Things to do in the school holidays: Make and decorate halloween/seasonal biscuits
October 30, 2017
I know this post is a little late for half term, but we loved this fun activity last week whilst we had visiting kids, so I thought I’d share – particularly because whilst we used halloween cutters, this is an activity we do year round using different themed cutters and icing and can therefore be inspiration for a little activity at lots of different times, not just halloween.
Note: I made up the biscuit dough one evening and popped it in the fridge, so it was ready to roll out and use the next morning. I kind of wish I’d had the foresight to bake up one batch the night before too, so the gap between the biscuits going into the oven and the kids having something to decorate had been shorter, but it worked out ok. This kept a 5 year old and a 2 year old occupied for a couple of hours – Pip needed minimal input but the 2 year old needed a little bit more help. She did make the most amazing “Batson Pollack” mind you!
You will need a few things which I’d love to say I have in my store cupboard but I did need to remember to order some of the things specially, particularly the eyes and the black icing. I use an adapted Nigella’s Christmas recipe for the dough because it tastes great – not always a given with kids recipes – and rolls out nicely, is very forgiving and cooks and cools quickly.
This would also make a really fun party activity – we have done cupcake decorating which works nicely too – making up icing into tiny individual pots, which is both enthralling to little people, and also stops the inability to share from getting out of hand!
Things to buy in advance
This does need a little a forethought – I ordered from Waitrose with our food shop, but some bits I had to get from Amazon, so have included the (some are affiliate) links here for ease:
Icing sugar (just the ordinary kind, not royal or anything fancy)
Makes about 40, depending on size (half the recipe if you only have one child decorating, I like to make more dough rather than less as it is inexpensive and some invariably gets lost, made into balls, or otherwise ends up not being used.
Ingredients 180g soft butter
200g caster sugar
2 large eggs
s teaspoons vanilla extract
200g plain flour, plus more for sprinkling
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine salt
Preheat the oven to 180oC/gas mark 4 and line a baking sheet or two with baking parchment.
Cream the butter and sugar together until whipped soft and pale, then beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla.
Mix in flour, baking powder and salt and continue mixing until it all comes together to make a soft dough.
Form into 2 discs, wrap each one in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
Sprinkle a suitable surface with flour, place a disc of dough on it and sprinkle a little more flour on top. Then roll out to a thickness of about 5mm.
Cut out shapes using cutters, or freeform shapes using a knife.
Bake biscuits n the oven for around 15 minutes: this depends on their shape, how many sheets are in the oven at the same time, and whether on the upper or lower shelf, though you can swap them around after 5 minutes. When they’re ready, expect them to be tinged a pronounced pale gold around the edges; they’ll be softish still in the middle, but will harden on cooling.
Take the sheets out of the oven, remove the cookies, with a flat, preferably flexible, spatula to a wire rack and leave to cool.
Prepare the icing
I made up one small bowl of white icing and another which I coloured orange. Do this by sieving icing sugar into a small bowl and adding a few drops of boiling water. Don’t skip the sieving otherwise you will have lumps which don’t disappear – the extra time taken is worth it on this occasion… You are looking for a smooth glossy paste – you will probably need to add more icing sugar. It will turn from slightly translucent to white when it has enough icing sugar in. Repeat in another bowl, or split into two bowls, and add drops of food colouring/icing dye until you have a shade you are happy with. My orange looked a little peach but the kids were very happy.
We all had a go at the decorating – it was very satisfying. We used palette knives to smooth on the icing, adding the eyes, and then let set before adding other colours using the icing pens, others we outlined in colours and filled in. Basically anything goes! At Christmas we use edible glitter, other times we use sprinkles, or sweets to make more elaborate patterns. I also like to experiment making patterns using a cocktail stick to make a marbled effect.
We then ate some, of course, before putting them into glass jars. I find this helpful for a number of reasons – air tight but you can also see them so are reminded to eat them up rather than lying in a tin forgotten (I can’t be the only one who has opened a tin to find old sad biscuits left from last time) and make lovely presents.