The children in our lives go by many endearing names: kiddos, littles, munchkins – to name but a few! Whatever your choice is, they hold a special place in our hearts and whenever we have the chance to view life through their eyes, it can bring such joy!
My godson is number three in a family of four children – all our favorite munchkins! And this year, his big sisters were old enough to do some Christmas baking with Auntie Karen. Oh sure, we’ve slathered some frosting on mini-cupcakes and tossed on lots of sprinkles before, but we never really went all-in on a true baking project. At five and six years old, the girls were so excited. With a newborn sister at home, there wasn’t a lot of time for mom to get much baking done and so this was their big chance!
The night before, I had shown Ava and Audrey pictures of the Chocolate Snowmen & Rudolph Reindeer cookies we’d be making. I had fallen in love with the cuteness of these when I saw them on Tara Teaspoon’s Instagram page (@tarateaspoon) and so did the girls. I told them we would also be making Uncle Jon’s favorite butter cookies using a cookie press – which, of course, they had no idea what I was talking about!
I had aprons ready for the girls when they arrived, and they brought me a “Princess Crown” that I was instructed to wear all day (and yes, I did!). We pulled our hair back, rolled up our sleeves and washed our hands, ready to dive right in.
Well, we rolled up our sleeves most of the time!
I’ve been cooking and baking for a long time, and I can tell you that, as with anything else, I’ve become used to specific ways of doing things. I’ve certainly become pickier and more precise about how things get done and what they look like at the end. Especially with the onslaught of “perfect pictures” on social media, it’s so easy to get caught up in noticing the little things that are wrong at the end of a project than how wonderful it turned out overall. Well, throw in the munchkins, and I quickly learned to “let go” and just enjoy the moment!
In their eyes, it didn’t matter if the red M&M’s were showed the “m” or not; those chocolate chips were eyes and buttons regardless of whether the flat part was up or down; and those pretzels were reindeer antlers, no matter what their shape was – and they didn’t have to match. Perfect imperfection!
I made the cookie dough for the reindeer (peanut butter) and the butter cookies ahead of time. For the snowmen, I made the different sized cookies so we wouldn’t have to worry about them cooling before icing them. Since I knew the girls would want to check out the mixer, I did leave making the Royal Icing to them (with a little help), so they could see how it thickened up and became the “glue” that would hold the snowmen cookies together.
We started with icing and decorating the snowmen so they could dry while we worked on the other cookies. The girls had never used a piping bag before, so they each used a small one to get the icing onto the cookies. Ava preferred to use the offset spatula to spread it around, while Audrey liked using her finger. Yes, this was definitely another “let go” moment for me: it was okay if the icing wasn’t even, if it was spikey or bumpy, and if it didn’t go far enough to the edges! What mattered was that they were having fun. I think the best part was when Audrey shrieked, “I wasn’t paying attention! I wasn’t paying attention!”, her eyes like saucers and icing spilling over the cookie and onto the countertop, piping bag over her head. Auntie Karen with her princess crown swooped in to move some of the icing to another cookie and all was right with the world again. See? Nothing that couldn’t be fixed! Chocolate chips for eyes and buttons, with dried mango slices for noses and we were set to let these dry and move on.
While the snowmen parts were drying, we tackled the Rudolph reindeer cookies. I scooped the peanut butter dough, and the munchkins rolled it into balls for baking. Since we had to decorate them with M&M noses, chocolate chip eyes, and pretzel antlers while the cookies were still hot, we made them in small batches. I took them off the sheet pans so the girls wouldn’t burn themselves, and we worked as fast as we could. It must have been fast enough, because everything stayed in place, and they were so excited to see their creations right away.
Can you find the reindeer with the “Mickey Mouse” antlers? There’s one in the middle and one on the upper left side. This was discovered while they were in cahoots with Uncle Jon. Yes, part of me cringed at first and then I caught myself! After all, they were giggling so hard, these cookies were fun, and who said reindeer can’t have Mickey Mouse antlers anyway?
Finally, the snowmen were dry and we could “glue” them together! When we added little smiles to their faces using edible marker, Ava said she’d rather do a “button mouth” like on a real snowman. Those little button mouth smiles were everything! I’m not sure if they were more excited to see their finished product or if they were simply astounded by the fact that they would end up with three cookies in one.
Finally, we moved on to the butter cookies, really just our family traditional cookie-press cookies. Their little hands needed some help (Uncle Jon to the rescue), but they so wanted to get right in there and were amazed at how the shapes appeared on the pans. I so remember doing these with my mom and sister. We would have all the sprinkles set out and decide which ones to use on which cookies – just a light sprinkling on each made them glitter perfectly! With this in mind, I was completely unprepared to realize that, to the munchkins, “decorating” meant all the sprinkles… all the time!
It was hilarious and I must say that, in the end, even Auntie Karen had to admit they “looked like jewelry”!
Once we were done, Ava mentioned that “there are an awful lot of sprinkles over here”, showing me the floor on their side of the island. Truth be told, there were an awful lot of sprinkles on my side, as well. She wanted to help me clean up, so I grabbed the handheld mini-vac & Ava got up all those sprinkles. But then Audrey wanted to “help clean”, so she grabbed the mini-vac & started going through our entire apartment! When she was scrambling around the floor in our office/guestroom, she looked up at Uncle Jon and asked, “Do you think Santa is watching me now?” We laughed so hard – you can certainly tell what was on her mind!
So, five hours of baking and never a whine or wish to be doing something else – just eager to get to the next step! It was truly joyful to watch this through their eyes, as they experienced some new things and made their cookie dreams come true. I realize that Christmas baking is done at this point, but any holiday or “just because” will do. While the girls had fun and learned a lot, I certainly learned a bit about myself. And I can honestly say that I can’t wait until next time!
Note that Princess Crown… all day!
If you adults could use some help with your baking skills in the new year, Chocolate Boot Camp is returning in February! Join us on Sunday, February 13 at 10am at Lincoln Square and work side-by-side with our pastry chef to master:
- Tempered Chocolate
- Chocolate Truffles
- Chocolate Caramel Mousse Tart with Chocolate Tart Shell and Chocolate Glacage (Mirror Glaze)
- White Chocolate-Brioche Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel
- Triple Chocolate Cheesecake with Chocolate Flourless Brownie Base
Our popular Macaron Workshop also returns in February. In this hands-on class, you will learn and practice how to make three different, delicious varieties of macarons:
- Chocolate Macarons with Raspberry Jam and Coffee Buttercream
- Toasted Coconut Crunch Macarons with Salted Caramel Filling
- Lemon Macarons with White Chocolate Lemon Ganache