Come December, Chetna Makan’s kitchen looks a lot like the set of a baking competition show with pans full of cookies flying in and out of the oven. But instead of trying to impress judges, the 2014 Great British Baking Show semifinalist is focused on another group of very important people—the staff at her kids’ school.
Before Christmas vacation, 12-year-old Sia and 10-year-old Yuv deliver big boxes of treats to the school’s employees. “Everybody gets very excited and is always very grateful for those home-baked presents,” says Chetna. And who can blame them? It’s not every day that a TV star bakes you cookies. To get those boxes ready, the family dedicates an entire weekend to mixing, rolling, baking, and decorating an assortment of sweets, like marshmallow-and-jam-stuffed sandwich cookies and cardamom-spiced gingerbread people that blend elements of her Indian heritage with their life in Kent, England, outside of London.
Between her two kids, Chetna says Sia is the more enthusiastic cook. She pops up regularly on her mom’s popular YouTube channel, Food with Chetna, where the pair have baked a perfect Victoria sponge and frosted multitiered coconut cakes. Yuv is the opposite and tends to want to do his own thing in the kitchen, so Chetna will often divide the dough into two portions to avoid midbaking bickering. “They don’t argue too much, in part because I’ve realized the kitchen is not the place to try and force them to work together,” she says with a laugh.
Chetna learned how to bake by helping her mom, Manju, make date cakes, but she’s taken a more hands-off approach with her own children. “My kids kind of picked up baking themselves,” she says. “I let them get on with it and give them tips as they go.” That extends to baking gifts, too. “The cookies don’t have to look perfect,” says Chetna. “By the end, you can’t really make out what anything is! But even if the gingerbread men end up having only one eye, it’s OK, as long as the kids are having fun.”
The family bakes and boxes up dozens of cookies for the staff at the kids’ school.
Sia cuts out gingerbread men, and Yuv (below) is on dough duty.
"The kids spend a lot of time accessorizing the gingerbread people, giving them beautiful hats and scarves,” says Chetna."
Chetna Makan's Holiday Wagon Wheels
Recipe: Try Chetna Makan's Holiday Wagon Wheels
Chetna Makan's Pecan Chocolate Cookies
Recipe: Try Chetna Makan's Pecan Chocolate Cookies
Chetna Makan's Giant Candy-Packed Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chetna Makan's Cardamom & Clove Gingerbread People
After a long day of baking, it’s time for a break—and a few cookies!
"We don’t just bake for the teachers,” says Chetna. “We stock up all our cookie jars so we’re ready for Christmas.”
For more mealtime fun, check out Yum-o!, Rach’s nonprofit organization. You’ll find recipes, ideas for improving food in schools, and stories about people who are changing the way America eats. How cool is that?!