Living Arts Weekly: Holiday Baking with Children

Sunday, December 13

If baking is any labor at all, it is a labor of love. A love that gets passed from generation to generation.

— Regina Brett

“Can I have two more cookies?” He asks me with hopeful eyes and a big grin.

“You have been asking for cookies all day! Even if you have two more now, I’m sure you will ask for more after dinner,” I reply.

“But it’s a cookie day! If we are making cookies all day then it’s a cookie day and I should keep having some!” Again, big grins and a little joyful jumping as he persists with his rationale. How could I resist? It was just two more, and they are just bite-sized shortbreads, after all. A bit of indulgence in that enthusiastic and hopeful rationale seems necessary for such times as these.

We were making some very festive shortbread cookies, and I have to admit to indulging in more than enough myself. Shortbreads are some of my favorite cookies to make at Christmas, and it has been several years since I made an old favorite, cardamom spice, so I went hunting for a combination recipe. We have both Celiac and non-celiac gluten intolerance in our family so I was also in search of a reliable gluten-free recipe. As a result, I found a recipe at the Snappy Gourmet with three delightful flavor combinations- including vanilla cardamom- and was also inspired to add a twist of lemon-rosemary to the gluten-free shortbreads from Gluten-free Baking. The “glutenous” vanilla cinnamon are delicious but, oh, the lemon-rosemary are such cheerful cookies! They are absolutely my new favorite!

As usual for modern cooking, both recipes call for machine mixing. However, I really enjoy mixing by hand and when littles are involved it’s an absolute must. There is much greater value in the sensory and motor experience of hand-mixing. In absence of the machine and in order to make sure our butter and flour were thoroughly combined, we used a French baking technique a la Julia Child called “fraisage”. The trick to good shortbread is not overmixing so this fraisage- used in making pastry dough- has to be performed quickly and with as little contact as possible with our warm palms. Obviously this is not going to happen with my six year old, but it is a great experience for him to learn how to manipulate dough and learn the science of baking (warm hands= melty butter). Warm hands or no, it seemed necessary to cool our dough for longer than the called-for ten minutes. Since we had room in the refrigerator, we rolled out our dough on a silpat after about 15-20 minutes and then put it back in the fridge for another ten. Even with the slower, warmer manipulation of our cookie batter, they turned out successfully!

These recipes were full of different gross motor and fine motor opportunities for my son. Aside from the usual measuring, scooping, dumping or pouring, he had a chance to use our mezzaluna to chop fresh rosemary! Together we rolled out the dough twice. I showed him how to methodically place the cookie cutters to maximize our dough space, slide the spatula under the dough shapes (I recommend this especially with the gluten-free dough) to lift them onto the cookie sheet, and carefully pull away the left-over bits from the edges of our delicate cut-outs.  With the second half of the dough, we cut squares instead. I showed him how to make evenly spaced notches along the edges as a guide to cutting and he cut the whole “grid” of cookies himself. By the third roll-out, and a new batch, I was interrupted by an important call and he was suddenly taking over the whole process alone! Nothing stands in between my boy and his cookies.

Happiness is baking cookies. Happiness is giving them away. And serving them, and eating them, talking about them, reading and writing about them, thinking about them, and sharing them with you.

Maida Heatter, legendary American pastry chef (and probably my son’s future hero)

I hope you are all enjoying little, gratifying “moments” like this one in this most unusual of holiday seasons.


There is still time to join us for some wonderful upcoming online events:

Three Kings Play with Lynn St. Pierre
Wednesday, December 30th, 7 p.m. Central

After the Christmas break, the children return to the kindergarten anew.  As the holy nights come to an end on January 6th, The Three Kings Play begins with the lively Star Procession singing merrily, “Today, today is three kings day!  It is a great and wonderful day!  It is a day I like, Hoo ray!”  Through song, verse, gesture and movement, the children enact the story of the three wise men following the star, bringing offerings to the Christ child.  The children experience devotion, wonder, joy and gratitude with the honoring of the child. The angel guides the wise kings home and Mary sings and rocks the child to sleep.  The journey gives an experience of following the star, being guided by the angel; following spiritual guidance and resting in the light of love and reverence. This play offers pure joy and celebration as we begin the new year!  Learn more by clicking the box below!

Wednesday, January 6th, 7 p.m. Central:

Winter Singing Games with Anna Rainville

Come dance away the chill of winter with singing games to celebrate Old Befana, the Snow Queen, Jack Frost, gnomes, partner dances for Valentine’s Day, and more!

Learn more by clicking the box below!