The Ultimate Holiday Baking Tips From An Expert

Carissa's the Bakery

One of Katie Couric’s favorite bakers shares advice for beginners to experts

One of my favorite places is Carissa’s The Bakery, near my home in East Hampton, New York. I stocked up on owner (and baker!) Carissa Waechter’s pumpkin brioche rolls at Thanksgiving, and I eat far too much of her buttery monkey bread. So I knew that Carissa would be the perfect person to reach out to about baking around the holidays. Here, she shares her expert tips for bakers of all levels of expertise.

Katie Couric: There’s so much going on in December. People host their family, they attend parties, and a lot of the time, they want to bring baked goods — or they at least feel like they should. What advice do you have for beginner bakers?

Carissa Waechter: Well, my biggest rule of thumb always is just to have fun with it. And remember: You can call your dish “rustic” if you need — or if it looks burnt, you just call it “smoked.” There’s this very artisan, earthy scene that’s kind of happening, so you can’t go wrong and you can just pretend like that was your intention.

But what I’d recommend a beginner baker start out with would be something that we’re doing at the bakery right now: Apple cider cheesecakes, which are designed to be super rustic-looking and you don’t have to be skilled. It’s a delicious cheesecake recipe, where the end result is actually cracked and kind of burnt-looking.

Or more generally, I’d recommend chocolate chip cookies. Everybody should start with chocolate chip cookies. It’s super easy. You don’t need any equipment. There are so many fail-proof recipes. They’re often really forgiving. Even if you burn them, they still taste delicious. There is nothing that ice cream can’t fix…

Excellent! So, what about someone who’s more of an intermediate? They’ve mastered the art of cookies. They can make a sheet cake. What’s the next sort of thing you would recommend they attempt?

Pies because they’re very satisfying when they come out. Again, they’re also pretty forgiving and there’s lots of room for having fun with a crutch. If you feel comfortable, or if you don’t feel comfortable, a delicious rustic-looking pie — you really can’t go wrong with it.

What about someone who is the baker of their friend group or in their family? They probably don’t have your level of expertise, but they’re pretty close to it…

I think that showing up with a delicious loaf of bread that you made is actually impressive. It’s the most simple thing in the world, but people are quite impressed with it. But if that sounds kind of boring to you, then I would go with making your own ice cream — or baking eclairs, because those are super satisfying. They’re a little bit finicky. But if you do it right, it’s so poofy, and delicious and very impressive. Your friends will go nuts.

That’s awesome. So, what do you like to bake around the holidays?

In general, we pull all-nighters at the bakery right before the actual holiday, so it’s a long week of basically eating nothing but bread and pies and cookies. So I would tend to want something lighter like sorbet or ice cream, and definitely boozy. For Thanksgiving, I met my friends and I brought them pies and stuff like that from the bakery, of course. But then I took our ice cream, and we added espresso to it, so we made it Affogato.

Awesome. And do you have any holiday traditions of your own?

My closest friends out here are generally off on Thanksgiving — and the bakery is always super busy. So Thanksgiving morning, I round up all of my friends and everybody is so sweet. In exchange for a pie, they all work at the bakery. We do things like a hot toddy station, and there’s this one guy who’s responsible for walking around and making sure everybody’s happy. I love my staff so much — I give them all hugs, give them all pies, wish them off to their holiday dinners. And then, my friends who have worked through the day… we rest, and then eat real food, not just pies.

Do you do something similar for Christmas or is that more of a family affair?

Christmas is big out East. It’s not quite as huge as Thanksgiving. So we do a lot of decorated cakes and cookies. We try to keep the menu different, just to keep things exciting. We’re doing pop-ups in the city this year on Fridays at Alison Lou. It’s a jewelry store that’s one of our close friends. Then on New Year’s Eve, now that we have the cafe and the restaurant, we’ll definitely be doing something exciting with truffles, caviar and all that good stuff.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

This originally appeared on