Baking with Your Kids: Using Food as Gifts

Baking with Your Kids: Using Food as Gifts {with Sugar Cookie & Icing Recipe} | @SweetPhenomena

People love it when you bake for them.

Food as a gift is one of my favorite personalized gift to give.  People get all warm and fuzzy when they know you’ve been thinking about them.

I also know that teaching your kids to think of others is important.

So why not score some sweet bonding time in the kitchen while also doing something for someone else?

Total win.

Tips for Gifting with Food

  • Ask your child for ideas.  Kids love giving gifts to people.  They might come up with ideas that are more creative than “give them some cookies.”
  • Always consider food allergies.  More and more, food allergies are a concern for many people.  If at all possible, try to find out if anyone in the household has a food allergy so you can plan accordingly.  If you’re unsure, add a note to the gift noting any potential allergens.
  • Test your recipe first.  I’ve never *ahem* had this problem, but you should always test your recipe prior to using it as a gift.  There’s nothing worse than a} getting down to the wire because something didn’t work out or b} giving the recipient something totally gag-worthy.
  • Bake with love.  I don’t know about you, but I think stuff tastes better when I’ve really focused on how much I love and appreciate the person I’m baking for.  Plus, it makes it way more fun!
  • Give some thought to your presentation.  Of course it’s the thought that counts, but presentation also counts for something.  You don’t have to get fancy or expensive, but give a little bit of focus to packaging your baked goods so they convey how much you appreciate the recipient!  Here is a great Pinterest board for ideas.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  It is so easy to decide to bake 57 different things because it’s fun.  Again, I don’t speak from experience or anything, but the cost and time involved with that many recipes can quickly add up…
  • Involve your child as much as possible.  It’s very easy to become consumed with doing things your way: you’re quicker, you’re more efficient, you’re less messy.  Kids have that pure innocence and joy that makes giving gifts even more special, though, so don’t dampen that.

Sugar Cookies & Cookie Icing

This is a recipe Babydoll and I use every single year.  They cookies and the icing are delicious, and it’s easy to work with.

The icing can be used to decorate the cookies, or it can be thinned down to flood them instead.

This cookie recipe does not need to be refrigerated before rolling out and using.


Baking with Your Kids: Let Them Create Their Own Recipes

Baking with Your Kids: Let Them Create Their Own Recipes | @SweetPhenomena

I’d like to first apologize for the tardiness of this post.  Sweet Phenomena was suffering from a little SNAFU today…

This is probably one of my favorite things to let Babydoll do in the kitchen.

She enjoys being able to go in there and just make something unique, and usually, I enjoy eating it.

This is something great to do together, but this is also an area where I like to give a gentle nudge, and then step back.  It’s more fun to watch those cogs working in her head than to be in there with my years of experience.

It can be messy though.  And sometimes you might need to rein them in a bit.

So how do you keep things manageable without stifling creativity?

Discuss Guidelines & Safety Beforehand

This isn’t a discussion you’ll need to have every single time they go into the kitchen.

But, you should do it right, the first time, so that everyone is clear on what is and isn’t OK, what is expected, etc.

  • Teach them about kitchen safety.  Even if they’re “too old” to sit and listen to this discussion, have it anyway.  If they’re past the age of wondering whether or not a knife can hurt you, focus on things such as the proper way to put out a grease fire and how to operate the fire extinguisher.
  • Discuss off-limits ingredients, techniques, and supplies.  You probably don’t want your minor in the kitchen messing around with the liquor, or doing anything inside that involves an open flame.  Discuss what they should not touch or do under any circumstances so there’s no question later.
  • Discuss what isn’t off limits.  Don’t be a downer.  Sure, they need to be told what they can’t do, but offer some encouragement too!  Let them know they can use “x,” “y,” and “z.”  Maybe they hadn’t thought of using that!
  • Set clear expectations for the cleanliness of your kitchen when they’re done.  If you expect to get the kitchen back completely cleaned up, tell them.  Don’t assume that they’ll think to put everything away and clean up after themselves.

Get Them Their Own Supplies

Kids love having their “own” stuff.  That’s why places sell little kitchens, pots and pans, cars, etc.

Not only can having their own supplies keep your kids out of your prized pans and utensils, but it can also give them a sense of importance and purpose.  Let’s face it, we all like having our own stuff and we generally appreciate it and take care of it more when it’s our own.

Don’t just stop at pots and pans though.  Get them their own cookbooks {great for inspiration}, recipe cards, aprons, oven mitts, kitchen timers, utensils, etc.

Eat What They Make

Unless it’s going to physically make you severely ill or kill you, suck it up and eat what they’ve made.

Sometimes they might present you with something that is just a little out there, but nothing is worse than seeing that defeated look on their face when you refuse to eat what they’ve lovingly prepared for you.

Just do it folks, it won’t kill you.  Hopefully.

A Recipe from Babydoll

Babydoll decided to go in the kitchen one day to make me chocolate truffles.  She knows how much I love chocolate, and she wanted to make something super-chocolaty.

Below you’ll find her recipe for Nutella truffles {it’s so easy!}.

Baking with Your Kids: Baking for the County Fair!

Baking with Your Kids: Baking for the County Fair! | @SweetPhenomena

Entering an item in the county fair; it’s one of our favorite traditions.  We don’t get around to it every year, but it’s been something Babydoll and I have loved doing together.

This is a great way to really create a tradition around baking with your kids, but many people are unaware of how to do it, or that you can do it at all.

Today we’re sharing all you need to know to participate!

Be sure to keep reading because Babydoll and I are sharing our award-winning cake recipe further down the post!

Find a Fair

I don’t remember where I first read about baking for the county fair, but before I did, I had never heard of such a thing.  I didn’t grow up in your typical “county fair” going type place.

I can’t vouch for every single county and state fair out there, but I’d venture to say most have competitions.  They include everything from art and canning to baking and table decorating.

It really is a fascinating thing to see.

But before you can participate, you have to find a fair local to you {or one somewhere else that you’d really like to participate in} and find out about their competitions.

There are several ways to find this information, such as a Google search for your county and/or state, but there are also websites that list fairs in every state such as Countyfairgrounds, USA, and ExpoCentral.

Then there are other fairs that are known for a certain exhibit and folks travel from all over the world to attend, such as the OK State Sugar Art Show at the OK State Fair.

Find the Competition Rules

Most fairs have a website nowadays, and most of the time they have the rules and guidelines for entering items into a competition on the site.

Sometimes they’re labeled as competition guidelines, sometimes they’re labeled as exhibitor guidelines, and other times they’re listed as something completely different.  There’s no standard term.

Click around and look for words and terms such as open class, exhibitor, or competition.

If you’re still not coming up with anything, contact the fair office and they can send the information to you.

In addition to reviewing the rules, it’s important to review any important dates.  Since baking has to be tasted, and not just observed {unless it’s judged purely on decoration}, these items are generally delivered closer to the fair start date to prevent spoilage.

Bake Your Heart Out

After you’ve reviewed the rules and decided which classes you’d like to enter, it’s time to get busy!

Plan your recipes, choose presentation pieces, and have fun with your kids!  Let them be creative.

Let them create new recipes if they’d like.  Let them decorate their item however they’d like.

While it is fun to win, I think it’s more important to spend this time with your kids, just having fun while learning and experimenting together.

A Few More Tips

Leave plenty of travel time to get your goods to their destination.  You don’t want a smooshed cake at the fair…

Present a visually pleasing item.  Even if presentation isn’t part of your score, I find it’s always good to create a “WOW” moment.

You almost always get free tickets to the fair as an exhibitor.  Be sure to pick those up at the designated time.

Winning is great {we love our ribbons}, but you can’t always win.  Don’t let that be the focus of your exhibit.  Focus more on the fun of baking and the fun of the fair.

Our Award-Winning Cake Recipe

As promised, here is the cake recipe that Babydoll and I have used to win on several occasions.  This recipe got me Best of Show and Best of Class at the Kitsap County Fair a few years ago.  Those are big, pretty ribbons…

It’s a doctored cake recipe and I did not create the original, but the version below is my modified version.  It was also my most popular flavor when I did wedding cakes.

It’s a total winner.

Click the image to download the PDF recipe.

Baking with Your Kids: Tips for Frosting Cakes & Cupcakes

Tips for Frosting Cakes & Cupcakes | @SweetPhenomena

Welcome to Day Two of my 10 Days of Baking with Your Kids series, part of the iHN Homeschool Hopscotch!

Today we’re going to talk about something that so many of you really want to know how to do: frost pretty cupcakes and cakes.

Before I became a homeschooling mom, I had a custom cake business in WA, and I taught cake decorating.  I’ve had several years to get it wrong and learn what worked for me and the majority of my students.

Want to see my cakes? Journey on over to this page!

I do have to put a disclaimer in here, though: I don’t believe there is a right way and a wrong way to do just about anything.  There is your way.

Another disclaimer:  even though it’s fun to make your cakes look like they do on TV, it’s also super-fun to let your kids go to town with a piping bag.  They can get pretty creative.

People often want to know how to make their frosting job look like those in magazines, though, so I’m going to share some tips below.

Know the Difference

The first, very most important thing you must know is the difference between buttercream frosting and fondant.

Many times the images you see on TV and in magazines are cakes that have been covered in fondant.  That’s what gives a flawlessly smooth appearance.

That’s not to say that you can’t get frosting smooth, but it just won’t look quite as perfect as fondant.

Fondant Cake

This is a fondant-covered cake.

This is a buttercream-iced cake.

You can really see a difference if you pay attention to the edges and corners.

The Right Frosting

Believe it or not, the type of frosting you use makes a huge difference in how smooth you can get it.

  • Don’t use canned frosting.  I know, I’m a fan of the canned stuff too.  In certain applications.  If you want your cupcakes to look like the ones in the first picture, canned frosting is not your friend.  It’s too thin and can’t hold shape.
  • Make sure your homemade frosting is the right consistency.  Frosting that is too thick will crack as it is piped onto a cupcake and it will tear crumbs up when you’re frosting a cake.  Not to mention it’s a mother to spread…
  • Use a crusting frosting.  Yes, that does sound gross.  No, it doesn’t taste gross.  This simply means that the frosting develops a slight “wall” on the outside.  This isn’t so important when frosting a cupcake, but it’s super imperative for the way I get my icing smooth on cakes.

The Right Tools

You can’t properly frost a cake or cupcake without using the right tools for the job.

The Right Process

Frosting cupcakes is pretty simple:

  • Prepare your piping bag and fill with frosting.  It’s best to use a large piping bag if you’re frosting a dozen or more cupcakes.  Getting that big, fluffy pillow takes quite a bit of frosting.
  • Starting at the outer edge of where you want your frosting, apply steady, firm pressure while simultaneously moving your entire arm clockwise.  Continue moving clockwise, making smaller and smaller circular movements until you’ve created a peak at the top.  Think of it as filling an ice cream cone from a soft-serve machine.

Frosting cakes and getting them smooth takes a bit more practice and there are multiple ways to do it, so I’m going to share the easiest way.  The reason people get crumbs in their icing is because they use too little icing.

  • Prepare your piping bag same as above, but use tip 789.  Now, squeeze frosting out in big, fat, horizontal lines all over the sides and top of your cake.
  • Using an angled spatula, spread the frosting so that all of the cake is covered.  Don’t worry about getting it smooth right now.
  • Let the icing sit for a few minutes {because you’re using a crusting icing remember?}.
  • Using a Viva paper towel {yes, must be Viva}, smooth out your icing.  How?  Just lay the paper towel on the surface, either the side of the cake or the top, and gently use your hand to smooth the surface out.  Don’t spend too long in one spot or the heat of your hand will make the paper towel stick to the icing.  Otherwise, you just do small sections at a time until everything is smoothed out.

My Icing Recipe

I rarely share this with anyone, but I want you to get started right, so I’m sharing my icing recipe with you guys today!

Whip up a batch and enjoy frosting a few cupcakes with your kids!

Just remember to practice and eventually you’ll have your own system down.  This is something that is so fun to practice with kids; they think it’s the most amazing thing ever!

Chef Boyardee Little Chefs Project: Teachable Moments Cook-Along


A couple of months ago I announced that I’d be participating in the Chef Boyardee Little Chefs Project with other great bloggers!

You know how much I love talking about cooking and baking with your kids here on Sweet Phenomena, so this was an unbelievable opportunity that I am so thankful for.

The eBook came out last week {eek!}, and a series of Cook-Alongs started as well.  This Thursday, October 18th, is the second Cook-Along in the series, and it happens to correspond with my chapter: Teachable Moments.  This will be a 30 minute long live chat starting at 2 PM EST.

Come join the fun and get great tips and tricks for incorporating learning and fun in your kitchen!

The Cook-Along is sponsored by Chef Boyardee and is hosted by The Motherhood.  I’ve got a video that will be played during the Cook-Along, so be sure to stop by!

These are the fabulous bloggers participating in this week’s chat:

Amee, Madame Deals
Caroline, Smarty Pants Mama
Janene and Christine, More Than Mommies
Maureen, Wisconsin Mommy
Mel, MamaBuzz
Monica, Mommy Maestra
Tiffany, Sweet Phenomena

Hope you have a chance to stop by!

True Confessions: I am being compensated for my contribution to this project.  It has been one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, though, so I’m so happy to share all of this with you guys!