The Block Island Times
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Christmas cooking with kids

By Becky and Mike Ballard | Dec 18, 2012

Whether you’re young or old, kids or teens, there’s nothing more fun than messing around in the kitchen together. You gather up all the people (kids and at least one adult) and the ingredients, then put them all together and — wow! — magic happens! The holidays are a perfect time for making something special. It’s all the pleasure of the project with delicious cookies as the prize.

Two of these recipes — Crisp Butter Cookies and Gingerbread Men — can be made into all kinds of shapes and sizes. Just try to roll them out to about the same thickness so they bake evenly. There are plenty of cookie cutter shapes available, or cut out your own with a table knife. They can be anything — stars, snowflakes, you choose. Another idea is to sandwich two cookies together with a little frosting in between.

The advantage of the butter cookies is that they don’t have to be chilled before they’re rolled and cut. It’s the easiest, best recipe we’ve found. Try not to leave out the orange or lemon zest and juice; the extra flavor is worth it. The finished cookies can be decorated and feasted on immediately, or hung on the tree or a garland over a window to enjoy all through the holidays.

The dough for the gingerbread men does have to be chilled, but holds up well when it’s handled. It can be made into classic gingerbread men, or with a flip of their legs and arms they can be waving, dancing or running. Some years we’ve made three times the recipe for the four walls and roof of a gingerbread house.

The Chocolate Turtles, Peanut Butters and Jam Thumbprints are included because they’re so much fun to put together.

And don’t forget about aprons. They can be the real thing, a towel held up with a clothespin or dad or mom’s old T-shirts. The secret is that it’s more about the fun of dress-ups than about protecting clothing.

We’ll add a very serious caution about safety in the kitchen. Adults have to handle the hot or chopping parts while kids get to have all the fun.

Happy Holidays!

Crisp Butter Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon orange or lemon zest

¼ cup orange or lemon juice

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon water

Turbinado sugar, colored sugars or frostings

Cookie cutters

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease cookie sheets.

Cream butter with sugar. Blend in zest and juice. Add flour, baking powder and baking soda gradually; mix thoroughly.

Roll out a third of the dough at a time to about 1/8-inch thickness. Cut in any shape with cookie cutter, brush with egg white and decorate with sugars or icing (see recipe with Gingerbread Men).

Place cookies on prepared cookie sheets. Bake 5 to 7 minutes. Let cool on wire racks. Store in airtight containers or Ziplock bags.

Note: Crisp cookies don’t freeze well.

Makes about 3 dozen.

P-nuttiest Peanut Butter Cookies

From Theresa Sisto

½ cup (1 stick) butter

½ cup brown sugar, packed into cup

½ cup white sugar

½ cup peanut butter

1 egg

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 ¼ cup flour

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

22-ounce bag Reece’s Miniature Peanut Butter Cups, wrappings removed

Lightly grease 2 muffin tins (12 each). Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream together the butter, sugars, peanut butter, egg and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking soda and salt, and mix well.

Roll bits of dough in balls to fit half the size of the muffin tin. Place in muffin tins and bake 8 to 10 minutes until slightly brown.

Remove pans from oven, and while cookies are still hot, press one peanut butter cup into the center of each cookie. (They will melt a little.) Let cool and remove cookies from pans. Wash, dry and grease pans again to make the rest of the cookies.

Makes 30 to 35 cookies.

Gingerbread Men

½ cup soft shortening (like Crisco)

½ cup sugar

½ cup dark molasses

¼ cup water

2 ½ cups flour

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

Raisins or candies (optional)

Decorative icing (optional) ** see below

Stir together the shortening and sugar. Stir in the molasses and water. Into the bowl measure the flour, salt, baking soda, ginger and nutmeg. Blend well. Chill dough at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheets.

With a rolling pin, roll out dough (1/3 portion at a time keeping remainder in the refrigerator) on a lightly floured work surface. Roll to about ¼-inch thickness.

Cut with your favorite cookie cutters dipped in flour — gingerbread men, stars, etc. If you plan to make tree ornaments, remember to poke a hole in the top of each one before baking. Press in raisins for eyes, buttons, etc., if desired. Lift cookies with a wide floured spatula, and place on cookie sheets about 1 inch apart. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool about 10 minutes before carefully removing them from cookie sheets.

** Decorative icing: Mix together 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, 1 egg white and your choice of food coloring. Blend until smooth. Fill a pastry bag and decorate cookies. A substitute for a pastry bag can be a heavy plastic bag (or even an envelope) with a tiny bit of a corner cut off.

Makes about 15 to 20 cookies (depends on the size of the cutter).

Chocolate Turtles

75 pecan halves

25 caramel candies

8 ounces of good semisweet chocolate (like Ghirardelli)

Long wooden skewers or toothpicks

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets.

Arrange 25 clusters of 3 pecans each in a flower-like pattern; the flat side down. Place a caramel on top in the center of each cluster. Heat in oven until caramels soften, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Remove from oven and immediately flatten caramels with the back of a buttered spoon. Cool slightly.

Spread waxed paper on work surface. Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler, stirring frequently. Stick a wooden skewer into a turtle and dip it into the chocolate. Remove and cool on waxed paper.

Store in a tightly covered container.

Makes 25.

Thumbprint Jam Cookies

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened to room temperature

2/3 cup sugar

1 egg

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans

1/3 cup of your favorite jam (grape, raspberry, strawberry, etc.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, Lightly grease cookie sheets.

Cream butter with sugar until blended well. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking soda, salt and nuts and mix well. Chill dough at least 1 hour.

Make balls about 1 inch in size with pieces of dough. Place on cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Make an indentation in the center of each ball with your finger, or the end of the handle of a wooden spoon. Fill each hole with jam. Bake until edges are golden brown, 14 to 15 minutes. Allow cookies to cool on the pan for 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack.

Makes 24 to 30 cookies.

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