Kids in the Kitchen: It’s a Cookie Party!
Sanity-saving ways to let kids indulge in their all-time-favorite treat.
Why confine your cookie decorating to the winter holidays; your shapes to gingerbread men, stars, and bells; and your colors to red-and-green or silver-and-gold? Spring seems to be as good a time as any to create delicious and beautiful cookie treats. So why not make it a party!
“What kid doesn’t like playing with icing and shaking sprinkles,” says Nancy Baggett, author of Simply Sensational Cookies. So invite some kids, gather your supplies, and pick your theme (Easter, Mother’s Day, Earth Day, or just “garden fresh” come to mind). Start with a basic sugar cookie recipe and a versatile recipe for icing that can be tinted. Then get your spring on with these party-success tips.
Know your group. If you’re hosting older kids (tweens/teens) who will be at your house for a while—say, a sleepover—have them make the cookie dough from scratch since it needs time to chill between steps. But skip all the way to the decorating step with littler kids, whose skills (and attention spans) aren’t up to more difficult tasks. Speaking of little ones, “my rule is no more than two or three kids under age 5 per adult,” says Baggett, who loves creating cookies with and for her grandchildren. Consider making it a parent-and-child party for sanity’s sake.
Set up stations. When it’s time to get down to decoration, give each child a work space. A child-size card table is good for tots, while a regular table or kitchen counter works for bigger kids and teens. Put a sheet of parchment paper down at each station, and place whatever supplies you need—bowls of icing, plastic spreaders, sprinkles—in the center of the work area. Give each child one plastic spreader for each color of icing you’re using. Finally, have a place to put finished cookies so the work area stays as neat as possible.
Go to the garden. Making flower cookies? “Use real flowers,” says Baggett. As long as they haven’t been sprayed with anything, many blooms are edible and can be used as a flavoring for the icing or as decor on top. (Rinse and gently pat the flowers dry before working with them.) “You can use fresh, organically-grown lavender blossoms or rose petals. Grind them up with powdered sugar and then sift the mixture into the icing.” Or give your decorated cookies a 3-D effect. Say you’re making a daisy-shaped cookie: ice it as you’d like and then place a petal from a real flower (try sweet william or miniature pansy) onto each cookie petal.
Seek nature’s tints. Au naturel tints are soft in tone, making them ideal for a pastel party. Try orange- or cranberry-juice concentrate for yellow and pink shades. A bit of cocoa powder in the icing will make it, well, cocoa colored. You can also buy botanical dyes at natural-food stores or online.
Let go of perfection. Obviously the littlest decorators aren’t going to be making magazine-worthy creations, but do your best to let ’em at it. And be prepared for and tolerant of a mess. (Hint: when each baker’s parchment place mat gets too full of drips and drops, toss and replace it; a cleaner space will encourage the kids to keep going.)