Making and decorating Christmas cookies is one of the most treasured holiday traditions. But combine kids with dough, icing and candy, and things can get pretty hectic - and it could be a disaster to clean up afterward. Here are a few tips to keep an afternoon of cookie baking more relaxed and enjoyable - and how to limit their candy consuption.
1) Keep it simple. Make one batch of gingerbread, sugar cookie or shortbread dough and do a few different things with it. Add grated orange or lemon zest, cinnamon or other spices, flavoured extract (like mint!) or even a shake of cocoa to customize dry cookie mixes. Roll shortbread dough - one of the most versadile doughs you can use, and so festive - into balls and make thumbprints with a spoonful of jam, roll them and make cutouts, or add different flavours - you'll get a whole variety of cookies out of one batch.
2) Pull out the sprinkles. Rather than expect young kids, or kids with limited motor skills, to control a bag of icing and tiny candies, set out bowls of sprinkles for them to roll balls of dough in before baking. They'll emerge from the oven suitably decorated, and let's face it - kids are all about the sprinkles.
3) Use food colouring markers. Kids have far more control, and you won't get icing everywhere.
4) Decorate drop cookies - icing doesn't have to be limited to cookies that are rolled and cut into shapes. Kids will love adding faces and letters to drop cookies, which are simpler (and faster) to make, particularly if you don't have holiday cookie cutters. (And if you stack three sparkly rolled sugar cookies or snickerdoodles together, they look like a snowman.)
5) Mix two doughs together - gently squish together straight-up shortbread with a batch made with a shake of cocoa for swirly marbled cookies. Even young kids can do this!
6) Bake cookies on a stick. Drop balls of drop cookie dough onto a greased or parchment-lined sheet and stick a wooden Popsicle stick into each one - the dough will bake onto the top, and kids can nibble them like a lollipop. Cookie pops are also perfect for wrapping and sharing with family and friends!
7) Don't worry about decorating. Cookies don't have to be fancy - and Santa is just as happy with a plate of chocolate chunk cookies. To make them a bit more festive, add some grated orange zest and/or a handful of dried cranberries - it's easy to dress up a boxed mix if you're not much of a baker, and still get the satisfaction of pulling a batch of warm cookies out of the oven. Make sure not to overbake them if you want them chewy - they'll firm up as they cool.
And most importantly - have fun, and don't worry about the mess!
* Thanks to Krusteaz for sending us a box of mixes to try, and a few fun things to get the decorating started!