Gingerbread men and the ‘joys’ of baking with kids

I really have to be in just the right mood to cook with my children.

Cooking with children is supposed to be a joyful, carefree time; one of those warm, fuzzy memories you hope your kids will hold dear when they’re all grown up. If you google cooking with children, practically every result features the word fun. But unless I’m in just the right mood, cooking with children is anything but.

When my daughters were younger I would force myself to involve the children in kitchen activities, because that’s what good, wholesome mothers do. But just minutes into our chosen cookery adventure, I’d feel my temper rapidly rising as the kitchen grew messier, as egg shell started flying everywhere, as more chocolate chips ended up in mouths than in the bowl, and as the arguments started about whose turn it was to stir.

I know it’s important to get children active in the kitchen from an early age. But I’ve learned to choose my moments carefully, particularly with pre-schoolers. Children are going to make a god awful mess in the kitchen and there’s no getting around that.

And if they’re not making a mess, it’s questionable as to whether they’re actually having any fun. So I only cook with the kids if I’m in the mood to let go and embrace the ensuing chaos; prepared to accept the fact that I’ll be finding hundreds and thousands strewn across the house, to be discovered in every available nook and cranny for weeks afterwards.

But on those days when I am in the mood to just go with it, cooking with the children can be wonderful. Especially of course if there is any kind of decorating required, as with these gingerbread men I made with Jessie and Mia recently. It was a rainy Sunday and we didn’t get out of our pyjamas all day long. Baking gingerbread men just presented itself as the perfect lazy Sunday activity.

I love the look of concentration on Mia’s face in this picture. She’s not generally known for her focus or attention span, so I was rather impressed with her dedication in ensuring each of her gingerbread men was carefully covered from head to toe in stars and sprinkles.

Jessie’s gingerbread men on the other hand were decorated as the cast of Harry Potter. Can you spot Harry?

And yes, that is of course, a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead. Not 100% sure though about the sheriff badges. Or are they nipple piercings, as someone suggested when I put a photo on Twitter?!

So if you do find yourself in just the right mood for some fun in the kitchen with the kids, here’s just the right biscuit recipe…

Gingerbread men

350g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
125g soft butter
175g demerara sugar
1 large egg
2 tbsp treacle
2 tbsp golden syrup
writing icing in a variety of colours
decorations – hundreds and thousands, edible stars and shapes, Smarties etc

Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon into the bowl of a food processor. Then add the butter and blend until you have a mixture resembling breadcrumbs. Mix in the demerara sugar.

Lightly beat the egg and add to the food processor along with the treacle and syrup. Blend until the mixture comes together as a dough.

Tip out the gingerbread dough and knead gently until smooth. Wrap in clingfim and put in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.

Lightly flour your surface and roll out the dough until it’s about half a centimetre thick. Using your gingerbread men (and women) cutters, cut out your shapes and place on the baking tray.

Bake for 15 minutes until golden-brown, swapping the trays around half way through to make sure they bake evenly. Leave to cool on the tray for 10 minutes, then move to a wire rack. When completely cooled go wild decorating them with the writing icing and decorations.

Cheat’s strawberry cheesecake biscuit

Food is such a fantastic conversation starter the world round, isn’t it? As a freelancer I’m constantly in and out of different work locations getting to know new groups of people, and I find that food is always a common denominator. Or maybe it’s just me?

Anyway, I’m working for a few months in the marketing team at Bath Spa University where I sit next to the lovely Stef and we talk food quite a bit. It was Stef who passed on this easy peasy idea for livening up manky (or was it skanky?) Digestive biscuits lurking in the bottom of the tin: turn them into strawberry cheesecake biscuits – genius!

That same day, knowing I didn’t actually have any biscuits (neither manky nor skanky) at home, I stopped off on my way back to pick some up just so I could give it a go. I opted for Hob Nobs instead of Digestives as I thought these might be more reminiscent of the cheesecake base.

Stef wasn’t wrong – these really are good. A great way to use up old biscuits or a ridiculously simple sweet treat when you don’t have the time or energy to make a proper pudding. And they take only a minute to make.

No recipe required here – simply take your biscuit of choice and spread with cream cheese, then top with strawberry jam or any other flavour jam you happen to have at your disposal. My girls, Jessie and Mia, made them with me after tea and they were a big hit all round.

I’m only at Bath Spa for a couple more weeks, so I’ll need to get Stef to share the rest of her cheat’s repertoire with me before I move on…