An afternoon of cookie decorating can be a big hit with children, especially if the grown-ups in charge plan ahead and keep the focus on fun.
Here are some tips from
The cookies. You can make the dough up to a month in advance and freeze it, Mushet says. And, we say, if you're pressed for time, buy refrigerated cookie dough to roll out; if you're short on time but not cash, call a local bakery to see if they sell plain cutout cookies.
If you're baking from scratch, Mushet recommends rolling out and baking sugar or gingerbread cookies a day or two before the party. She doubles or triples her sugar cookie recipe (the total yield being 75 to 90 cookies). Kids will want to decorate several cookies, she wisely notes, but we suggest remembering that older children will have longer attention spans than toddlers, who may lose interest after two cookies. (You might want a few other activities on the B list.)
Once your freshly baked cookies have cooled, stack them by shapes in zip-top bags so the cookies remain fresh, Mushet advises.
On the other hand, if you have the space and time, let the kids cut out their own cookies. (They love doing this.) To make the process easier, roll a sheet of dough on parchment paper, one for each child; you can roll the dough out the night before and stack the sheets neatly in the freezer.
Offer a collection of cookie cutters for the children to choose. Then slide the parchment sheets right onto the table. After they've cut their cookies and you've cleared the scraps (to re-roll or just save for another day), slide the parchment sheets onto a cookie sheet and into the oven.
The bling. Have an assortment of decorations available, including colored sprinkles, sanding sugars, small candies (red hots, small mints, holiday shaped decorations, etc.). We would suggest focusing on colors, not shapes, to get more bang for your buck: That red sugar can make a return appearance for
The frosting. Homemade frosting will have the best flavor, but buying cans of store-bought white frosting is no crime. Separate it into bowls and add food coloring. Mushet suggests an emphasis on the prominent colors, such as red and green, with smaller batches of accent colors (including white).
She also recommends filling several disposable piping bags with the most popular colors and refrigerating them overnight. Spoon the frosting into the bags until each one is two-thirds full, then twist the top and secure with a twist tie.
Put frosting-filled pastry bags in a couple of large bowls and set them out at several points around the table. Cut the tips off the bags only when you're ready to start piping, and cover their ends with a damp kitchen towel so the icing doesn't dry out and harden.
Note: Piping bags (reusable and disposable) are sold at craft and kitchenware stores. But sturdy plastic zip-top bags can double as piping bags; just clip a small corner of the bag. Squeeze bottles also work. (And hey, bowls of frosting with plastic knives and toothpicks also will get the job done.)
Sugar defense. Have something simple for the kids to eat before they start decorating so they don't fill up on cookies and frosting. Mushet recommends a hearty soup served with bread. We think sandwiches or pizza will work well, too.
Cleaning tips. Obviously, you want a tablecloth to protect the table; newspaper on the ground is not a bad idea either. Have paper towels and baby wipes on hand to make it easy for guests to clean their sticky hands, spills and messy piping bags. If you can provide pint-size aprons, all the better. If not, suggest that your guests wear clothes that can handle frosting splatters.
A great tip from Mushet: Let kids decorate cookies on paper plates they take home. The plates will fit in gallon-size zip-top bags, so the car trip home is tidy and frosting-free.
A IS FOR ATTITUDE
In "Baking Kids Love," author
Relax. It's food, not world peace.
Check the height of your young bakers' work space.
Be prepared for a mess: "A little disorder is inevitable and it's also part of the fun," Mushet writes.
We also suggest asking (imploring?) some parents to stick around to help. Bribe them with — cookies!