Make cooking with kids fun
As you read this, I’m most likely immersed in a world of flour spills, sprinkle dumps and misplaced frosting smears. Translation: baking Christmas cookies with a 3-year-old.
But there are good ways to bake with kids, and there’s a better way.
I turned to a few experts for advice on making a cookie-baking project with kids a great experience. 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 they’re 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, which just moved from Oconomowoc to 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. Just put a damp dish towel underneath to help keep it in place.
And wooden Popsicle sticks, she said, work great for kids as frosting spreaders.
Consider the child’s age. But don’t discount the littlest ones! “Really, every step of the way kids can be involved, whether it’s cracking eggs or measuring ingredients,” said Kopperud. Or dumping in what you’ve measured. Or pushing the button on the mixer.
That said, “Work fast,” Burkert advised. “Don’t 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. “That’s what kids like to do,” said Burkert, “to get in there and handle the dough.”
But 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, she’ll explain that it’s an old German tradition.
Don’t micromanage—park your perfectionism at the kitchen door. “It’s important to let the kids make their own masterpiece,” Kopperud said.
Almond Shortbread Cookie
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¾ cup slivered almonds
- 1½ cups (3 sticks) butter, room temperature
- 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon almond extract
- 3 cups flour
Cook’s note: If you don’t have a food processor, you can skip that step; or you can use superfine sugar. You also can
substitute ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon ground almonds for the slivered almonds you would process yourself.
1. If you have a food processor, process the sugar 30 to 60 seconds until powdery.
2. Transfer to a bowl; add almonds to food processor and process until very finely chopped. Add to bowl.
3. Using a mixer, cut in butter and extracts. Add flour until thoroughly mixed. (Dough can be made entirely in a food processor; once flour has been added, process until a ball forms.) Dough can now be divided and used to make a variety of cookies, such as Chocolate Thumbprints, linzer cookies or nut crescents.