Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like a pretty plate of sweet treats—it’s my go-to gift of the season.
And a busy season it’s shaping up to be. So far, we’ve accepted invitations to an open house, a Hanukkah dinner, a cocktail party and a birthday buffet; on each occasion, I’ll be presenting my hosts a platter of homemade holiday goodies. I’ll also be putting together tins for teachers, neighbors and, of course, my family as they descend to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Before my children came along, holiday baking was a simple, if labor-intensive, affair. I just barricaded myself in the kitchen for a weekend, didn’t emerge until I was done. With three kids and their demanding schedules—basketball, band, gymnastics—that’s not always option. Over the years, I’ve enlisted their help, but after the first five batches, even the most dedicated young chefs can lose interest.
That’s why I’ve developed a few kid- and mom-friendly moves that make holiday baking a treat:
Divide and Conquer. Some types of dough freeze well, so when I get a free hour, I whip up a couple of batches and put them away. When we’re ready, we just thaw and bake. Breaking the process up makes it much more manageable—and much more likely that I’ll get a hand from whatever kid is available.
Share the Load. Plates are prettier with an abundance of treats—but I’ve learned I don’t have to make everything myself. Some years I’ll do a cookie swap; other years I partner up with friends. Each of us brings one or two batches of dough and we spend the day together baking, chatting and listening to holiday music. (Hint: make friends with somebody who has a double oven).
Keep it Fun. This is essential where kids are concerned. Some children enjoy the careful work of reading recipes, measuring, mixing and rolling dough; others (like my boys) need more excitement. Typically, they show up only to decorate. But I’ve got a few recipes in my arsenal that are a surefire ways to get—and keep—my guys the kitchen while I’m chained to the oven. These Coconut Popcorn Snowballs always do the trick. They’re easy to make (basic variation of a popcorn ball) and offer plenty of hands-on action.
Wrap it Up. My daughter loves crafts, so she always puts the final touch on our sweet treats. Whether she’s assembling a platter or a tin, she artfully arranges each batch, choosing shapes and colors that please her discerning eye. She’ll work the theme around a yummy recipe, like this White Chocolate Peppermint Popcorn Bark or the recipe for Coconut Popcorn Snowballs that follows!
White Chocolate Peppermint Popcorn Bark
Yield: 1 pound
- 5 cups popped popcorn
- 12 ounces white chocolate baking chips, chopped white chocolate or white candy coating
- 1 cup crushed hard candy peppermints
1. Cover a baking pan with foil or wax paper; set aside.
2. Place popcorn in a large bowl; set aside.
3. Melt chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring until smooth OR melt according to package directions.
4. Stir in crushed peppermints after chocolate is melted.
5. Pour chocolate mixture over popcorn mixture and stir to coat.
6. Spread onto prepared pan; allow to cool completely.
7. When chocolate is cooled and set, break into chunks for serving.
8. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.
White Chocolate Popcorn Crunch:
Omit candy peppermints.
Mix ½ cup dried sweetened cranberries and ½ cup sliced almonds with the popcorn.
Pour chocolate over the mixture after it is melted.
Coconut Popcorn Snowballs
Yield: 8 (4-inch) balls
- 2 cups shredded or flaked sweetened coconut
- 3 quarts popped popcorn
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
- 3 cups miniature marshmallows
- 1 teaspoon coconut or vanilla extract
- 8 candy canes or candy cane sticks, about 3-4 inches
1. Place a large sheet of wax (or parchment) paper over a work surface. Spread coconut onto paper.
2. Spray a large mixing bowl lightly with cooking spray and place popcorn inside.
3. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in marshmallows and stir until marshmallows are melted and mixture is smooth. Pour over popcorn and mix well until coated.
4. Spray hands with cooking spray and press firmly to form into balls. Place balls on coconut and roll and press coconut to coat. While holding popcorn ball, gently press a candy cane into each ball.