Gone are the days of spending every possible hour of daylight outside. Now, we’re in the thick of winter, and the last thing you want to do is stand outside grilling some burgers. (Stand close enough to the grill though, and you will stay warm…) Bowls of soup, mugs of hot cocoa, warm fireplaces and a new show to binge watch are what’s on the menu for winter.

If you’re up for a new challenge in 2020, consider adding some new cooking and baking projects to your winter weekend activities. Actually wanting to stay indoors gives you all the more reason to try out recipes that are labor and time intensive, but very much worth the effort. Tackle a new project each weekend, and before you know it, winter will be over!

Pasta is a pantry staple to have on hand for quick meals. Homemade pasta, on the other hand, is not a five-minute recipe, but will turn your kitchen into a restaurant and you into its head chef. If you have a pasta maker, now is the time to dust it off. If not, don’t worry—you’ll just get a bit more of an upper arm workout using a rolling pin.

This basic pasta recipe is a great one to start with. A high ratio of egg yolks to egg whites yields a rich, delicate pasta with lots of flavor. This dough is best for pasta strands, not stuffed pasta like ravioli, as the higher fat content makes the dough less elastic. You can cut it wide or narrow, whichever you prefer, but be sure to roll it out as thinly as possible, and don’t forget to salt your cooking water!

To let the taste of your homemade pasta shine through, keep it simple and serve it with this Cacio e Pepe sauce. You can also use some fresh pesto (or frozen if you have any leftover from the summer), an eggplant tomato sauce or your favorite other sauce.

Puff Pastry
Just like pasta, puff pastry can easily be bought in the grocery store. This flaky, buttery dough is very labor intensive, but such a feat to accomplish. The paper-thin layers are formed when the liquid from the butter and dough evaporate in the oven, creating space and puffing the layers up.

To get these layers, you make a buttery dough and then layer it with more butter, rolling and repeating several times until you get your final dough. Called a “turn,” this technique involves wrapping dough around a block of butter, rolling it thin, wrapping it and rolling out again. You repeat this process several times, making sure the butter stays cool yet pliable throughout your turns. This resource shares several tips for making the perfect puff pastry.

Fill your homemade puff pastry with cheese and make traditional bourekas, or go for sweet pastries, like this apple galette or Napoleon cream cake.

Thin crepes are a versatile treat that can easily go sweet or savory and be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The recipe is pretty simple, but the actual preparation takes a while since you have to cook each crepe individually. While they cook like pancakes, they’re thinner, so you’ll want to keep a very close eye on them to keep them from burning.

If you’re up for the challenge, fill your crepes with cheese or potatoes for homemade blintzes. This is a great activity for a group, since one person can cook the crepes while others help fill and roll them. You can even freeze them to enjoy the fruits of your labor for many weeks to come.

If you’ve ever made challah, then babka is the perfect baking challenge for you. The dough has more butter, making it richer and a bit trickier to work with, but definitely worth the sweet reward that awaits you at the end.

You’ll want to set aside a few hours to make your babka, since the dough needs two good rises. Use the first rise to make your filling. A traditional babka is filled with chocolate, but you can also get creative and fill it with peanut butter or make your own baklava filling for a Baklava Babka.

You’ll then roll out the dough into thin rectangles, fill them and roll them back up tightly into logs. You’ll then cut these logs in half lengthwise, so that the layers of filling are revealed. It may look messy when you twist everything together, but rest assured that it bakes up—and, more importantly, tastes—incredible.

Let these four challenges motivate you through the cold winter months and into a warm, delicious smelling kitchen. There’s never been a better time to put your culinary skills to test and develop some new techniques!

Photo by Elle Hughes on Unsplash