By Jennifer Fontaine – As a kid growing up in New Orleans with a tight-knit family of over 200, my life was steeped in rich traditions. Remembering the holidays conjures up thoughts of coffee and chicory, Cajun music, and warmth of an-oven-on-overdrive emanating throughout the house.
In a southern home, the kitchen is its heartbeat, connecting clans to customs that have been faithfully passed down for generations, and although my husband and I are now raising our daughter on the West Coast, we are devoted to instilling in her the same heritage my mother and my grandmother bestowed to me.
In our house, kids are always appointed sous chef, giving them an active role in creating the food they eat. Allowing kids to participate in cooking not only strengthens a family’s bond, but fosters deeper connections to food and its importance to our bodies.
It’s never too late to start a new family tradition and what better way to get kids involved than baking cookies. Sprinkles and icing and their favorite winter shapes and characters are sure to get them energized and excited about measuring and mixing.
The key to success in any adventure with kids is to be flexible; entering into family baking day with the expectation that your gingerbread men will be perfectly coiffed and the black pants you are wearing to remain, well, black, then you are setting yourself up for frustration.
Slow down and explain the process, let little hands get dirty, and happily endorse licking the bowl. Let the number one goal be for fun and you can bet kids will be motivated to do their best — leaving them with a sense of accomplishment and an anticipation for next year.
I specifically chose the following two recipes for a few reasons: They are extremely easy to make, require few ingredients, taste delicious, and are so fun for the kids, making it nearly effortless to begin your very own winter family baking traditions.
Cocoons (Russian Tea Cakes)
- 2 sticks butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 2-3 cups powdered sugar, for coating
- 2 1/4 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups crushed pecans
- Soften the butter.
- Put butter in a mixing bowl and and cream with a hand mixer on medium.
- Slowly add the vanilla.
- In small increments, add the powdered sugar, sifted flour and salt, then fold in the pecans.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Form dough into tiny thumb-sized cocoons, roughly an inch long and place onto cookie sheet.
- Bake for about 30 minutes or until a light brown color. (If you let them get to golden brown, they’ll be overcooked, so keep a close eye on them!)
- When cookies are done, do as my mom and Maw-Maw used to do: Take a brown paper bag and fill a third of the way with powdered sugar, place warm cocoons in paper bag in small batches, fold the bag closed, and shake.
Tip: Tossing cookies in the powdered sugar while still warm allows the sugar to stick better.
Chocolate Christmas Trees
- 1-12 oz. package Wilton green candy melts (you can find these at most craft stores)
- An assortment edible holiday sprinkles, stars and cookie decorations
- 1 bag pretzel sticks (small or larger rods are your preference)
- 1-2 small sandwich baggies
- kitchen scissors
- wax paper
- In a medium pan, fill halfway with water and boil bring to a boil.
- Once water is boiling turn down to a medium heat.
- Pour Wilton candy into a metal mixing bowl and place on top of simmering hot water.
- Stir in chocolate candies until they are completely melted.*
- Allow chocolate to cool for one minute, then pour into a small pastry or sandwich bag and zip securely.
- Place wax paper on a flat surface and put one pretzel in the middle.
- Snip a very small hole in the bottom corner of the chocolate-filled baggie and drizzle chocolate in a zig-zag motion across the pretzel in the shape of a Christmas tree.
- Use the assorted eatable holiday sprinkles to decorate your tree, then place the tree and wax paper carefully into the fridge for 30 minutes to cool.
Once the chocolate has completely cooled, slowly peel trees from the wax paper and enjoy!
*Note: Chocolate can be melted in a microwave oven; but heat in 20-second increments and stir before melting further.
Jennifer Fontaine is the founder of Outdoor Families Magazine, publisher of MommyHiker.com, a blog to encourage outdoor activities with children, and an activist filmmaker inspiring dynamic change in the world. She lives in Southern California with her family.