Whether it's your grandkids, the neighbor girl or a niece or nephew who lives in town, most of us know a child who would love to help bake some simple sweet treats for the holidays. Baking with a young person is both fun and the perfect setting in which to get to know one another. This week I'm sharing three holiday treats to make with the young person in your life. And just so it goes well, I've included 10 do's and don'ts to read first.
1. Do choose an age-appropriate project. With adult supervision the recipes here — Chocolate-Peanut Butter Bark, Peppermint Kiss Cookies and Crispy Rice Ornaments — work for all ages.
2. Don't start complex, multistep projects from scratch. With holiday cookies, for example, have the dough made. For younger children, have the cookies baked and ready to decorate.
3. Do consider shopping for some of the ingredients together. It's a great way to get the conversation going and to make young people feel part of the decision-making.
4. Do offer a healthy savory snack such as raw veggies and dip, or cheese and crackers to prevent too much sugar consumption.
5. Do spread the work area with newspaper, keeping cleanup to a minimum.
6. Don't do it for them. Empower them, instead. You're their cheerleader!
7. Do head out for a short walk while the cookies set or the bars cool — another way to keep the conversation going.
8. Do include them in cleanup — that's part of the learning experience.
9. Do let them take the treats home — make sure to have the right container for packaging them.
10. Do take pictures of the day and email the photos to the kids or to their parents.
I share these tips from my successes and failures, but apparently I'm a quick learner. My adult daughters still like to bake with me, and baking with Aunt Pam at the Anderson family reunion has become a yearly ritual we all look forward to. Over the years I've learned that it's mostly about letting them shine, and who among us doesn't like that!
Chocolate-Peanut Butter Bark
Makes about 2 dozen pieces
12 chocolate graham crackers
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup white sugar
4 ounces bitter- or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
3/4 cup coarsely chopped Reese's peanut butter cups
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9- by-13-inch rimmed cookie sheet with vegetable cooking spray. Line pan bottom and up and over the long sides with heavy-duty foil for easy removal. Grease foil with vegetable cooking spray and then line with crackers, sugar side down, cutting as necessary to fit pan.
Heat butter and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until simmering. Pour mixture evenly over crackers and, working quickly, use a spatula to spread it.
Bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 10 minutes. (Watch carefully to make sure it doesn't burn.) Remove from oven and sprinkle both white and dark chocolates over hot crackers; let stand a few minutes and then spread chocolate with the back end of a spoon (or finger if it's not too hot) in figure eights, creating a marbleized effect. Sprinkle with peanut butter chips and chopped Reese's cups. Refrigerate or freeze until firm. (Can be sealed and frozen up to 1 month.)
Using foil handles, remove bar from pan. Break into pieces and serve.
Peppermint Kiss Cookies
Makes 3 dozen cookies
1 whole egg, plus 1 yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy
36 peppermint kisses
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle positions and heat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix egg, yolk, vanilla and salt in a small bowl. Mix flour and baking powder in a medium bowl. Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add egg mixture; mix on low speed until well incorporated. Add flour mixture; mix on low speed until dough forms. Beat in crushed peppermint.
Divide dough into 36 rounded tablespoon portions, rolling each into a ball. Working in batches, arrange 12 cookie dough balls on a large silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and puffed. Remove cookies from oven, gently pressing a peppermint kiss into each one. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough balls and kisses. (Can be stored in a tin for a week or sealed and frozen up to 1 month.)
Crispy Rice Ornaments
3 tablespoons butter
1 package (10 ounces) marshmallows
6 cups puffed rice cereal
Assorted colored sugars (you'll need about 1/2 cup total)
Heat butter and marshmallows in a large pot over low heat until melted. Remove from heat; stir in cereal until completely incorporated. Divide cereal mixture into 16 portions, rolling each into a ball. Depending on the desired number of colored sugars measure each into a small bowl. Roll cereal balls in sugar to coat. Store crispy rice cereal balls in a single layer until ready to enjoy. (Can be sealed and frozen up to 1 month.)