Baking doesn’t merely flavor the Christmas holidays for Kelli Kirk’s family, it darn near defines it.
Each year Kelli picks a new treat to make as gifts — last year was saltwater taffy; spiced gumdrops were the year before. And then she invites her daughter Violet, 14, and son Milo, 9, and their friends to cook with her. The kids arrive with lists of people they need presents for and leave with homemade treats ready to deliver. This year the treat they bake for gifts will be old-fashioned gingerbread.
“There is something essentially human about preparing food and giving it to someone,” said the Seattle mom. “You give it to the people who you love, and it’s a way of honoring them.”
Boys and girls alike enjoy picking up spatulas and measuring spoons.
“I’m yet to find a kid who doesn’t like to cook,” Kelli said. “It’s like a love of animals or a love of music. It’s just there.”
Kelli, whose baking has won numerous state fair awards, said she grew up in a working-class family who valued carefully prepared foods. She acknowledges that with all the demands competing for our attention, it can be tough to carve out the time to cook. For her, the time spent teaching kids and making food is a gift she gives to her loved ones and community.
And it’s a gift that’s returned when Violet makes lemon cupcakes from scratch for a friend’s birthday or a child who is a past baking buddy sends her a photo of an artfully made pie.
“It’s such a wonderful feeling to have kids take that into their life,” Kelli said. “Somewhere in there is that seed that I’ve planted.”
This is Kelli’s riff on the classic, with inspiration from the 1950 Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book
½ cup softened unsalted butter
2 T brown sugar
1 cup dark unsulfured molasses
1 cup boiling water
2¼ cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease with shortening and flour square, 9”x9” pan. Cream together butter, brown sugar and egg until fluffy. Blend in molasses, making sure to scrape the bowl until completely blended. Carefully add boiling water and continue to mix until incorporated. Measure flour by dip level pour method into another mixing bowl and stir together with other dry ingredients. Blend with butter mixture. Beat until smooth; mixture will be runny. Pour into pan. Bake 45 to 50 minutes until a toothpick poked in comes out clean. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired; I recommend serving with a dollop of applesauce or whipped cream.