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Fun, Frustration-Free Cookie Recipes to Make With Kids

Set your baking helpers up for success with recipes that meet them where they are developmentally


spinner image smiling grandmother baking with her happy grandson
SanyaSM / Getty Images

Making cookies with grandkids or other littles in your life can be a fun, festive way to get into the holiday spirit.

But before you start pulling out the sugar and lining the baking pans, take a moment to make sure the recipe and the kiddo are a good match — so you’re set up for fun, not frustration.

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“Activities that are developmentally appropriate provide the right balance of challenge with reinforcement of some level of mastery and competency,” says Katie Stallman, a licensed clinical social worker.

Kids need to feel that they can succeed at the activity, she adds, and that the “success is worth celebrating.”

Stallman emphasizes that there are no hard and fast rules for what kids can do at each age, so it’s best to “tune in to the child and find out what they need to stay interested.”  

She says some general guidelines for age groups could be helpful.

“Preschoolers generally will love sensory play and getting their hands involved,” Stallman says. “School-age kids may be more focused on following directions and putting their creative spin on it. And teens may be most interested in sampling and photographing their culinary masterpiece.”

Ready to bake? Here are three of my go-to doughs to make with aspiring bakers. The rewards of a kitchen adventure are as sweet as it gets.

For kids who like a hands-on approach: No-bake date balls  

Ideal for the littles who are more excited to play with the dough than actually make a treat. They can help shape dough into balls or roll balls in coconut. Since this is an unbaked dough, washing hands before, during and after is recommended. Older helpers can pit the dates and scour the cupboards for the ingredients. Makes about 20 pieces. This recipe is gluten-, dairy- and egg-free.

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​Ingredients: 

  • 10 to 12 large Medjool dates, pitted (about 1½ cups)
  • 1/3 cup unsalted sunflower seeds or walnuts
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Optional coating: ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Directions

  1. Place everything except for the coconut in the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Using the pulse function, pulverize until the mixture clumps together and is very finely chopped.
  3. If mixture seems dry, gradually add up to 2 tablespoons of water to moisten.
  4. Using a heaping teaspoon, portion the mixture and roll into balls.
  5. If using coconut, place on a plate or shallow dish. Roll balls in coconut until completely coated. The balls are ready to eat. Arrange in a single layer in an airtight container and keep refrigerated.
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For bakers ready to follow instructions: Jam-dot cookies

spinner image a grandmother baking cookies with her two grandkids
evgenyatamanenko / Getty Images

Ideal for bakers who are excited to follow steps needed to make their own cookie dough by hand. No eggs or dairy means it’s easy to stir. Everybody can measure out the ingredients. Older kids can grind the almonds and oats. Offer a selection of jams to give everyone a choice to fill cookies as they wish. A jewel box awaits. Makes about two dozen. This recipe is gluten-, dairy- and egg-free.

​Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup whole or slivered roasted unsalted almonds
  • 1 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats (not instant)
  • 2/3 cup quinoa flour*
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ cup neutral oil (such as safflower or sunflower)
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 to ½ cup of your favorite jam or marmalade, chilled

*Tip: You can grind ½ cup whole beige quinoa into flour in a mini chopper or heavy-duty blender.

Directions

  1. Pulverize the almonds and oats in a food processor into a medium-coarse meal. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  2. Add quinoa flour and cinnamon to bowl and stir everything together.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together the oil, maple syrup, orange juice and vanilla.
  4. With a stirring spatula, incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring well. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for one hour.
  5. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  6. With a 1-tablespoon measure, scoop dough and arrange on the prepared pans, leaving space in between rows.
  7. Using your thumb or the back of a spoon, make an indentation in the middle of each dough mound. Fill the middle with about ¼ teaspoon of jam.
  8. Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 22 minutes.
  9. With a lifting spatula, transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Cookies are slightly soft and moist and keep best in a metal tin for about five days.

For kids able to use a knife and excited about a sophisticated treat: Fruit and nut biscotti

spinner image a grandmother makes cookies with her grandkids
supersizer / Getty Images

Fun fact: Biscotti is Italian for biscuits and derived from the Latin biscoctus, which means twice cooked.

Ideal for bakers who are steady with a knife or interested in learning. Younger siblings can help shell pistachios (a more economical option) and help mix the batter by hand at the end. With an adult shadow, slicing biscotti between bakes is a great skill to learn. While biscotti bake, get some hot chocolate or steamed milk ready for dunking. Makes 26 to 30 pieces.

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt (Reduce to 1/8 teaspoon for salted pistachios)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into 6 pieces
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup dried cranberries, cherries or currants
  • ¾ cup unsalted pistachios or walnuts, chopped (nut-free option: ½ cup chocolate chips)

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. In a large bowl using a handheld electric beater (or in a stand mixer), cream the sugar and butter until lightened in color and malleable, 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. Measure out 1 tablespoon of the beaten eggs for the egg wash. Whisk with 1 teaspoon water and set aside.
  4. Add remaining beaten eggs and vanilla to the butter mixture, beating until just combined. Mixture should be creamy.
  5. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients and mix until flour is no longer visible. It’s OK to finish mixing by hand with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Add the dried fruit and nuts until evenly mixed.
  6. Refrigerate dough for 20 minutes; chilling makes it easier to shape.
  7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Have two pieces of parchment paper at the ready.
  8. Gather dough into a unified mound and cut in half.
  9. With each dough half on a piece of parchment, shape into a rectangle slab, about 12 inches long and 5 inches wide. Lightly pound and press with a rolling pin versus rolling out. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect.
  10. Transfer each rectangle (and parchment) to a sheet pan. With a pastry or basting brush, lightly coat the top with the reserved egg wash.
  11. Bake for 25 minutes, rotating the pans top to bottom and front to back after 12 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce temperature to 300 F.
  12. With a serrated knife, cut biscotti on a diagonal into 1-inch-thick slices.
  13. Lay slices flat on the pan. Return to oven for an additional 15 minutes. Cool completely on a rack. Stored in an airtight container, they will keep for a few weeks.

All recipes ©Kim O’Donnel

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