With the holiday season fast approaching, you can be sure to find Paula Deen in the kitchen, baking up goodies for relatives and friends. Known for her engaging cookbooks and her three Food Network cooking shows, Deen loves the way holiday baking brings her family together.
Decorating holiday treats can also be a simple and joyful opportunity to encourage your child’s creativity. While working with dough, icing, and sprinkles, kids experiment with colors, textures, shapes, and patterns. When they’re finished, they can give away or donate their creations (the uneaten ones, anyway) as unique and personal gifts. Deen, who recently published Paula Deen’s My First Cookbook for Kids, shares her ideas for how to expand your child’s artistry into the kitchen.
Cookies as Canvas
You can start simply by letting your child try his hand at decorating. “There are so many recipes out there that don’t require a culinary degree,” says Deen. She recommends this project, which doesn’t even require you to turn on your oven: Heat your favorite milk or white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl in the microwave on high, stirring every 20 seconds, until just melted. Have your children dip large pretzels into the chocolate and then shake on colorful sprinkles. Place the decorated pretzels on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper, and refrigerate until the chocolate hardens, about five minutes. Voila!
Next, try making and decorating that holiday classic — the sugar cookie — as Deen did with her sons Bobby and Jamie when they were growing up. You can mix your own dough or take an easy shortcut: buy a 16.5-ounce tube of refrigerated sugar-cookie dough and knead in 1⁄3 cup of all-purpose flour before you roll it out. (Without the extra flour, store-bought dough will spread too much when you bake it.)
Once the cookies are baked and cooled, your child can pipe or spread icing on and sprinkle them with colored sugars. Have plenty of colors on hand, and allow your kids to make up their own designs. Just as if you were giving them paint and a blank canvas, you want to unleash imagination.
You can even take the “art project” concept one step further by going “multimedia.” Kids can use icing like glue to attach a variety of small candies to their cookies, creating faces and patterns. Candy-coated sunflower seeds, jellybeans, mini M&Ms, and gumdrops work well, and pieces of red or black string licorice are perfect for making “mouths” or “hair.” (If your child is very young, take care to avoid candies that may pose a choking hazard.)
Gifts From the Kitchen
Homemade cookies, fudge, and muffins (find Paula’s pumpkin muffin recipe at scholasticparents.com/parentandchild) make wonderful, and very personal, holiday presents. “Little Chinese takeout boxes make adorable gift holders,” suggests Deen. Baskets, jars, and small boxes also work well. Whatever the container, your child can use his artistic flair to dress it with stickers, handmade labels, and ribbons.
No matter what your family bakes or decorates, your child will gain more than just a tasty dessert. He’ll enjoy the fun of artistic experimentation and share warm and loving family time. “I just can’t reiterate enough how important it is that children have those kinds of memories,” says Deen. She still remembers the sights and smells of the special fruitcakes and divinity from her own childhood.
Each year during the holiday season, Deen re-creates her mother’s recipes. She’s looking forward to teaching them to the newest member of her family, her 2-year-old grandson, Jack. “I’ve got his EZ-Bake Oven here in my kitchen already, and I got him a miniature set of cast-iron cookware,” says Deen. “So I’m getting ready to pass the love of cooking on down to him.”
Paula’s Sugar Cookies
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
- 2⁄3 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 1⁄2 cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1⁄2 cups confectioner’s sugar
- 1 tbsp milk
- food coloring
- In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar at medium speed. Beat in egg and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flour and salt, then stir into the butter mixture with a wooden spoon. Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.
- On a floured board, roll out the dough to a 1⁄4-inch thickness and cut into shapes with floured cookie cutters. Place cookies on cookie sheet and bake for 8 to 9 minutes, until edges are just beginning to brown. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.
- Sift the sugar into a small glass bowl, add the milk, and stir. If the icing is too stiff to handle, add another teaspoon of milk. When the icing is smooth, divide into separate bowls. Tint each bowl as desired with food coloring. Spread onto the cooled cookies. The icing will set up when completely dry. Store cookies in an airtight container until ready to serve. Makes about 18 cookies.
—From Paula Deen & Friends
Icing on the Cake
Add style to your sweet rewards with these items made for home bakers. You can find them online or in a cooking or craft store.
Draw right on baked cookies with these markers, which contain edible ink. The results are colorful and have no sugar. In primary or neon colors.
Cakes come alive with a sprinkle of sparkles, available in a variety of colors. Great for cookies, cupcakes, and ice cream too!
Small, easy-to-squeeze tubes make this icing, by Cake Mate, perfect for young decorators. The icing dries hard so you can wrap goodies as gifts without smearing.