Let the Good Times Roll

Host a kids’ cookie party, and create sweet memories

As Cameron Schuchman squeezes decorating icing out of a piping bag, a blob of icing comes out of the top of the bag onto her hand. Disposable piping bags are convenient for kids to use, but it’s important to seal the tops well.
As Cameron Schuchman squeezes decorating icing out of a piping bag, a blob of icing comes out of the top of the bag onto her hand. Disposable piping bags are convenient for kids to use, but it’s important to seal the tops well.
Hunter Tenney, 10, right, samples a few M&M candies, as Kieran Sonbuchner, 11, left, and Cecilia Tenney, 16, decorate gingerbread people.
Hunter Tenney, 10, right, samples a few M&M candies, as Kieran Sonbuchner, 11, left, and Cecilia Tenney, 16, decorate gingerbread people.
For a successful holiday baking party, experts say assemble lots of cookie cutters, mix up the dough in advance and try not to worry about the mess.
For a successful holiday baking party, experts say assemble lots of cookie cutters, mix up the dough in advance and try not to worry about the mess.

Baking decorated holiday cookies can seem overwhelming, especially when children are thrown into the mix.

While there’s no avoiding the noise and the mess, a little preparation and the right attitude can make the activity fun for the whole family.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to live in the chaos. You just have to accept it,” said Laura Gnewuch, who leads cooking classes for all ages at the Herb C. Young Community Center in Cary.

Don’t worry about the decibel level, she says. A noisy group is engaged with each other, participating and having fun. Music in the kitchen can also set a holiday mood or entertain the bakers as they wait for cookies to come out of the oven.

Noelle Keister, 17, center, prepares cut-out cookies to head into the oven. The young bakers are, from left, Cameron Schuchman, 7, Charlotte Livingston, 8, Maddison Schuchman, 10, and Flora Tenney, 8.

“I always have music playing, soft as I’m giving directions,” Gnewuch said. “But when they’ve got their heads down or something’s cooking, I’ll turn it up a little bit, so we have a dancing kitchen.”

Helen Tenney has been decorating holiday cookies with her family since her 16-year-old was tiny. She still dislikes the mess generated, but she’s found a good way to convince her three children to help clean up. Once the cookies are decorated, they can’t be eaten until the kitchen is tidy again.

“They’re really motivated by cookies,” she said. “Call it bribery; call it what you want — positive reinforcement. They know those cookies are there, and they will get two, three, whatever you feel like. They get them once everything’s cleaned up.”

Tenney and Gnewuch also say that it’s vital to know your group, and be realistic about what they can accomplish. Teens can mix up batches of dough and help younger siblings. Some youngsters may dump entire bottles of sprinkles on one cookie, or others might prefer to eat all the decorations without the cookie.

And that’s OK. It’s all about making memories — not cookies.

Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies
Yield: 4 dozen cookies

Cooking instructor Laura Gnewuch says most children don’t care to eat gingerbread, but enjoy making ginger people. Create a milder tasting cookie by decreasing the amount of spice and using honey in the recipe.

While chilling this dough isn’t crucial, the flavors will develop more and the dough will be easier to handle if it rests in the fridge for a few hours.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup dark brown sugar
¾ cup molasses or honey
2 large eggs
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice or cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until smooth. Mix in molasses or honey; beat in eggs one at a time.

Sift together flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to bowl a cup at a time, mixing after every addition. The dough will be very stiff, so you may need to mix in the last of the flour by hand.

Divide dough in half. On a floured surface, roll the dough 1/4-inch thick. Cut out shapes with a floured cookie cutter. Transfer cookies to baking sheet and bake for 7-8 minutes, or until the top isn’t shiny anymore and the edges start to crisp up. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes and transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

 

Noelle Keister helps Maddison Schuchman spread some green icing onto a cookie. “Decorating cookies is something that I’ve done since I was really little,” Noelle says. “You can laugh about it when you’re doing it, and you don’t have to be too precise.”

Soft Decorating Icing
Yield: 6 cups

Although royal icing is traditional, this soft, buttery icing is easy for kids to pipe and spread. If made ahead of time, allow icing to come to room temperature before using.

½ cup butter
½ cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 pounds powdered sugar
½ cup milk, more or less to reach desired consistency
Gel food coloring (optional)

Beat shortening and vanilla until creamy. Add powdered sugar a cup at a time. When the mixture starts to get dry, add milk a little at a time alternating with the powdered sugar. Beat until creamy. Divide and add food coloring if desired.

Note: If cookies are to be stored or frozen instead of eaten immediately, substitute ½ cup shortening for the butter, and allow iced cookies to air dry for 2-3 hours. The icing will crisp up and hold its shape, even when cookies are stacked and packaged.

Sprinkles, etc.

Spark young imaginations with these cookie toppers

  • M&M candies, plain
  • Almonds, slivered and sliced
  • Raisins and other dried fruits
  • Colored sugar and sprinkles
  • Crushed peppermints
  • Mini chocolate chips
  • White chocolate chips
  • Peanut butter chips

 

Rolled Sugar Cookies
Yield: 3 dozen cookies

If made ahead of time and chilled, allow dough to come to room temperature before rolling and cutting.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of your mixer cream butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in vanilla and egg.

In a separate bowl sift baking powder and salt with flour; add the dry ingredients a little at a time to the wet ingredients. The dough will be very stiff, so you may need to mix in the last of the flour by hand.

Divide dough in half. On a floured surface, roll the dough to a ¼-inch thickness. Cut out shapes with a floured cutter. Transfer cookies to the baking sheets.

Bake for 6-7 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies aren’t shiny and the edges start to crisp up. These cookies won’t brown very much, and if they do brown, they will likely be overbaked. Let cool on the cookie sheet until firm enough to transfer to a cooling rack.

Note: For lemon sugar cookies, omit the almond extract and add ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon peel and ½ teaspoon lemon extract.

Tips

  • Make cookie dough and icing ahead of time. Starting with a clean kitchen will make tidying up easier, and you can concentrate on taking great photos instead of washing dishes.
  • Choose a no-chill cookie dough recipe. This type of dough is less sticky and easier for children to work with than dough that needs to be cold in order to roll out.

  • How much dough? A recipe that yields 3 dozen cookies should entertain three children, although younger children will make fewer cookies and use less dough.
  • Store ingredients properly. Wrapped tightly, the dough can be stored up to three days in the refrigerator. For longer storage times, wrap tightly and stash in the freezer. The soft decorator icing (see recipe) can be made a week in advance. Allow icing and no-chill dough to come to room temperature before using.
  • Portion and color decorator icing. Use disposable decorator bags with piping tips or zip-top freezer bags with a small hole cut in one corner to hold a variety of colors. Use small amounts of icing in each bag, and seal the tops securely with rubber bands or clips. Children tend to squeeze from the center, and the icing can explode out of the top of the bag.
  • Wrangle lots of cookie cutters. In addition to kitchen and craft shops, thrift stores are a good place to pick these up. It’s useful to have cutters of various sizes and multiple gingerbread men.
  • Label the baking pans. Ideally, each child should have their own cookie sheet. To keep track of the pans and cookies, write each child’s name on parchment paper used to line the baking pans.

The finished kid-made holiday cookies are weighed down with icing, sprinkles and candies, but as Cameron Schuchman discovers, they taste delicious.

  • No squabbling over sprinkles. Use muffin tins to portion out the decorations, so each child has their own palette of sprinkles. Or place decorations in small bowls with multiple spoons in the center of a large table.

Special thanks to all the parents who brought their children to our Cary Magazine cookie party: Lakshmi Swamy and Porter Bayne, from Apex, parents of Kieran Sonbuchner; Christina Schuchman, from Apex, mother of Maddison and Cameron Schuchman; Monica Livingston, from Raleigh, mother of Charlotte Livingston; Monica Kyeba, from Raleigh, mother of Issa Kyeba; and Helen Tenney, from Raleigh, mother of Cecilia, Hunter and Flora Tenney.

Holiday Cooking With Kids

Laura Gnewuch leads cooking and other recreational classes at Cary’s Herb C. Young Community Center. For more information on these holiday-themed classes, call (919) 460-4965.

Fabricakes
Ages 6-10
Design an apron and make a holiday cake
Dec. 4, 4-6 p.m.

Get Cooking with Laura
Ages 7-10

Thanksgiving Pies
Nov. 13, 5-7 p.m.
Holiday Cupcakes
Dec. 18, 5-7 p.m.

Lil Cooks in the Kitchen
Ages 3-5
Read a story, and cook what’s in the story
“Tallulah’s Nutcracker”
Dec. 10, 4-5:30 p.m.
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”
Dec. 13, 4-5:30 p.m.

Fun in the Kitchen
Ages 11-14
Holiday Desserts
Dec. 9, 5-7 p.m.

Cooking is FUN
11+ w/special needs
Thanksgiving trimmings
Nov. 18, 4-5:30 p.m.

Holiday Cupcakes
Dec. 16, 4-5:30 p.m.

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