The levels of anticipation are high and excitement levels are soaring as Christmas approaches. When they have written their present list for Santa, drawn a Christmas card for Grandma and helped to decorate the tree, one way to use the waiting time productively is to do some seasonal cooking with your children or grandchildren.
Here is some advice on how to make cooking with children a success:
1. You can cook with even the youngest children but remember basic hygiene and safety.
“Wearing an apron, tying back your hair and washing your hands is the first thing when the children start cooking,” said Frances Webster, who runs Kiddy Cook Norwich, part of a national franchise that runs cooking classes and clubs for children from pre-school to eleven years old. “The younger ones especially need to be at the right level so use a table of a suitable height or have a chair for them to kneel on. Use appropriate equipment. The younger ones can use a mini cheese-grater or safety knives.”
2. Relax about the mess in the kitchen.
“Encourage the children to clear up as they go along but be prepared that they will make a bit of a mess!” advised professional chef and teacher, Emma Crowhurst from Suffolk.
3. Be prepared
“Be well prepared and have everything out in advance,” was Frances’s advice. Emma agreed but also suggested that going through a recipe book or online websites to choose what they are going to make is part of the fun for children. “Go online and put in ‘Christmas cooking’ and there will be lots of ideas to inspire them.”
4. Don't nag or over-organise.
“I think that, although you do need to manage the cooking session, be flexible and allow it to flow naturally. It is easy for the adult to be overbearing when they have planned everything, but it’s important to let the children lead the way. Remember they might have better ideas!” reminded Emma.
5. Use it as a learning exercise.
Both Frances and Emma feel strongly that, especially as cooking is not taught in many schools now, learning to cook and cooking in the home is very important.
“So many children just open the fridge or cupboard and the food is all there,” explained Emma. “Taking the children shopping for the ingredients means they learn where to find things in a shop, how to compare different versions of ingredients, the prices and labels. You can look at the labels on a cake packet mix and laugh together about how you have all the ingredients at home! While you are cooking there is the weighing and counting. Talking to the children as you shop and cook together means they soak up a lot of knowledge.”
6. Make memories.
“Making food like gingerbread biscuits, Christmas puddings or your own mincemeat will create wonderful smells in the kitchen,” said Frances. “The children will remember those smells and it will forever bring back lovely memories.”
“When my own children were young, we always made hundreds of ginger biscuits each year for the primary school PTA. We used Nigella’s recipe, which has black pepper in them, and the children would decorate the biscuits. Now they are older they have very fond memories of our time together in the kitchen,” Emma reminisced. “My daughter’s birthday is on 23rd December, so she once had a cooking party and the guests made Christmas biscuits to take home, instead of a goodie bag filled with plastic tat, which I hate!”
7. Make gifts.
“Children love to make presents and family members love to receive them,” reminded Emma. “Do you remember when the television presenters on Blue Peter would say ‘Mums and Aunties must leave the room now’ before they went on to demonstrate a gift the children who were viewing, could make? That was so exciting! Why not get the children to make their presents, something like biscuits that will keep well, putting them in one of the pretty boxes or bags that are so easy to buy now?”
When the children in your family become adults themselves, they will hopefully continue the tradition of cooking with their own children, and the lovely memories you created will be passed between the generations - along with some favourite recipes! Here are some children’s Christmas recipe ideas from our two experts:
Frances Webster from Kiddy Cook Norwich:
Jolly Marshmallow Snowmen
18 White marshmallows
18 Strawberry laces
6 Pontefract cakes
Black writing icing
3 Round black Liquorice Allsorts, halved
18 Mini chocolate beans
24 Mini white marshmallows
6 Lolly or cake pop sticks
Thread two marshmallows onto a stick, so that the narrow ends meet in the middle. Thread a third marshmallow on sideways so the narrow round end makes the snowman's face.
Take a strawberry lace and twist it and tie it around a snowman's neck. Using a little icing stick a Pontefract cake its head. Using a little black writing icing, stick a Liquorice Allsort on top of each Pontefract cake. Decorate the snowman with the writing icing & mini chocolatebeans. Stick four mini marshmallows on each snowman to represent arms.
350g plain flour
1-2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g soft light brown sugar
4 tbsp golden syrup
Makes about 20-25 biscuits
Put the flour, ginger and soda into a bowl and rub in the butter. Add sugar and stir in the syrup and egg to make a firm dough.
Roll out to about 5mm thick and cut out your biscuits into a variety of festive shapes (stars, trees, gingerbread men).
Bake at 190C on greased baking trays (spaced out, as they will spread) for 10 to 15 mins until golden brown.
Once out of the oven, let them cool before trying to move them.
A lovely Christmassy idea is to make a small hole in the biscuit while cooling and then thread ribbon through it, so they can be hung once decorated.
Decorate the biscuits with icing and sprinkles.
Did you know if you turn a gingerbread man upside down and add a red nose, the biscuits can be decorated to look like Rudolph?
75ml Elderflower cordial
1L Cranberry juice
Small handful mint leaves, roughly chopped
1L Sparkling water
In a large jug the mix elderflower cordial with the cranberry juice. Add a small handful mint leaves and edible glitter the stir well. Top up with sparkling water. Pour into glasses and enjoy the bubbles.
Emma Crowhurst, Suffolk-based chef and teacher:
• 2 large egg whites
• 100g/4oz caster sugar
• To decorate
• Fondant icing, royal icing, glace icing, sprinkles,
1. Preheat the oven to 130C/Fan 120/Gas Mark ½.
2. For use with dried egg white. Carefully mix 2 sachets of dried egg white powder with some of 60mls warm water. Mix to a paste and then whisk in the remain water.
3. Take a large baking sheet and line with non-stick baking parchment. Place the egg whites in a large, clean bowl and use an electric whisk to whisk them until they are thick, white and stiff peaks form.
4. Add about a third of the sugar and whisk again until the egg whites are stiff and shiny. Add the sugar in two more batches whisking in between. When all the sugar has been whisked in, the egg whites will be really stiff, white and shiny.
5. Use a dessertspoon to place 5 round heaps of meringue, (about 6cm/2 3/8 in diameter) well apart on the baking sheets - these will be the bodies. Then use a teaspoon to place 5 smaller round heaps, (about 4cm/1 ½ in diameter) of meringue on the baking sheet to make the heads. Bake for about 1 hour or until the base of the meringues feel dry and crisp. Cool.
6. Decorate to resemble snowmen.
Rice Krispie Christmas trees
6 cup Rice Krispies Cereal
3 Tablespoon Butter
285g/10.5 oz Marshmallows
Green Food Colouring
12 Miniature Reese’s Cups
12 Peppermint Candy
85g/3 oz white chocolate
Edible pearls, sprinkles, candies for decoration
1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a large saucepan melt the butter over low heat, then add marshmallows and stir until completely melted.
3. Stir in green food colouring to make mixture dark green.
4. Remove from heat and stir in Rice Krispies cereal (stir well until all cereal is well coated).
5. Grease your hands and form mixture into cone shapes, place trees onto prepared pan and set aside for several hours to firm up well.
6. Melt white chocolate and transfer to piping bag or zip-lock bag to pipe onto trees.
7. Pipe melted white chocolate like a garland around each tree.
8. Place edible pearls, star candies (you can use mini M&M candies, or whatever you have on hand) like ornaments onto the tree using a dots of chocolate as a glue.
9. Pipe chocolate on top of tree to attach peppermint candy.
10. Allow to set before serving.
(This article first appeared in Suffolk Norfolk Life magazine in December 2019)