Baking & Decorating Christmas Cookies with the Kids
This was our 9th annual Holiday Cookie Baking Class and I’ve discovered it’s all about the kids. Baking cookies may be the first step for a child in their journey of learning how to work or play in the kitchen.
Learning to bake cookies with my Mother when I was a child was my first memory of cooking. We did it every year for Christmas and I thought it was just the best. My two sisters and I had a great time coloring the dough red and green and putting sprinkles on the cookies. Our favorite thing was using the cookie press and, of course, eating these sugary treats.
Ever since then, I have always wanted to share this tradition during the holidays. Nine years ago, not long after attending culinary school, I had the opportunity to put together this Cookie Baking Class at my local church, Holy Nativity, and every year since, we’ve made eight different cookies – the Sugar Cookies + seven new recipes every year. I never run out of ideas. There is an endless supply of cookie recipes. I was just given a couple new recipes while visiting my friend Kathy in Phoenix and helping her bake cookies last week.
This year we had 24 adults plus 14 junior pairs of hands to help bake our 1000 cookies.
The Sugar Cookies are the favorite ones for the kids to make. Rolling out the dough, using the cookie cutters to make them into different shapes and then the decorations. Oh my, we have some creative souls among our junior bakers. Our cookies are not perfect by Martha Stewart standards, but in my mind, they are way better. Witness the serious looks on their faces as they create their works of art. Each child decorates a plate of cookies to take home and then they decorate some for the rest of us adults. While I love all 1000 of the cookies we bake, the Sugar Cookies are well, just special to me in their imperfectness. This project also keeps the children happy while we complete the other seven recipes we make.
Over the years, I have discovered some secrets to making the Sugar Cookie process better and I will share them with you.
1. First of all, in our classes we practice good food safety by washing our hands many times during the class. Teach the little ones that if they lick their fingers, they will have to rewash their hands.
2. Make the dough ahead of time. While we make all the other doughs in class, I make the Sugar Cookie dough the day before, so it has time to chill in the refrigerator and more importantly, the kids can immediately get some cookies into the oven. We never have enough oven space!
3. Pull the dough out of the refrigerator only when ready to roll it out. You don’t want the butter in the dough to get too soft. This helps the cookie keep its shape and it’s easier to get it from the table to the cookie sheet.
4. Roll out the dough with PLENTY of flour and sugar so it doesn’t stick to your countertop. I usually roll out the dough on a floured surface. Yesterday I tested rolling out some dough in a combination of flour and sugar and I really liked the results. The cookies were crisper and maybe more durable as a result and they had a sparkling finish. This is particularly a great idea when you are rerolling out the scraps, as it prevents the dough from getting tough as you add more flour.
5. Roll out the dough to about 3/16″ or 1/4″. This thickness is better for small hands to handle and use a metal spatula to transfer from the countertop to the cookie sheet. Have a hot 400° oven and bake immediately until the cookie begins to brown on the edges. Cool on a wire rack and the cookie will crisp up.
6. Each child chooses 6 or 7 cookies of their own to decorate.
6. Wilton provided a mini-cake decorating seminar at Camp Blogaway, a food bloggers camp I attended and since then our cookie decorations have improved. I use the Wilton buttercream recipe now, which is easy to make and I use the disposable plastic decorating bags with a small round tip (#3) . You can also use a heavy duty ziploc bag and cut a small tip off the corner of the bag.
7. I make up five colors – white, blue, yellow, red and green. I have extra decorating bags of the white, red and green. The kids are very good at sharing the different colors. Divide icing into separate bowls and mix in food coloring. Fold back opening of a plastic decorating bag with a round tip or heavy duty ziploc bag. Using a rubber spatula, scrape contents of each bowl and fill the bag with icing near the opening or corner of the ziploc bag. Snip off corner of ziploc bag to create an opening. When piping icing onto cookies, push icing from the top of the bag with the palm of right hand as the left hand guides the tip. Do not push or add pressure near the opening.
6. I set up coffee cups with sprinkles and colored sugars in the cups with spoons. We teach the kids to use the spoon, not their fingers to put sprinkles on their cookies.
The beauty of our cookies is that they don’t look professional. They have heart and soul and unique personalities peering through their sugary coats.
At the end of class, several tables are lined up with all of our cookies. I have to hold everyone back while we take pictures and wait for the final cookies to be baked. Then the cookies are divided into cookie tins to be taken home. Mine end up in the refrigerator or freezer. I make more cookies during the final weeks before Christmas and bring them out when guests arrive or send them out in gift packages just like my mother did when I was growing up. Baking Christmas cookies is such a wonderful tradition whether you are young or old and I am thrilled to be part of this memorable tradition in a child’s life as my Mother did for my sisters and me.
I love this class and so do all the children…our budding Bakers and Chefs.
Sugar Cookies with Buttercream Icing
- 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
- 1 cup sugar (+ more for rolling out)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 3/4 cup flour (+ more for rolling out)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
- 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 4 cups + powdered sugar
- 2 Tbs milk
1. In medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
2. In large bowl with mixer, cream butter and sugar together until creamy. Add in eggs and vanilla and mix until slushy. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture and blend just until combined into a soft dough. Divide dough in two and cover each with plastic wrap. Shape into a round flat disc about 5″ wide and refrigerate until firm – at least an hour and up to three days. Keep dough refrigerated until you are ready to roll it out.
3. Place about a 1/4 cup flour and 2 T of sugar onto a flat surface and swirl together. Wipe flour on rolling pin also. Place one disc of dough in center and begin to roll out the dough to 3/16″ to 1/4″ thick, turning the dough in the flour, so it does not stick to the surface. Use cookie cutters to make cookie shapes and place slightly apart on ungreased baking sheets.
4. Bake in a 400° oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Transfer to wire racks to let cool completely before decorating.
5. While cookies are cooling, make buttercream icing. In large bowl, cream shortening and butter with electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all sugar has been mixed in, icing will appear dry. Add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add more powdered sugar, 1/4 cup at a time if it seems too thin or oily.
6. Divide icing into separate bowls to add and mix in food coloring. Fold back opening of a plastic decorating bag with round tip or heavy duty ziploc bag. Using a rubber spatula, scrape contents of each bowl and fill the bag with icing near the opening or corner of ziploc bag. Snip off corner of the ziploc bag to create an opening. When piping icing onto cookies, push icing from the top of the bag with the palm of right hand as the left hand guides the tip. Do not push or add pressure near the opening.
Servings: 48 Cookies and 3 cups icing (Icing will decorate 100 cookies)
Preparation Time: 30 minutes Cooking Time: 10 minutes Inactive Time: 1 hour Total Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes
Oven Temperature: 400°F