cookies at a time, 8 minutes per tray, multiplied by at least 16 trays (can't have under 100 cookies for the myriad of holiday parties), and the time adds up quickly. Myself, I turn on the holiday baking shows and let that wholesome TV warm my soul while I make cookies.

Holiday baking challenges in China don't end there, however. Imagine it's Christmas Eve. You've rented a house with friends or gathered at someone's large apartment. You're preparing your Christmas feast! But there's only one oven. And it's a third the size of a conventional oven. This is one instance where size does matter. With larger ovens at home where you can toss a couple of casseroles and a ham all in there together, you now have to bake in batches. It pays to have someone good at strategy at your party. You must work out which dish can be cooked in advance and then warmed up, say, in the microwave. Which dishes finish quickly, which can be relegated to the stove and which need to bake for hours. Drawing up this plan is critical if anyone wants to eat before midnight. The process takes roughly-all day.

Despite all these adjustments, holiday baking is, in essence, the same as ever it was: a joyous time to gather together and make memories. There are always games, songs and laughs to be had in the kitchen and though the baking strategy system might cause some scheduling conflicts, at the end of the day, if you're with the people you love, it's all worth it. Happy holidays to you and yours!

Stephanie Stone
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