As you read this, Im most likely happily immersed in a world of flour spills, sprinkle dumps and misplaced frosting smears. Translation: baking Christmas cookies with a 3-year-old.
My daughter and I started this three-generation tradition last year; and yes, 2-year-olds really can help bake cookies.
Think about your own childhood. If cookies werent the first thing you baked with your mom or dad, they were probably the most frequent reason behind any hands-on project in the kitchen.
But like anything, theres a good way to bake with kids, and theres a better way.
I turned to a few experts instructors who teach kids cooking classes for their advice on making a cookie-baking project with kids the best experience it can be (for everyone).
Here are their tips:
• Have everything ready ahead before you call in the kiddos, advised Caroline Burkert of Kids Can Cook in Elm Grove, Wis. Ingredients out, equipment on the counter.
For her classes, she has cookies baked ahead so the kids sample first. To taste what theyre going to make is a big encouragement to them, she said.
• Pace yourself. If attention spans are short, do one tray with the kids and finish the rest later yourself. Or spread it out over a couple of days, suggests Nancy Kopperud, owner of The Petite Chef kids cooking school in Dousman, Wis.
She suggests phases: one for decorated cookies that are the messiest, another for simpler drop cookies.
• Contain the mess. Kopperud gives each child a large baking sheet with sides (like a jellyroll pan) as their personal work space for decorating cookies. Put a damp dish towel underneath to help keep it in place.
Wooden Popsicle sticks, she said, work great for kids as frosting spreaders.
• Consider the childs age, but dont discount the littlest ones. Really, every step of the way kids can be involved, whether its cracking eggs or measuring ingredients, said Kopperud. Or dumping in what youve measured. Or pushing the button on the mixer.
That said, Work fast, Burkert advised. Dont make it too involved.
• Consider your recipe choices. Cut-out cookies are a natural. Any sort of tool you can incorporate makes it more fun for them, Kopperud said. Working with a cookie press is like packing it with Play-Doh, she said.
• Cookies that need to be shaped by hand are also winners. Thats what kids like to do, said Burkert, to get in there and handle the dough.
• Stick to foolproof recipes, advised Laura Verage, which is what she does when doing kids baking parties through her Colgate, Wis., business, Cookies from Scratch. This is not the time to try something new, she said.
• With older kids, especially, dig beneath the recipe. I like to do cookies that have some history, Kopperud said. Bring the story into it. For example, if she does a cookie with anise, shell explain that its an old German tradition.
• Dont micromanage. Park your perfectionism at the kitchen door. Thats a mistake, Kopperud said of hovering parents. I see that a lot. Its important to let the kids make their own masterpiece.
• Finally, believe that its worth the extra effort, time and mess.
Learning baking fundamentals, Verge said, is something you carry with you forever.
Nancy J. Stohs is food editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Email her at nstohsjournalsentinel.com.
Almond Shortbread Cookie Dough
This recipe is great for baking with children because it can be worked and reworked (kids like to handle dough) and won’t get tough the way sugar cookie dough can. This recipe is meant to be divided in thirds and can be used to make linzer cookies, nut crescents and chocolate thumbprints (see accompanying recipe.) Note: If you don’t have a food processor, you can skip that step or you can use superfine sugar. You also can substitute 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon ground almonds for the slivered almonds you would process yourself.
1/2 cup granulated sugar (see note)
3/4 cup slivered almonds (see note)
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups flour
PROCESS sugar in a food processor for 30 to 60 seconds until powdery. Transfer to a bowl; add almonds to food processor and process until very finely chopped. Add almonds to sugar.
USE a standing mixer, a hand-held mixer or a large food processor to mix this dough. Place almonds and sugar in the work bowl. Cut in butter and extracts until combined. Add flour until thoroughly mixed and a ball forms.
DIVIDE dough in thirds and use it to make the chocolate thumbprints.
1/3 batch of almond shortbread cookie dough (see accompanying recipe)
1/4 cup coarse sugar
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter
PREHEAT oven to 325 degrees.
USE about 1 teaspoon of dough to form a ball. Dip in sugar. Repeat until dough is gone. Place on ungreased cookie sheet 1 inch apart. Press center with your thumb to make an indentation.
BAKE in preheated oven 10 minutes, then turn pan around and bake 8 to 10 minutes more until lightly browned. Remove to rack to cool.
MELT chocolate chips and butter together in microwave for 20 to 30 seconds. Stir until smooth. Fill centers of cooled cookies with chocolate and let set.
Yield: 30 cookies