One of the simplest cookies to make with children is a pizzelle. Although it requires special equipment, the iron does all the work of creating a very decorative and large cookie that looks like a thin waffle. For fun you can add red or green coloring to the dough for Christmas. Have the children decorate it with a dusting of powdered sugar. The iron is hot, so don’t let the young ones handle it. Instead of the usual anise flavoring, try lemon, cinnamon or mint extracts. Maple is especially tasty, but it will darken the dough and prevent red or green food coloring from showing.
Beat 3 eggs and add ¾ cup of melted butter (once the butter has cooled), along with ¾ cup of sugar and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. Separately, whisk together 1¾ cup of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and then whatever other flavor you like (1 tablespoon star anise or 1 teaspoon of lemon). The eggs make the dough rather spongy. Grease the warming iron if necessary. Drop a heaping tablespoon onto the center of one side of the heated iron to test the amount and positioning. Close the lid and cook 1 minute. The first one is often dark and overdone, since the iron is at its hottest. Use a fork to remove the cookie to a cooling rack. This recipe makes 18 cookies, which takes you about 9 minutes to “cook.”
Most children want the experience of cutout cookies. Here is one that is easy to handle as long as you are using real butter. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a bowl whisk together 2 cups of flour (unbleached makes it less sticky, but bleached will work), ½ teaspoon each of soda and cream of tartar and ¼ teaspoon of salt. You may use 1 teaspoon of baking powder and no salt instead, if you don’t have cream of tartar. (It works wonders when cleaning stainless steel sinks, just in case you think it is silly to keep on hand.) Cream ¾ cup of sugar with ¾ cup (1½ sticks) of softened butter. A few seconds on the defrost setting in the microwave will soften the butter.
Beat in 1 egg and 1½ teaspoons of vanilla extract to the creamed sugar and butter and then add the flour mixture. The dough will roll out better if you chill it for 30 minutes or more. The flatter the ball of dough the quicker it will chill. To ensure that your cookies won’t stick, roll them out on parchment paper. You can even cover the dough with wax paper to keep the dough from sticking to your rolling pin. Roll to about ¼ inch thick. Keep the rest of the dough chilled for easier handling. Bake for 8-10 minutes until you see light brown edges. This recipe should make 34 cookies.
Making and chilling the dough can be done ahead of time, since the main focus for most children is in the cutting out and the decorating. Take a small portion of dough and color it yellow. Put this dough through a clean garlic press and apply to unbaked cookie to make hair for faces (or make faces with round cutouts). Mixing food coloring with coconut flakes also makes “hair.” To keep the frustration level down, choose cookie cutters that don’t have a lot of thin or small pieces, which often break off and are difficult to get off the cookie cutter.
Make your icing with meringue powder instead of raw eggs for the little rascals, who can’t resist the sweet stuff. Here is an easy bright white icing that dries glossy and makes a little over a cup. Mix 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of meringue powder with 2 cups of powdered sugar. Add ¼ cup of warm water and ½ teaspoon of your favorite extract flavor. Match the same flavor as your cookie, if you like. Using maple or vanilla will discolor the icing unless you have the clear versions. Mix on low for 4 minutes.
Separate your icing into several bowls. Let the kids add the food coloring and keep some white icing for outlining. Gather all the sprinkles, sugars, chips, coconut flakes and candies that you want to use for decoration.
You can avoid baking cookies all together if you have square graham crackers. Look at it as a diamond and use the points at the top and bottom to make a Santa Claus face. Put white icing on the bottom tip and attach coconut flakes for a beard. With red icing cover the top inch of the cracker point for a hat. Attach coconut across the bottom of the red triangle for the hat brim and at the tip to complete Santa’s hat. A red piece of candy will do for the nose. Eyes can be any colored candies or some colored icing.
Decorating doesn’t have to be complex, nor do you need dozens of cutters. The biggest problem is keeping an eye on how thick the icing goes on. You’ll run out before you know it. And be prepared for a kaleidoscope of color, since for a child there is no such thing as too many sprinkles!