Jun Lee, 12, delighted in forming shredded ham and cheese into a ball.
“I just like to make something delicious,” said the fifth-grader at Scott Elementary. “Here comes a big fat one.”
His “big fat one” was then wrapped in a 3-inch round of flattened biscuit dough, baked and formed into a Hot & Stuffed Wreath.
He was one of a couple dozen young cooks taking part in a hands-on Edible Wreath class Saturday afternoon. They ringed a large sunny classroom inside Eckert’s Country Store in Belleville. Parents and grandparents sat behind the cooks, offering help when needed.
Cooking coaches Lana Shepek and Sabine Vaughn teamed up to show kids between 5 and 12 how to make four kinds of edible wreaths — the sweet thumbprint Cookie Wreath, the easy cheese and pepperoni-filled Roll-Up Wreath, the mini Party Cheese Wreath and the challenging Hot & Stuffed Wreath that Jun was making.
They started with thumbprint cookies. Before giving each student three slices of cookie dough to roll into a ball, Lana explained the importance of room temperature butter in the batter: “If this butter was cold instead of room temperature, it wouldn’t have beaten into this smoothness. The cookies wouldn’t have been as tender. They fall apart and melt in your mouth.”
They learned that egg white would be the glue to hold the sprinkles, and that a thumb can make a pretty good hole for the seedless red raspberry jelly.
“It’s like working with Play-Doh,” said Sabine. “Shape the dough into a bowl.”
Reese Brueggeman, 8, did just that.
“I like cooking,” said the William Holiday Elementary third-grader.
And what else do you like?” said her dad Kirk.
“She was bacon and eggs for Halloween,” said Kirk. “This is her first cooking class. She’s kind of a foodie.”
Reese even likes food toys called Shopkins. The miniature plastic store-item characters are fun to collect, trade and share.
Mya Lynn, 8, of Swansea, sat alongside her sister, Stella Lynn, 5.
“I like feeling the dough,” said Mya.
“I like eating the cookies,” said Stella.
“My favorite part is the sprinkles,” said Avery Hof, 6, of St. Louis. “Sprinkles are delicious.”
Among the cooking tips aimed for kids: Roll up your sleeves and wash your hands before you begin. Always have an adult in the house when using the kitchen, and ask for permission. They also learned vanilla comes from a flower called an orchid, a batter bowl (flat bottom, high sides) works well for mixing cookie dough, and a long-handled ice teaspoon is just right for spooning jam from jars without getting sticky.
A half-hour into cooking class, the first batch of edible wreaths was baking.
“I smell cookies,” said a young cook.
The sweet fragrance of jelly-filled thumbprint cookies filled the air. Lana checked the oven.
“We don’t want them to burn after all that work,” she said. “They are looking awesome. They are very hot. We’ll let them cool off a bit.”
The young cooks had a few more recipes to complete. For Roll-Up Wreaths, they easily wrapped pepperoni and mozzarella inside squares of pastry pie crust, careful to tuck in ends as instructed. Only in cooking class would you hear: “Take three pieces of pepperoni and put it on your work sheet.” As the bowl of thin sausage slices made its way around the room, it looked like the kids were playing a game of “Pass the pepperoni.”
Marlee Kocher’s pepperoni disappeared inside her pie crust as Grandma Missy Roth, of Millstadt, watched.
“My grandma bought this for me for my birthday,” said the Waterloo Junior High sixth-grader. “I was really happy because she knows how much I like to cook. Dad taught me how to cook fish. ... It’s easier for me to cook now that I am older. When I was young, I didn’t catch on as quickly.”
She looks forward to Grandma’s cooking.
“At Thanksgiving, she makes a corn pudding. I also like her macaroni and cheese.”
“Anything I make,” said Missy, “she is willing to jump in and help.”
The only uncooked recipe was a Party Cheese Wreath appetizer made in a tiny pie plate. Cheddar, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses combined with mayonnaise, sour cream and seasonings. Tiny sprigs of broccoli, parsley and peppers added seasonal color.
The best part of making it? Pounding the business end of a vegetable chopper. A grid inside the chopper turned chunks of red and green pepper into tiny squares.
“With your fist like this, go bam, bam, bam,” said Sabine.
Max Merchiori stepped up and pounded like a pro. The 9-year-old Whiteside School third-grader has quite a few classes under his belt.
“We like the themes,” said mom Becky. “He likes to get the hands-on time. We also like the classes when we get to pick our own vegetables.”
Depending on the season, young cooks pull onions from the vegetable garden, or ride to the orchard to pick peaches and apples. Cooks, such as Max, started with Mommy and Me classes for 2- to 5 year-olds, made friends and moved up.
“We have a lot of kids who accumulate a box of recipes,” said Lana. “Going into the holidays, they might repeat these recipes at home and share them with their families.”
She and Sabine arranged cookies and baked appetizers into wreath shapes before inviting the cooks up to the buffet table to sample what they had made. A tart cherry and lemon-lime soda punch complemented the sweet and savory offerings.
“I like the pizza kind of rolls best,” said Allyson Ellis, 12, a seventh-grader at Dupo Junior High, who regularly makes bacon and scrambled eggs.
Reese’s favorite? “The little cookies. They look like doughnuts and taste very good.”
Dylan’s? “The punch.”
Mya? “The pizza things.”
Stella? “The cookies.”
Avery? “I liked the punch and the cookies.”
What do you like best Jacob? “All of them.”
Here are a few of the wreath recipes to try at home. Dorothy Grove and Connie Welch, both on Eckert’s staff, helped test the recipes for the class.
Eckert’s Cooking Classes for Kids:
- What: Hands-on classes. Mommy & Me classes are for children 2 through 5; and ages 5 through 12. Upcoming Edible Wreath classes are filled, but there are waiting lists. Check online for lists of classes available through April.
- Advice: If you see a class you like, sign up early. Space is limited; reservations required. Seating for adults is limited, but one adult observer per child may attend free.
- Cost: Between $15 and $20
- Where: Classroom inside Eckert's Country Store, 951 S. Green Mount Road, Belleville
- Information: Call 618 233-0513 or go online: www.eckerts.com
1/2 cup butter, slightly softened
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, separated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
3/4 cup sprinkles, red and green, or colored sugar
Jelly (The class used seedless red raspberry).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With mixer, cream butter, brown sugar, egg yolk and vanilla. Blend in flour. Form into a log and chill in freezer for 15 minutes. Remove from freezer. Cut log into 24 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.
With fork, beat egg white slightly. Dip tops of cookie balls in egg whites and then roll in sprinkles or colored sugar. place on ungreased baking sheet. Press thumb in center of cookie. Spoon a small amount of jelly into center of coolie. Bake 10 minutes. Cool. Makes two dozen.
4 Humble pie crusts, defrosted (They’re available at Eckert’s. Crescent rolls could be substituted.)
8 mozzarella sticks, cut in half crosswise
16 pepperoni slices
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut humble pie crust into fourths. Using one wedge at a time, lay a piece of pepperoni at the wide edge, topped with half a stick of mozzarella laid crosswise. Roll up from the wide edge to the tip, tucking in both sides as you roll.
Place on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake 13-15 minutes.
On the center of a platter, place a bowl of pizza sauce for dipping. Arrange the 16 roll-ups in a wreath, placing them side by side, perpendicular to the sauce. You will be forming a sunburst pattern. Makes 16 servings.
Party Cheese Wreath
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
1 cup shredded chedar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
3/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon Beau Monde
1/4 teaspoon sugar
Chopped broccoli crowns, chopped red pepper, parsley
Mix together mayonnaise, sour cream, shredded cheddar, shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Stir in seasonings and sugar. Form a wreath shape by spooning the dip mixture around the rim of a round tray or plate about 10 inches in diameter. Top with chopped broccoli and red pepper. Garnish with parsley. Serve with crackers. Makes 16 servings.