It’s easy to understand why time-crunched holiday bakers shoo kids out of the kitchen. Who has the time to teach a 7-year-old how to measure flour?
Baking with children is more than a time-honored rite for Christmas or Hanukkah. Spending time with flour, sugar and butter offers an antidote to shopping, wrapping, decorating, addressing cards and entertaining. Equally important, baking passes family traditions to the next generation.
“I can’t think of a better way to spend time with children during the holidays than in the kitchen baking,” says Jennifer Romine, pastry chef at The Farm at South Mountain in Phoenix. “It keeps families connected.”
This season, pencil in an afternoon to bake with your kids. Or, better yet, invite a few of your children’s friends for a baking party, making edible gifts for teachers, neighbors, grandparents or for Santa’s Christmas Eve snack.
Romine says the key is to turn holiday baking — measuring, sifting, mixing — into both a party and science class. “Have fun and learn at the same time,” she says.
The only caveat is making sure the baking tasks match the child’s age and abilities. Put toddlers to work mixing room-temperature ingredients or sprinkling decorative sugars and candies. Kindergarteners can cut butter and other soft ingredients with a sturdy plastic knife, weigh ingredients, mix and knead dough. Children 7 and older can measure, use an electric beater, fold and mix and perform most baking tasks with supervision. And all ages can press the cookie cutters.
“It’s so important to bring your children into the kitchen and teach them to bake,” Romine says. “It’s what they will keep always as a holiday tradition.”
When baking with kids, keep the number of ingredients manageable and the steps simple.
Romine shares four of her kid-friendly holiday favorites from The Farm Kitchen: pecan butterballs, chocolate-peppermint brownie cookies, sugar pecans and apple pie. None requires more than a dozen ingredients, and the techniques aren’t complicated.
Here are a few additional tips to make holiday baking as successful as it is joyful:
- Unlike cooking, baking is not forgiving. Measurements must be exact, the technique perfectly executed.
- Buy the best ingredients you can afford.
- Make sure baking soda is fresh by pouring a few tablespoons of white distilled vinegar into a small bowl. Add ½ teaspoon of soda, and if it fizzes and bubbles, it’s fresh. Plus, kids will love this mini science experiment.
- Measure all ingredients to exact amounts, then sift.
- Measure wet ingredients with a see-through measuring cup. Set the cup on a level surface and bend down to read it at eye level.
- Scoop the flour. Dip the cup into the flour instead of spooning flour into the cup, which yields about 20 percent less flour.
- Pack the brown sugar. Use a smaller cup to tap and press it into a larger cup.
- Don’t peek. Opening the oven door allows precious heat to escape.
- Oven-temperature dials are often inaccurate. A thermometer that accurately measures oven temperatures is a better guide.
- Always melt chocolate carefully in a microwave, a double boiler or in a dry metal bowl over a pot of gently steaming water. Water is the enemy of melting chocolate.
- Heed temperatures. If a recipe calls for ice-cold water, set out a pitcher of ice and use the near-freezing, melted water. Set out room-temperature ingredients a few hours or the night before. Softening with heat in the microwave or on the stove top changes the consistency enough to be a spoiler.
- Crack eggs on a flat surface rather than on the side of a bowl. This prevents pieces of shell from slipping into the eggs.
4 holiday baking recipes for young chefs
From the Farm at South Mountain
Chocolate-Peppermint Brownie Cookies
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup light-brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon peppermint extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
Crushed peppermint-candy pieces to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add semisweet chocolate and butter in a large glass bowl and microwave, in 20-second increments, stirring between blasts. Repeat until chocolate is completely melted. Allow to cool slightly. Add salt, eggs, sugar, vanilla and peppermint extract to chocolate. Use a mixer to mix until incorporated. Add flour, baking soda and chocolate chips. Stir by hand until blended. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a small scoop to transfer batter to the baking sheet. Expect the batter to be wet and loose. Sprinkle tops of cookies with peppermint pieces. Bake for 6 minutes, turn sheet and bake for another 6 minutes. Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool completely before eating. Makes about 24 cookies.
2½ pounds cored, peeled and sliced Granny Smith apples
1¹⁄₈ cup brown sugar
¹⁄₃ cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Frozen prepared pie crust
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon water
Sugar for dusting
Mix apples, sugar, flour, cinnamon and lemon juice together. Allow to rest for at least an hour. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Fill prepared pie crust. Make egg wash by beating together egg and water. Lightly brush top with egg wash. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 40 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before cutting and serving. Makes 6-8 servings.
1 pound pecan halves
4 tablespoons water
1 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Coat pecans with water. Toss with sugar. Spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake approximately 15 minutes. Allow to cool for 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 4 cups.
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup white sugar
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix butter, flour, sugar, vanilla and salt together by hand in a large mixing bowl. Mix until ingredients are completely incorporated. Add pecans and stir until blended. Use hands or a small scoop to form golf-ball size balls. Roll by hand into smooth balls. Place on a nonstick baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cookies are lightly golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool. While still warm, roll in powdered sugar. Set aside. Makes about 40 cookies.