The weekend before Christmas we had one of Bug’s little friends over to the house for a holiday cookie party. No, not the kind of cookie party where each guest brings several dozen homemade cookies and you swap. The kind where the kids get messy baking and decorating their own cookies — aesthetics be damned.
Bug’s friend brought him a present of a kid’s robot apron from Old Navy that matched her own. I haven’t been into Old Navy recently, but these aren’t on their website now. I have seen a few of these robot aprons on Ebay, and a number of other fun kids’ aprons on Amazon.
The first year I made holiday cookies with Bug, I wore myself out. I made too many different kinds of cookies and tried to decorate every cookie just so. That level of baking frenzy was fine when it was just me in the kitchen, but now it’s just a recipe for frustration with a four-year-old who wants in on the action. Learn from my mistakes and don’t bite off more than you can chew when you have little helpers! (Read on for my tips on how to host a manageable Kids’ Holiday Cookie Party.)
- For a cookie decorating party, invite only the number of children you can seat comfortably at your table. I skipped the dining room table because of the carpet underneath that would catch colored sprinkles, and seated the kids at the kitchen table instead.
- Line the table with paper if you like, and give each child a paper plate or baking pan with a cooling rack set inside. Toaster oven baking sets with cooling racks are the perfect size for little hands, and do a good job of containing excess sprinkles and frosting from overenthusiastic decorators.
- If you’re going the homemade route, make the cookie dough in advance, refrigerating and even rolling out the dough beforehand. Older kids might enjoy rolling out the dough, but you’ll avoid frustration with wee ones by having the heavy lifting done by the time they walk in the door.
- Don’t have time to make your own cookie dough? Buy ready-made cookie dough from the store, or even just pick up plain cookies for the kids to decorate together.
- If you’re baking at the party, let the kids help cut out the cookies and place them on the baking pans. They might need your help removing excess dough and getting the cookies onto the baking pans in one piece, but it’ll give them a sense of ownership and accomplishment.
- Be nimble on your feet if your cookie dough didn’t turn out exactly as planned. The lime-coconut snowball cookies shown above were actually supposed to be regular sugar cookies, but the dough came out a little too dry to roll out easily. Solution: Make the sugar cookie dough into little balls and bake them off anyway, adjusting the decorations accordingly. It wasn’t Plan A, but it was still fun and tasted good.
- For icing, my veteran mom friend Virginia had a great idea: use a muffin tin (either full size or mini muffin size) to contain all the different color icings, and put a paintbrush in each color. I made a basic icing of confectioner’s sugar and lime juice for flavor, spooned some of the basic white icing into the muffin tin cups, and colored them with food coloring. I like powdered and gel dyes for their depth of color.
- For variety, ask the other parents to bring along their cookie cutters and decorating sprinkles (mark the bottles if there are so many there might be confusion about which belongs to whom). While you’re at it, ask them to bring along spare cooling racks and baking pans — you can never have too many, especially if you use them as a decorating platform as well.
- Anticipate your audience: you’re putting on Short Attention Span Theater with preschoolers. Do the kids bake a few cookies, then want to go off and play? Great! Gives the cookies time to bake and cool, and for you to prepare the table for the decorating. Once they’ve decorated a few cookies, do they lose interest again? Go with the flow, pour some coffee for the other parents who’re there, and enjoy decorating the remainder however you like. Enjoy the process and don’t set your expectations for the kids too high; micromanaging’ll just stress you out.
- No confidence in your decorating abilities? If you’re feeling ambitious, put out cookbooks, magazines and website printouts with decoration ideas and photos. If the thought of pulling all that together makes you want to go back to bed and pull the covers over your head, just follow the kids’ lead and make childlike decorations that blend in with the rest of the cookies. No matter what the result, the preschool set will be happy as long as they get to eat a couple. Easy audience.
- When you’re done, the decorations will probably still be too wet to stack cookies on top of each other in cookie tins. For a festive touch, use colored pastic wrap to package up entire plates of cookies to go. Paper plates work just fine, as do plastic boxes you might have saved from cut vegetable platters or other deli food platters.
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