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Holiday Baking With Kids

Get Involved With Your Kids During The Holidays By Baking With Them

The holidays are coming and the rush is on to purchase gifts, decorate the house and attend holiday pageants and parties. With so much going on, it's hard to slow down and enjoy the season. Now more than ever simplicity is what we long to embrace. Traditions like holiday baking can be accomplished with the easy recipes below.

Baking delicious treats for gift giving with your children is the perfect remedy to get back to the simple things in life. Set aside an afternoon to make one or all of the goodies below. Each recipe has just a few ingredients and is easy and fun to make. Even young children can participate by adding and stirring ingredients. And they're sure to have a blast making the pretzels! Warm and cozy memories are ready to be made, so put on some holiday music and get started!

Easy Peasy Pretzels

1 bread dough loaf (sold in packages of five loaves)
2 tablespoons baking soda
Course salt
1 large egg

Follow the package instructions for thawing/raising the bread dough. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Lightly flour the working service. Take off pieces of the dough and roll into "snakes" about 18 inches long. Form the pretzel. Encourage the children to experiment with different shaped pretzels.

Meanwhile, fill a large, shallow pot with 2 inches of water. Bring it to a boil. Add baking soda and reduce heat to simmer. Place three pretzels in the water and poach for one minute. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a cooling rack to drain. Drain for one minute. Continue until all pretzels are poached and drained.

Beat the egg and 1 teaspoon water. Brush the egg wash on each pretzel and sprinkle course salt on each one. Place on a greased cookie sheet or line the cookie sheet with parchment paper for less cleanup later. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack and store uncovered for two days. Enjoy the pretzels within the first two days for the best taste. Yields about 10 to 14 pretzels, depending on size of pretzel.

Baker's Tip: For a sweet variation, try coating the pretzels with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. Coat the pretzels after the poaching and bake as usual.

Shortbread Sandwich Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup of butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

With a mixer, cream the butter and confectioners' sugar. Add the vanilla and flour until the dough sticks together when squeezed with fingers. Lightly flour the rolling pin and working service. Roll into thin layers about 1/4-inch thick. Use any holiday cookie cutter you prefer. Line the cookie sheets with parchment paper. If you don't have that on hand, just place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes at 350 degrees F, until firm and just starting to color. Cool on a wire rack.

Chocolate Center
1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 tablespoons butter

Microwave the chips on high for about 30 seconds and stir. Return to microwave and heat for another 40 seconds, until chocolate is smooth. (Heating time may vary, depending on your microwave.) Place about a teaspoon or so of chocolate on the cooled cookie and place the identical cookie on top to "sandwich" them together. Depending on the size of the cookie cutter this recipe should yield around 1 1/2 dozen sandwich cookies.

Baker's Tip: Use real butter, never margarine, for shortbread cookies. Butter yields a tastier, richer cookie.

Lazy Turtles

72 pecan halves (about 4 ounces)
24 caramel candies
1 1/2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips
2 level tablespoons butter, softened

Heat oven to 300 degrees F. Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper or line sheet with aluminum foil shiny side up, and place pecans in a Y shape on the cookie sheet. Place one caramel candy in the center of each candy Y, and bake just until candy is melted, about five to eight minutes.

Microwave the chocolate chips with butter for about 40 seconds. Stir and place back in the microwave and heat for another 40 seconds or until the chocolate is smooth. Spread the chocolate over the candies, leaving the ends of the pecans uncovered. Yields 24 candies.

Baker's Tip: Practice by making a few candies first to see how long the caramel really takes to melt in your oven.

Comfort Cocoa

1 package (25 ounces) nonfat dry milk powder
1 1/2 cups non-dairy coffee creamer
3 cups instant chocolate drink mix
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. A plastic bowl with a lid mixes the ingredients fast with a few shakes. This mix makes about 16 cups. Store in an airtight container.

Baker's Tip: Store brands are excellent choices for everything but the drink mix. Use Nestle or Hershey brand for superior-tasting cocoa.

Directions for the recipient tag: In a mug, combine 1/2 cup of mix to 1 cup of boiling water. Stir, and enjoy this cocoa with our best wishes!

Serenity Cappuccino

1 cup powdered instant nondairy creamer
1 cup chocolate flavored drink mix
3/4 cup instant coffee
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and mix thoroughly until well blended. The mix yields about 3 cups. Store in an airtight container.

Baker's Tip: For the best tasting cappuccino mix, use a good, brand-name coffee.

Directions for the recipient tag: In a mug, combine 2 tablespoons of mix to a cup of boiling water. Stir, sip and enjoy a tranquil moment.

It's a Wrap

Wicker baskets and decorated sturdy boxes make wonderful and inexpensive containers. Wicker baskets in an assortment of sizes and shapes can be found at your local thrift shop. Line the baskets with a pretty kitchen towel or tissue paper. Wicker baskets can easily be spray painted as well. Even shoeboxes take on a charming appearance with holiday wrap and a beautiful bow. Jelly jars are great containers for the beverage mixes. Decorate the lid with stickers or cut a piece of fabric twice as large as the lid and place over the lid and secure with the band. Embellish with ribbon tied around the band or raffia and pinecones. Encourage the children to use their imagination and come up with decorating themes.

Gift tags and instruction tags can be easily made on your computer. Try typing in "printable gift tags" at any search engine. Let the children personalize the tags by handwriting the message on them. For even more creativity, try creating new names for the recipes, like "Cafe (family name) Cappuccino" or "Let it Snow Cocoa."

The most important thing to remember when baking with children is to have fun! Don't worry about a broken egg on the floor or a messy kitchen. Embrace the moment and take pictures of your children's flour-covered cheeks!

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