Kid corner: Thumbprint cookies give kids a hands-on holiday baking experience
At no time of year do children want to help out in the kitchen more than during the holidays. It's easy to understand why.
The aromas are tantalizing. The parade of foods is beautiful and delicious. Plus, school is out and the weather is colder, so the kids are indoors more and probably itching for an activity. Why wouldn't little hands want to join in the kitchen fun? My four my sons, especially before they reached double-digit ages, have always been eager to cook with me as Christmas approaches.
The challenge of having kids helping in the kitchen is finding simple hands-on tasks that not only feel like fun and are relatively safe to do, but also produce results they're happy to eat. That's why cookies, especially basic ones, make especially good choices.
Thumbprint cookies are among my favorite varieties to make with young ones. These usually one- or two-bite treats, named for the indentation made in each cookie, have been around for at least two centuries, and their origin has been claimed by countries and cultures across central and eastern Europe and north into Scandinavia, where the Swedes descriptively call them hallongrottor, literally "raspberry caves."
Raspberry jam is, indeed, a very traditional filling for the tender, crumbly cookies. But you can substitute different flavors of jam, jelly or marmalade; or try chocolate ganache -- a mixture of melted chocolate and a little cream. The dough is a simple butter cookie mixture, which I richly flavor in my recipe for chocolate-raspberry thumbprint cookies with unsweetened cocoa powder and melted bittersweet chocolate. Other versions of the dough may include ground almonds or hazelnuts, or orange or lemon extract brightened with some grated zest. Feel free to experiment with any combination that sounds good to you.
With Christmas upon us, this recipe is quick and easy to prepare with the children. Let them help you measure out the ingredients. Have them stand safely clear of the stand mixer or handheld electric mixer while you mix the dough. After you've cleared away the beaters into the sink, invite the kids to help you gather the dough from the bowl and wrap it for refrigeration. Then, let them take charge -- under your close supervision, of course -- when it comes to shaping the chilled dough into balls and pressing thumbs into their centers to make the indentations. Finally, after you've taken care of the baking and the cookies have cooled, your helpers can mastermind filling them with the jam.
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Here's a final hint: It doesn't really matter how neatly they do it! The cookies will still be delicious -- so good, in fact, that you should have enough ingredients on hand to make another batch very soon after Christmas!
CHOCOLATE-RASPBERRY THUMBPRINT COOKIES
Makes about 6 dozen
3 cups (750 mL) plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour