No sooner had we packed the Hallowe’en box back into the shed for another year than T was clamouring for the Christmas box to be brought inside.
“We have to make the house all Christmassy,” he announced on the first of November. I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to be picking up endless strands of tinsel, blobs of cotton wool and sprinkled glitter for the next couple of months, but 5-year-olds unfortunately don’t have a great sense of time scales . We eventually settled on a less than amicable compromise to dig out the Christmas box as soon as we hit December. T is currently getting his own back by repeatedly singing ‘We wish you a merry Christmas’ at every opportunity. Lovely.
I wasn’t quite prepared however for how quickly November seems to be disappearing. Next week brings the turning on of the Christmas lights in Exeter, the school Christmas Fayre and only 30 shopping days left until jackpot. Regardless of the commercial pressure to start the build-up to Christmas as far in advance of the 25th December as possible (combined with the perhaps even greater pressure to do so coming from T), my diary is indeed careering uncontrollably out of its November pages.
My lack so far of a post in November is in no way indicative of the baking I have (or haven’t) been doing recently. In fact, I think I’ve attempted a greater range of those out-of-your-comfort-zone sorts of recipes than I have ever done before in any given month. The only reason I haven’t blogged about them is because I’m sworn to secrecy. Seriously, the skies will split open and the hand of wrath will cast down fiery doomballs on me if I so much as let you peer through the glass in my oven door. You see, I’m having great fun testing recipes for Rose’s next book. But that means you’ll have to wait until it’s published before you too can taste the absolute sublimity of the recipes I’ve been baking. I can only promise you that it will be well worth the wait.
Of course, all of this also means that I haven’t had time to bake anything that I can actually talk about here on A Merrier World. BUT (and this is where the title of this post finally comes into play) I confess to having turned my thoughts (perhaps hypocritically, considering my stance on T’s enthusiasm) towards baking for December’s holiday season as early as at the beginning of October …
Following the successful publication of my article on children’s lunchboxes in the North Devon and Exeter Families magazine, I contributed a second article for the November/December issue. This time, I waxed lyrical on a favourite topic of mine – kids in the kitchen.
I wrote about getting children involved in baking their own cookies to give away as festive gifts and included tips for helping children to achieve this as independently as possible. I also added a recipe for a basic chocolate cookie that can be used as a base for all sorts of imaginative extras.
I’ll stop prattling now and just give you the article instead. Hopefully, you won’t judge me too harshly for having brought this to you before we hit December …
In the Kitchen with Children
Everyone needs a festive cookie recipe up their sleeve, and what better way to celebrate the holiday season than to bake a special batch of cookies with your children for giving to friends and family? There are many varieties of cookies from oatmeal and fruit filled to mocha and peanut butter, but one of the most popular remains the simple chocolate chip cookie.
But don’t be fooled. A basic chocolate chip cookie recipe can be transformed into a truly seasonal treat with a little imagination. Cranberries and pistachio nuts provide bursts of red and green, orange zest gives a festive aroma and white chocolate chips promise a scattering of snow.
Spend an afternoon baking with your children and they will be proud to parcel up their homemade treats to give away as presents (if you and they can resist the temptation to devour them all first, that is!).
Tips for Stress-Free Baking with Children
- Supervise their handwashing before beginning to bake.
- Collect together all the equipment you will need so that everything is close to hand.
- Weigh out the ingredients in advance for younger children.
- For older children, gather together all the ingredients they will need in advance but allow them to weigh out the amounts they need of each ingredient themselves.
- Place each ingredient in an individual bowl (small plastic bowls work well for this) and ask your child to tell you what is in each bowl (my own children often confuse flour with sugar, for example).
- Write out the recipe in a format that your child can understand. For younger children, this may use pictures and symbols; older children may be able to follow a simplified written version of the recipe.
- Always use oven gloves when placing or removing baking trays from the oven.
- Don’t be too worried by spillages or messy hands, but see them as a natural part of the baking process!
- Don’t expect the finished cookies to be perfect – even the most badly misshaped cookies will still taste great!
Chocolate Chip Cookies
220g butter, softened
150g Fairtrade granulated sugar
170g Fairtrade light brown muscovado sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
360g plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
300g chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C.
Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl.
Lightly beat the eggs together with the vanilla and add gradually to the creamed mixture.
Mix together the dry ingredients, then stir into the dough until just combined.
Stir in the chocolate chips.
Drop large tablespoonfuls of the dough onto ungreased baking trays, leaving plenty of room for the cookies to expand during baking. Bake for 8-10 minutes in the pre-heated oven (9 minutes in my oven gives the best results for a crunchy-on-the-outside/soft-in-the-middle texture).
Remove the cookies carefully with a spatula and cool on wire racks.
Makes c. 30 cookies.
Seasonal colours variation: replace the plain/milk chocolate chips with 200g white chocolate chips or chunks and also stir in 100g dried cranberries, 100g chopped pistachios and the grated zest of 1 orange.