Crafting with kids can be such an enjoyable experience for both, and offers an opportunity for some very special parent-child bonding time, too. Nevertheless, it can be far too easy to fall into the worry trap: that awful place in which your worry about mess overwhelms your desire to indulge your child’s creative side.
The best thing to do in those situations can be to stop, take a deep breath and spend about a minute and a half thinking about how much fun you used to have making mud pies. You’re still here: nothing permanently horrendous happened. Your mother might have set the washing machine on overdrive for a couple of days, but that’s probably all.
Now let’s talk about baking with a preschooler. Visions of flour dust in the air and chocolate rubbed into the carpet may fill your mind but in actual fact, it’s usually a lot less dramatic than that. It’s also unbelievably fun. Young children desperately want to be just like their adult caregivers; the enthusiasm you’ll see in your little one’s eyes will more than likely make the baking experiment worth it. More often than not, children who feel really involved in and excited about a creative process are also happy to help clean up.
With that said, we decided to bake chocolate Valentine’s sugar cookies with three-year-old Bella. Bella wants to emulate her mom more than anything else in the world. Quite often, her play will include high-pitched phrases like, “I tol’ you a miw’yon times, Bah-bie, you need ta get off da back of dat couch before you bweak your head.”
Here’s what you’ll need:
• 1 ½ cups softened butter
• 1 cup white sugar
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 4 eggs
• 1 ½ tsp. vanilla essence
• 4 cups flour (white or wheat)
• 1 cup cocoa powder
• ¼ tsp. ginger
• ¼ tsp. nutmeg
• 1 tsp. cinnamon
• 1 tsp. salt
You’ll also need a couple of baking trays. For easy cleanup, we often cover ours in baking foil, which we send to the recycling after we’re done. When it’s time to preheat, set your oven to 400°F.
Moving her copycatting into the kitchen was simple work. To make the exercise kid-friendly, we pre-measured the ingredients needed to make the cookie dough into little plastic bowls. We pre-mixed the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, spices, salt and baking powder) with a fork to distribute them uniformly and then distributed the powdery concoction between several smaller containers for easy handling. Our kitchen is equipped with a lovely vintage (term used loosely) Oster mixer, so we set the gadget to “stir” and popped Bella on a chair.
Then we introduced the ingredients, one by one.
“Bella, this is brown sugar. It makes the cookie dough nice and sweet. We’re going to stir it in with this butter until it’s all nice and mixed up.”
Off she went, with a little elbow-lifting help of course, because of her height. Every time we added a new ingredient, she responded with a chirpy: “Goddit. What’s next, mama?”
Well, next, we added the eggs and then the vanilla essence. There’s nothing like real vanilla essence: Bella loved the smell. Then came the dry ingredient pouring. She tipped the content of each of the bowls slowly into the mixer and watched in fascination as it all came together.
Tip: After we got the ingredients mixed up and set the dough in the refrigerator to chill for a while. Rolled sugar cookie dough has a habit of getting pretty sticky if it’s not cold enough, so before you approach that chocolaty goodness with a rolling pin, be sure it’s been in the fridge for at least an hour.
After preheating the oven to 400°F, we rolled out our chilled dough to a ¼ inch thickness on a clean surface, which we’d sprinkled with cornstarch. The great thing about cornstarch is its ability to keep gumminess at bay without adding a floury taste.
Then, Bella and I cut out heart shapes with a cookie cutter and placed the sugary creations about an inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. She made a couple of big cookies for extra special people and of course, we both ate a little dough on the way. In the oven they went and about eight minutes later, they were ready. After the cookies cooled, we had a little fun decorating them with icing and sprinkles. Later, I also dipped about three-dozen in chocolate almond bark for an extra-indulgent touch.
When we were done there was flour, well, pretty much everywhere. We looked like we’d been rolling around in a chalk quarry; but we were both bright-eyed and happy. So there we were, warm and fuzzy on the inside and covered in flour on the outside. When I saw her messy little face gazing up at me, grinning, I suddenly realized that while I’d been busy sharing baking basics with her, she’d skillfully reminded me of the joy of life. Little things mean a lot.