Why not decorate cookies? It's interactive and inexpensive, not to mention especially appropriate now that the holidays are almost here.
We asked Rachel Crump Matheus, an expert baker and training specialist from Mrs. Fields Cookies, how to throw a no-stress kids cookie-decorating party. Keep reading for her helpful suggestions, smart tips, and favorite recipes guaranteed to make your cookie party the event of the year!
1. What age group would a cookie-decorating party be most appropriate for?
I have seen kids as young as three have fun decorating. However, if you want to contain the mess and the finger-licking a bit, start at age five-they take direction a little better. I don't think there is any age cap: Adults, teens, and younger kids all enjoy the sweet creativity.
2. How do you plan ahead for this kind of party?
When planning ahead, it is best to keep in mind the space you have to work with and how many guests you have in mind. The more people there, the more table-top space you will need. You will need to prepare icing, toppings, and cookies. It might also be wise to have some sort of container people can carry cookies home in-like the clear clam shell containers you see in the bakery area of the grocery store.
3. How many cookies should you bake ahead and what kind is best? Could you buy cookies?
The easiest to decorate are a basic round sugar cookie or one cut to an appropriate shape. (Any flavor could be used, however.) You could definitely buy cookies. My recommendation would be a plain Sugar Butter available at any Mrs. Fields store or your favorite flavor. Buy/bake at least 2-3 cookies per guest.
4. What types of cookies, frostings, and decorations would you suggest especially for kids?
If you want to make your cookies at home, there is a sugar cookie recipe I like (below), because it is not super sweet by itself... Most bakeries can sell you frosting, if you ask. Otherwise use the butter cream recipe below. Tint it to your favorite shade with a paste or liquid food coloring. Look through your cupboards for easy toppings. Chocolate chips, M&M's, sprinkles, sanding sugar, raisins, dried cranberries, licorice whips, licorice strings, nuts, kisses, or pre-made fondant that can be cut into shapes are all fun things to use. A few other things I like to have when I decorate are toothpicks, and a spatula or butter knife. I can use my spatula to scrape off my icing and start again if I need to. I like the toothpicks for lifting off tiny details or lifting off a tiny detail I do not like.
5. What ingredients and tools should you have on hand?
Start with a lot of paper towel. An activity like this will create a few messes. Decorating bags are also a must. You should have one for each color of icing you plan to make. You can buy reusable pastry bags at any craft store, or look for a disposable one that you can throw away when you are done. These will save you a few dishes after you are done. Look for decorating tips as well. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Have some variety of star and round shaped tips. There is also a really fun one (a #233) that makes a lot of little lines, like grass, or fur. Tips can be interchanged on the decorating bag if you add a coupler and ring system, otherwise try putting a different tip on each color of icing. Try to have one pastry/decorating bag per guest, then they can trade back and forth, and everyone can participate at once.
6. How do you make sure there isn't a huge mess?
Start with a disposable floor covering. Put a tarp of painter's plastic under the table and chairs or even some garbage bags. Then you can just gather up after it is over. Cover the table with a similar plastic so you can just gather it up and throw it away. Remind your guests not to wear their best clothes. Food coloring in icing can stain, and you would not want to ruin anyone's favorite outfit. Using disposable pastry bags will save a few dishes after you are done, too. Try plastic knives and paper bowls for toppings as well.
7. How do you keep kids interested?
I don't think you will have too much trouble with this activity all on it's own, but you may try a decorating contest with older kids or adults. Give prizes for the most creative, the most frosting, the tallest, the prettiest, etc.
8. Is there anything else to remember on the big day?
Keep in mind that this is a creative exercise. Each guest is going to move at a different pace and have a different idea about what tastes and looks good.
Sugar Cookie Recipe
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with 1/2 cup milk (If the dough is sticky refrigerate for 20 minutes before rolling). Roll out dough on a floured surface to about a 1/2 inch thick and cut. Bake at 375 for 10 minutes. Cookies will be a light golden color. Frost with your favorite icing and toppings.
Butter Cream Icing Recipe
1lb powdered sugar (about 4 cups)
1 cup butter or margarine
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla or butter flavoring
Cream the milk, butter, and vanilla together with an electric mixer. Beat in 3 cups of the sugar. Gradually add the fourth cup until the icing reaches a consistency that you like. Tint with liquid or past food coloring to the desired color. Makes approximately 3 cups.