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Baking with Children

From A Continual Feast: A Cookbook to Celebrate the Joys of Family and Faith Throughout the Christian Year by Evelyn Birge Vitz

Advent is a wonderful time to bake with children. It’s not just that it is fun–though it is fun. This baking picks up the themes of Advent: the preparing of gifts for others, to make them happy, and the waiting for Christmas before eating the good things we prepare.

I especially recommend cookie baking….And what is most fun is using cookie cutters and decorating the cookies (either before or after baking).

Here are a few tips on baking with children:

This is not the time to be a perfectionist. Don’t expect the cookies to look like the ones in the magazines and cookbooks. What children bring to cookie baking (indeed, to all their cooking) is a wonderful inventiveness, and the willingness–which is sometimes really exhilarating–to experiment, to try daring new things. So have fun! Let them have fun! The only important consideration is: does the cookie look appealing, and edible? Don’t let the children "gook" the cookies up so much that no one would want to eat them: these are, after all, gifts of food. Remember, most people get a real kick out of cookies made by children. To adults who are "not amused," give another sort of gift.

If you are going to be baking on several different occasions during the Advent-Christmas season, find ways to keep the enterprise exciting. For example, don’t bring out all your cutters at once. You might begin with stars. Let them focus on the star cutter, on all the ways they can decorate stars–and one what the Christmas star means. A little later, or another day, introduce angels, perhaps. The point is, keep their attention by helping them to focus on one kind of shape, or one kind of technique at a time. Not only is it more exciting; this way they can master the materials. Children can get really good at (for example) painting cookie angels.

Incidentally, this introduction of the elements one or a few at time also cuts down on the mess–not a trivial consideration! Bring out the sprinkles only when you are ready for them, and only one or two kinds at time (in hard-to-tip bowls). What a mess they can make!

If you are in a hurry, or to vary the pace of the baking enterprise, you can prepare and cut out the cookies yourself. Do it while the children are asleep or in school or otherwise occupied. Just bring them into the act for decorating, either before or after baking the cookies.

For example, you can have the cookies all baked. Then set them out on the table, with pots of colored icing and paint brushes and let the children go to town. There’s hardly any mess (even spilled "paints" can’t run very far).

The children can also join in wrapping the cookies as presents. They can pack the cookies in pretty tins, or lay them on pretty paper plates and wrap them with plastic wrap, or bright-colored cellophane, and a ribbon. Encourage them to make the cards that will accompany the gifts: let them draw the pictures, and (if they can write) do the text. The more the children have done themselves, the more the gifts will mean to them–and to their favorite friends or relatives or teachers to whom they give them.


Springerles

[Editor's note: Here is one of the recipes from the book that John Herreid, assistant in the Ignatius Press marketing department, remembers making as a child in Vermont with his mother and brothers and sisters.]

Springerles are among the most traditional of the German Christmas cookies. The word Springerle refers to the vaulting or jumping horse that was an early motif on the molds used to make the cookies. (This motif is said to go back to pagan times.) Many German families have old Springerle molds; some of the most charming of them have a variety of motifs on them, for example a bishop, or a church, mixed in with birds and animals, hearts and flowers. Molds are available in many department and baking-goods stores.

These cookies are wonderful with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, or a glass of milk. They make particularly handsome Christmas presents. They can also be used as Christmas-tree ornaments: before you bake the Springerles, just make a little hole in the top of each for a thin ribbon to go through.

Ingredients:

4 eggs
2 cups sugar
Pinch of salt
Grated rind of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
3 1/2 - 4 cups of flour
3/4 cup anise seeds (or powdered anise, or anise oil)

In a large bowl, beat the eggs well. Gradually add the sugar, and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the salt and lemon rind. Add the baking powder, and sift in the flour, one cup at the time, until the dough is fairly stiff and doesn’t stick to your hands.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until the dough is soft and shiny, 5 — 10 minutes. Roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Let it stand for about 10 minutes. Flour the mold well. Press it down on the dough, pressing firmly all around.

Cut the cookies apart. Place them on a baking sheet that has been lightly buttered and sprinkled with anise seeds. Let the cookies sit, lightly covered with a clean dish towel, overnight.

Bake at 300 degrees F for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies are set and a very pale golden color. Do not let them brown.

These cookies will keep for a long time–they just get harder. If you like them soft, pack with them in the cookie tin a piece of apple or rye bread, replacing the apple or bread from time to time.

Optional: If you want, you can paint the Springerles with tinted icing, but they are beautiful just as they are.

Yield: about 5 dozen cookies.

Icing: In little containers, mix confectioners’ sugar with a little bit of water (or lightly beaten egg white or lemon juice) and a few drops of food coloring to produce the desired shades and consistency for icing. Apply with small paint brushes.






   




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