I don't think I'd been cooking for more than six months when I had one of those eureka moments. I'd spent an entire day racing across New York City shopping for food and the next whole day cooking it, only to have my houseful of guests go gaga over the simplest dish of the night: a big, buttery Bundt cake.
I'd seen it before and I've seen it since, but it was that evening, more than 30 years ago, when I realized what was at play and how primal it was. No matter how much I'd fussed over dinner and no matter how good dinner was, the offering of a homemade dessert trumped it all—and it always would. We never get over the idea that dessert is a reward and that a dessert that's homemade is a sign of affection.
Of course there's no time better than the holidays to have homemade sweets on hand—no time busier, either. But, happily, lots of sweets can be baked early, stowed in the freezer, and pulled out at party time, their taste, texture, good looks, and power to delight completely intact. Here's how to get it right—plus a few no-fail recipes for bake-and-freeze desserts.
Begin with butter
Pound cakes, tight-grained loaf cakes, sturdy Bundts, brownies, cookies—all the butter-based sweets—freeze best.
Freeze pies raw
Fruit pies make fine freezables, but you should get them into the freezer right after they're assembled. Then, pull out and bake.
Don't freeze creams
Meringues, puddings, custards, creams, mousses, and whips don't freeze well—some break down, some weep, and they all lose their lovely textures in the defrosting process.
Cool first, freeze second
A sweet isn't really finished until it's cooled—cooling is what sets the texture and gives the flavors time to blend.
Pack it airtight
Oxygen is what causes freezer burn. There are fancy freezer containers on the market, but old-school twist-tied plastic bags or plastic wrap is most effective. Because the seal should be snug, draw together the top of the bag, then suck out as much air as possible before shutting it tight with a twist tie.
Put the name of your goody on the bag (mystery cakes are as frustrating as mystery meat), and mark the date that you made it.
It's best to put the frozen dessert—still in its wrapping—in the refrigerator to defrost overnight, then bring it to room temperature before serving. If you're in a rush, go directly from freezer to counter. Never defrost frozen desserts in the microwave. That's a sure-fire way to cook or melt them.
Don't be smug
You're bound to feel like a genius, a hero, a magician—even a saint—when, after pulling out all the stops for dinner, you also pull out a homemade dessert. Try not to crow.
Dorie Greenspan is an award-winning cookbook author, including Baking: From My Home to Yours (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).