Little Helpers

By Chandra Orr

September 12, 2008 6 min read

LITTLE HELPERS

Christmas is the perfect time to get kids in the kitchen

Chandra Orr

Creators News Service

Mounds of colorful icing, six different kinds of sprinkles and a quick sugar fix. Sounds like a recipe for fun.

Whether stocking up for Santa's arrival or making a sweet treat for their teachers, kids love flexing their creative muscles in the kitchen. Before you unleash your little chef, guarantee a good time for all by planning ahead and choosing simple, kid-friendly projects.

"Cookies are such fun for kids, and baking is such a rich tradition for the holidays," said Mindy Beegle, senior brand manager for Signature Brands, maker of Betty Crocker baking products and Cake Mate decorating supplies. "Families often pass down recipes from generation to generation. It's important to get kids involved and keep that tradition alive."

Nothing signals the start of the holiday season quite like the time-honored tradition of baking and decorating sugar cookies. It's also one of the easiest and best projects for kids, Beegle said.

"Make it an event for the day. Give them an apron or a chef's hat to get them excited and in the mindset of being a chef -- then let them express their creativity," she said. "Let them make a huge mountain of icing and sprinkles if they want to. This is supposed to be a fun event, so don't hold them back. Let them be as creative as they can be and see what wacky thing they come up with."

To keep young chefs inspired and on track, Beegle offers the following tips:

* Do the work before the kids hit the kitchen. There's a reason TV chefs have everything prepped and measured before the show starts. When all the detailed work is done ahead of time, everything flows more smoothly. Preheat the oven, let the butter come to room temperature and pre-measure dry ingredients before the kids arrive. Consider making and baking cookies ahead of time so younger children can focus exclusively on decorating.

* Set up individual workstations. It helps youngsters visualize the process from beginning to end so they know what to expect. It also keeps kids engaged and forces them to take turns. Designate one counter for cutting cookie dough, another for adding icing and the last one for finishing touches like sprinkles and candies.

* Use readymade products. It saves time and ensures a quick clean up, which leaves more time to interact with the kids. Look for ready-to-bake cookie dough, holiday-themed sprinkle assortments and kid-friendly icing. Betty Crocker Decorating Cookie Icing ($3), for example, is a ready-to-use royal icing that hardens to a smooth finish in just a few hours so cookies can be stacked without smudging. Similar to pastry bags used by professionals, the clip-open pouch lets little hands decorate with ease, unlike the traditional spatula-and-frosting combo that usually ends in a big sticky mess.

* Choose simple, kid-friendly baking projects. Sugar cookies, gingerbread men, cupcakes and decorated brownies all inspire endless creativity.

For something a little different, try these straightforward seasonal treats sure to please your little ones:

CANDY CANE WANDS

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips or white vanilla baking chips

2 teaspoons shortening

16 candy canes or peppermint sticks, about 6 inches long

Crushed hard peppermint candies, miniature chocolate chips, candy decorations, colored glitter sugars or decorating sugar

Line jelly roll pan with waxed paper. In 1-quart saucepan, heat chocolate chips and shortening over low heat, stirring occasionally until melted. Tip saucepan so chocolate runs to one side. Dip candy canes, one at a time, into chocolate, coating about half of each cane. Place on waxed paper in pan. Let stand 2 minutes or until chocolate is partially dry. Roll chocolate-dipped ends in candies. Place on waxed paper in pan. Let stand 10 minutes or until chocolate is dry. Store loosely covered at room temperature up to 2 weeks.

--- Recipe courtesy of Betty Crocker.

REINDEER CUPCAKES

1 box cake mix (any non-swirl flavor)

Water, vegetable oil and eggs called for on cake mix box

1 container chocolate frosting

Chocolate sprinkles

24 large pretzel twists

24 miniature marshmallows

24 red cinnamon candies

24 small red gumdrops

Yields 24 cupcakes

Heat oven to 350 F (325 F for dark or nonstick pans). Make and cool 24 cupcakes as directed on cake mix box. Frost cupcakes with frosting; add chocolate sprinkles.

For each cupcake, cut pretzel twist in half; arrange on cupcake for reindeer antlers. Cut miniature marshmallows in half; arrange on cupcake for eyes. Center gumdrop below marshmallow halves for nose. Place red cinnamon candy below gumdrop for mouth. Store loosely covered.

--- Recipe courtesy of Betty Crocker.

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