13 November 2008

Cookie decorating with kids? Talk amongst yourselves.

I am, and always have been, cookie decorating impaired. Perhaps it's because holiday cookie decorating was never a family tradition. Whatever, I just don't have the knack but I'm willing to practice.

I'm sure there are so many ways to simplify cookie decorating with kids while ending up with good-looking results. This article looks like a place to start, but I know you've got a bunch of creative ideas. What are your best cookie decorating hacks?

(Comment here if it's a short tip or if you've got a link to a good site or recipe, or, if you need more room, send me an email with COOKIE DECORATING in the Subject line.)

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Use a rubber band on the end of the decorating bag so frosting can't leak out when they squeeze. The little silicone ones for hair work great.

* sweep when you finish
* let them eat
* simple is best

Honestly, that isn't entirely tongue in cheek. When I start caring about how much is on the floor and how many sprinkles are spilled, we lose the spirit. If it becomes a free, taste as you go experience everyone has a great time. Also, it isn't the time to try out a new complicated recipe. Stick with the tried and true.

We decorate sugar cookies the same way I did growing up- with paint brushes. Mix the frosting up super thin. I just use powder sugar, milk and a little vanilla. Pour some into 5 or 6 separate cups and add food coloring. Painting is always fun for kids and even really, really little ones can be successful.

1. Accept that every cookie cutter in your collection will be used, even if it is not appropriate for the season. Attempts to limit the production to only 5 designs will be fruitless.

2. For neater results, use separate cookie sheets for cookies baked with and without sprinkles. The sprinkle cookie sheet can only be cleaned so well between batches.

3. Use food markers - much easier for kids to control than frosting, and there's no drying time. (For Valentine's Day divide your dough and color each part with a different food coloring. Bake hearts and when they have cooled, add sayings with a red food marker. They'll look just like conversation heart candies.)

Though it may have been misguided, we had four 2-year-olds decorate cookies last Christmas Eve.

We made impromptu icing bags with sandwich baggies and rubber bands. Rather than using piping tips, we just cut off one corner.

The kids squeezed the icing out like toothpaste.

The end products were messy and charming. The kids were proud of their work.

My mother had an excellent hack: cookie panting. Paint raw sugar cookies with egg white thinned with water and mixed with food colouring. Then bake as usual. Minimal mess (no sweeping), inclusive skill set and the cookies come out shiny.

On a related note, when I was pretty young, we used cookie cutters to make salt dough ornaments. My mom poked a hole in them before baking, and then I gave them as holiday gifts. I LOVED using the garlic press to make hair. I'm not sure how we painted them. I think when I was older some sparkle details were added with nail polish.

We paint as well, an old tradition from my husband's family. We use milk with food coloring and a simple plain cookie recipe, rolled out and cut into shapes with holiday-themed cookie cutters. Embellish with sprinkles, and voila! Cookies! The cookies themselves are a bit bland so need the sprinkles to add some sweetness. We try to find sprinkles shaped like trees or other shapes as well.

My oldest has been painting cookies since he was 2, and I'm looking forward to my youngest, who is will be 2 in a few weeks, joining in the painting ritual.

I make plain thin white icing and pour it onto a plate and let toots dip the cookies in face down, once it sets she can colour them in with food markers or food colouring and a paint brush, or she adds sprinkles or chopped up red licorice laces when it's still wet. They're still messy, but cute and very edible.

Not as holiday-related as the rest of the posts, but we had a great discovery with a cookie-decorating session at Halloween last year:

Any broken cookies become instant halloween zombie victims with the addition of a little red icing around the "injury." Totally ghoulish, and really effective. Nothing more creepy than a gingerbread man with one leg and a Mr. Bill "Oh Nooooo" face.


For a more seasonally appropriate touch: when we were small, my mom (bless her sainted, patient heart) would have us kids help with the cutting out and baking, then when the cookies were cooled, she'd frost a bunch of cookies in plain colors (white or blue or whatever) and then let us go to town on top of that -- we could add blobs of other colors, or sprinkles (which would stick to the fresh icing) or whatever.

Stained Glass cookies (see link in main posting) are also huge winners, although they wreck your cookie sheet if you don't put down parchment paper first.

Finally: there's more to life than sugar cookies! My favorite is cornflake or rice crispie treat wreaths (green food coloring optional). Make a batch of rice-crispie-treat-type confection, and when it's just cool enough to handle, have the kids scoop it out and shape it into wreaths. If you're feeling festive, add some sprinkles. You're pretty much guaranteed to have sticky-haired children, but it's such fun!

My daughter loves the cookie press: http://www.amazon.com/Norpro-3301-Cookie-Press/dp/B0006GZ4YK

We also just make round cookies: roll a ball and squish flat. Then use a butter knife to spread on colored icing. Simple. Relatively ugly, but I have never been the Martha Stewart type.

She LOVED putting out cookies for Santa along with a thank you card.

We like to put the cookie in a pie tin while using sprinkles, then they can scoop up spilled sprinkles from the pie tin to reuse.

You can cut out stencil shapes from paper to lay gently over the frosted cookie and shake sprinkles into the cut out for sprinkle shapes.

If lots of kids are going to frost, we sometimes use clean (non-splintery) craft sticks to frost with. You could also use the back of a spoon to keep knives or sharp spreaders out of little hands.

Call me Grinch Mom but making cut-out from scratch is so time-consuming that I end up not wanting to "waste" them on the kids - they'd be gone in a day! So, while I decorate traditional cut-outs, they decorate graham crackers. They can eat as many as they want and decorate them any way they want and I save my "real" ones for when we have people over.

I have also found that decorating Christmas Trees (upside down ice cream cones coated with green frosting) is about 90% of the fun and 10% of the work of decorating gingerbread houses. I loved last year's hack about using leftover Halloween candy for them.

PS - thanks Katherine for the broken cookie tip - it will go over very well with my 5 year old!

For those of you who have time: one year, when I did have time, I made a double batch of cutout cookie dough and same of icing to give to a friend who was going through major life challenges but wanted to have something "normal" for her kids. Best gift ever-- she had an afternoon of baking and decorating without the "ugh, get out the Kitchenaid-" moment.
Just a thought...

From my perspective, the clause "while ending up with good-looking results" is a no go. Frosting cookies with kids is about the process, not the results. When I've done this, we just do sugar cookies in a few sturdy shapes, colored frosting, and butter knives. Maybe sprinkles. The results look hideous to me, but the kids love them. If I want nice looking cookies for a party or giving away, that's a separate projects.

I may have to try the painted frosting, though. That sounds fun.

Forget pastry bags--use a ziploc. Spoon in a couple of spoonfuls of frosting, press out the air, zip the top, and clip off a corner. No rubber bands or worrying about spillage.

My favorite sugar cookie recipe? Pillsbury slice and bake. Make sure it's very cold and you can roll it out even.

Roll out cookie dough using powdered sugar instead of flour. Works especially well for gingerbread cookies.

When using cookie cutters, fill each baking sheet with similarly-sized cookies--all big ones on one sheet, little ones on another, etc. This ensures that the little ones don't burn or get crisp while the big ones cook.

last year I had a cookie party for about 5 kids ages 3 to 8. I made the dough the day before, then the morning of I took about 1/4 of the dough and rolled out, cut out and baked the cookies, so they were ready to decorate. Then I divided the rest of the dough on to parchment for each kid and rolled out. When the kids arrived they each got a sheet of parchment with dough to cut out cookies. That way they used the cutters, pulled away the scraps and then I just slid the cookies onto a backing sheet. While these cookies were baking I pulled out the cookies I had baked earlier for the kids to decorate! Voila! No down time = happy kids.

I bought a bunch of plastic mustard and ketchup squeeze bottles and cut the tips to make a bigger hole. I put frosting in them using a funnel. It is a pain filling them, but once that's done the kids just squeeze the frosting on. The key is getting the frosting the right consistency, not so runny that it comes out too fast and runs off the cookie, but not too thick that little hands can't squeeze it out of the bottle.

1) As pdxmomto2 said, roll out the dough on foil, silicone mats or parchment paper; you remove the scraps instead of the cookie shapes - they distort less this way.
2) If possible, leave the cutters on the sheet until there's no more room - that way you avoid having Santa's hat lop off Rudolph's antlers.
3) Make a bunch of simple, 'generic' holiday shapes - trees, ball ornaments, easter eggs, balloons, whathaveyou. Near the end of the decorating, corral the extra sprinkles onto a plate or pie pan, ice those generic shapes & dip into the mixed sprinkles. Nearly effortless, looks quite good & uses up (some of) the extra spilled sprinkles.
4) Store bought tubs of white & chocolate frosting work fairly well for decorating flat cookies & 'gluing' on candies etc. Heat briefly [<10 seconds] in the micorwave to get a better consistency for narrow tip squeeze bottles.
5) Gel icing pens, while nifty looking take forever to dry.
6) Fruit leather & scissors lets kids make clothes for gingerbread men.

Nice Blog.

When decorating cookies with my kids I found the perfect way to control the decorating mess.

I get out a big rectangular deep cake pan or casserole dish.

I can then give them all control over decoating the cookies while minimizing the mess.

Afterward, you can even tilt the pan and pour the extra decorations into another container for next time.

I LOVE it, and my ds got to have a blast without me worrying abour the mess.

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