Facing a Thanksgiving baking emergency? Call this hotline

By Kate Bradshaw, Bay Area News Group

So you’re on the hook for making the Thanksgiving meal happen, but the prospect of prepping yeasted breads wakes you up in a cold sweat. Or maybe a cousin decided to bring a guest who is … gasp … a vegan.

Don’t despair, frazzled home chefs. Vermont’s King Arthur Baking Company runs a baking hotline — and email and chat — that pairs struggling bakers with pros to navigate any baking project. Those professional bakers are standing by — at 855-371-2253 and www.kingarthurbaking.com/bakers-hotline — from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PST weekdays and 6 to 1 p.m. PST weekends.

We asked hotline baking specialist Dawn Hope to share some of her tried-and-true tips — and warnings —for Thanksgiving baking.

Q: What’s your backstory?

A: Like a lot of other people I work with on the hotline, I was a former professional baker — I worked in a bakery for decades and I used to work for decorators in New York City. My whole life has been in food. My job is not only to be an ambassador and an educator about King Arthur Baking company, but to help people reach their baking goals. It is amazing to have people call us and let us into their home to talk about the experiences they’re trying to create or the challenges they’re having in the kitchen.

We have already started getting phone calls about people prepping their fruitcakes for Christmas, their treats for Hanukkah and, of course, for the Super Bowl of food: Thanksgiving.

Q: How do things change as Thanksgiving approaches?

A: The questions get more varied. People are baking desserts for their once-a-year events. Some people are trying to re-create old family recipes or change them for new dietary needs. We get a range of experience levels, and we also get a range of ages. I have a lot of families calling to do baking projects together this time of year.

Q: What are some of the more common Thanksgiving baking challenges?

A: People want to know what they can make ahead of time. I think they are generally surprised at the huge list of things that you can make ahead. We get the most questions about pies and pie crust. Pie making can be intimidating, but there are simple fixes to make your pie baking easier. The other thing is when people have someone who can’t have gluten or dairy or is vegan, and they want to be mindful of everyone while they’re gathering.

Q:  And dinner rolls?

A: After pie crusts, the next wave of questions coming are: How can I make my rolls ahead? How do I get rolls on the table that are warm and fresh? We don’t generally recommend freezing dough. However, we do have some tips. Making your rolls the day before, letting them rest in the refrigerator overnight and baking them the day-of is typically what works best for most bakers. You certainly could bake your rolls ahead, freeze them and then refresh them in the oven. If you really want to freeze your dough, then you would bring it to room temperature four to five hours ahead of time and then bake it right before the meal, but you would need to be really mindful of your proofing time. Generally, I would recommend prepping them the day before and putting them overnight in the refrigerator to rise slowly.

I love our big batch dinner rolls — I think they’re so homey and delicious. I also like our Amish dinner rolls. They’re made with mashed potatoes, and they remind me of growing up. I usually make both of those for Thanksgiving along with some cornbread.

These dinner rolls are among the different recipes suggested for Thanksgiving baking by Vermont-based King Arthur Baking Company, which operates a hotline to advise bakers. (Courtesy King Arthur Baking Company)

Q: Can you share any Thanksgiving disasters — and fixes?

A: Last year — I felt so bad for this for this baker! —she made her rolls the day before and left them to cool on the porch, and her dog ate them. So they were gone. I got a panicked call the next day. We have a quick and easy roll recipe with a short proofing time. We walked her through it and she let me know after the fact that it worked out. We have a lot of mishaps like that. We also have a lot of calls on Wednesday like “I didn’t know that someone coming to Thanksgiving is non-dairy!” So we try to keep some quick dessert options in our back pocket to provide for those situations. We really try to anticipate what our bakers are going to need.

Q: What’s are some of your favorite dessert recipes for guests with dietary restrictions?

A: My go-to, if you have someone vegan coming, and you find out the night before, is probably one of our oldest recipes, our King Arthur’s original cake pan cake. It’s a one-bowl, no mixer, very easy recipe that tastes delicious even without icing (which contains dairy). If it’s a true last-minute thing? Last year, I recommended someone make the vegan no-bake chocolate cream pie filling and serve it in little ramekins as an elevated pudding, with a vegan whipped topping from unsweetened coconut cream and confectioner’s sugar and some shaved chocolate on top.

Q: Any other advice for holiday bakers?

A: There’s so much stress around this one very important meal, but we’re here to help anyone who needs to call. There’s no bigger joy than helping someone work through their very special holiday recipes. I remind a lot of my friends who call for advice to keep it cool, enjoy it, and remember that it’s just one day and one meal. It’s really about just being together.

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