How to Make the Most of Holiday Baking with Your Kids

By Leah Brooks | December 18, 2015

Baking with your children during the holidays is a fun and festive way to welcome them into the kitchen. At Y.U.M. Chefs, the kids' cooking school that I run, we have a great time showing our students how to help with holiday baking favorites. Most of our little chefs are able to lend a helping hand at home during holiday preparations after attending our classes.

mini handpies
Quarry Books

Baking is a great introduction to the kitchen. There is less need for knives, making it less stressful for parents concerned for their child’s safety in the kitchen. Baking also involves tasks that even young children can participate in. Measuring ingredients, mixing and shaping dough are all cooking activities that children enjoy.

One of my favorite aspects of baking is that once you understand the basics of a recipe, you can adapt the ingredients based on the season or occasion. For instance, the week before Thanksgiving we used the Mini Hand Pies and Impress your Grandma Pie crust recipes from my book, Baking with Kids, and changed the filling ingredients to make mini apple pies. We also adapted the Pumpkin Spice Muffin recipe, substituting sweet potato instead of pumpkin and adding dried cranberries for a sweet and tangy twist.

pumpkin spice muffin
Quarry Books

To make the mashed sweet potato substitution, take one medium sized sweet potato and peel it. Chop the sweet potato into large dice and boil until soft. This usually takes about 15 minutes, though the best way to tell that its done is to take a piece out of the water and cut into it. If fully cooked, it should be very soft. Then drain and mash! Since sweet potatoes are varying sizes, make sure to measure out 1 1/3 cup of mashed cooked sweet potato. Candied yams are not a substitute! Using them in the recipe would make the muffins too sweet. I found that I was able to halve the sugar on the account of the sweetness of the sweet potato. Feel free to use the full sugar amount if you are looking for a more indulgent muffin. Lastly, add ½ cup of dried cranberries. Take a peek in your pantry to find other festive fun add-ins like 2 tablespoons chopped candied ginger, ¼ cup chopped pecans or walnuts, or ¼ cup dark chocolate chips. Talk about the possibilities with your kids – kids love to have input in recipes. 
To make mini apple pies, substitute the strawberries in the filling for peeled, cored, and diced apples. I like to use sweet-tart apples. One of my students' parents recommended Opal apples, which I really enjoyed for their tartness and concentrated apple flavor. To ensure that the apples cook to a pleasing texture, dice the apples small, about ¼ inch. Add to the filling mixture the juice from 1 lemon, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon flour. Instead of forming hand pies on a baking sheet, try using a nonstick mini muffin tin to create the pies. 

For the bottom crust of the pies, cut out pieces of rolled out dough using the lid of a small mouth mason jar. For the top crust, use a slightly smaller cutter. We used the lid for a baby food jar and it worked great! To assemble, press the larger bottom crust circle into the mini muffin tin. Spoon the filling in until it is mounded slightly and top with the top crust. Using a fork, seal the edges by pressing lightly to seal the two crusts together. Finish by cutting five small slits in the top crust, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. The mini pies bake much more quickly using the mini muffin tin method, so check the pies after 10 minutes. Children as young as 4 years old assembled these pies in our classes, and they turned out looking like cute mini versions of regular sized pies.
Cheers to fun family baking activities this holiday season!

Leah Brooks is the author of Baking with Kids: Make Breads, Muffins, Cookies, Pies, Pizza Dough, and More! (Quarry Books, 2015)