Want a perfect rainy day activity with your child? One that encourages their creativity, provides plenty of opportunities for conversation, teaches them a very useful life skill and results in something delicious to eat for all the family? Get them baking!
And before you think: but I haven’t a clue how to bake myself, the good news is that anyone can whip up a batch of cookies. They’re the simplest things in the world to make – all you need are three ingredients; sugar, butter and plain flour. And no special equipment either, just a few cookie cutters (available anyplace that sells kitchen stuff), a mixing bowl, an electric beater, a rolling pin (or empty bottle), a baking tray and plenty of hot water for the cleaning up.
And cookies can be so versatile – you can make stars and flowers to bring as a gift to an elderly neighbour, or gingerbread men for your child’s birthday party, or letters that spell out the names of everyone in the family – let your imagination run wild! (But maybe start with a simple round cutter, until your child can use it confidently, and has practice in lifting the dough shapes from the work surface to the baking tray.)
So clear a space on the table or a worktop, wash your hands, roll up your sleeves, pop on your aprons and you’re good to go.
2 oz icing sugar
4 oz soft butter
5 oz plain flour
Preheat the oven to gas 2/150C.
- Beat butter and sugar together in a food processor or bowl. (If your child is old enough, he or she could help here – if they’re still a bit young, let them taste the beaten mix and give a verdict!)
- Stir in the flour slowly with a wooden spoon until it’s well mixed in (once you’ve mixed about half in, you can hand over to your child to finish the job).
- Form the dough into a ball with your hands, (or split it in half and let your child form his or her own ball) wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for about twenty minutes. (Good chance to do the washing up here!)
- Scatter a good handful of flour onto a clean surface (worktop, table, large chopping board) and roll out the ball with a rolling pin or empty bottle until it’s about the thickness of a magazine. Again, if your child is able, get them to roll out their own ball – mini wooden or plastic rolling pins are often sold in kitchen shops.
- Get your cutters and off you go. Dip the cutting side of the cutter into a saucer of flour before every use, to avoid it sticking to the dough. Push it into the dough, give a tiny wiggle, and lift up slowly. (It might take a bit of practice to get this right, so take it nice and slow.)
- Remove the leftover dough from around the shapes before lifting them carefully onto the baking tray with whatever you use to flip things over on the pan. No need to space them out; they don’t grow bigger as they bake. Gather the scraps together into another ball (or two), roll out again and cut again. If you’re making gingerbread men, push in raisins for eyes and buttons when they’re on the baking trays.
- Bake until pale golden, about 10 or 12 minutes.
- Leave on the baking trays for a minute or two until they firm up a bit, then lift carefully onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
- If you want to decorate them, get a set of ‘writing icing’ tubes in the home baking section of your supermarket and let your child draw on stripes or whatever, but they’re also delicious just as they are.
And if you want to be really adventurous, add a TINY drop of food colouring to the mixture when you’re mixing the butter and sugar together at the start.
Of course, you don’t have to stop at cookies – and sometimes you don’t even have to use your oven! There are some wonderful cookbooks out there, specially written with little chefs in mind that include sweet and savoury dishes, and some, like chocolate biscuit cake or top hats (melted cooking chocolate poured into bun cases and topped with a marshmallow and set in the fridge), that need hardly any cooking at all. Check your local bookshop or library, and see what’s on offer. After all, who knows – you might have a future Donal Skehan or Rachel Allen in your household!
Baking or cooking anything, even if it doesn’t turn out perfectly, is a wonderfully rewarding experience for any child. It comes complete with a sense of satisfaction in creating something new. It also teaches patience and discipline (no eating until the clean up is done!) and introduces them to the fascinating science of cooking or baking. And best of all, it will give you a chance to have some relaxed quality time together.
Roisin Meaney worked as a primary school teacher for seventeen years before giving it up to write full time. To date she is the author of ten adult novels and two children’s books. On the first Saturday of every month she tells stories to small children in Limerick’s main library at The Granary, passing on her love of books and reading to the next generation.