The Most Fun Cooking Projects for Wintry Weekends | Yummly

The Most Fun Cooking Projects for Wintry Weekends

Got a few hours? Try your hand at bagels, French onion soup, chocolate eclairs, and more, just for the love of cooking.

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Classic Homemade Bagels; photograph by Isobel Wield

I live for snow days — the metaphorical kind, where for one reason or another I’m home with my family and nobody has plans. Y’know why? Because they’re a great excuse for a cooking project, a dive-in-deeper recipe we can all do together. It may have multiple components, or a dough that needs time between steps. Or it might call for an ingredient you don’t see too often in our era of 30-minute recipes: patience. Stirring a gently simmering pot, gradually layering butter into dough, and waiting for royal icing to set all require a certain amount of calm, a willingness to let things go until the right moment. 

Cooking projects like these let us flex our creativity while also enjoying each other’s company. Without them, we’d probably be off in our separate corners, each of us on a screen. And where’s the fun in that?

Jump ahead to:

Slow food classics >>

Homemade breads that take their time >>

Dessert projects with a sweet reward >>

Gingerbread houses and edible log cabins  >>

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Slow food classics

If you want your cooking project to be productive (as in, you’ll wind up with a soul-satisfying dinner), you can’t go wrong with tried-and-true recipes. Each one will lead you to a dish you may have eaten in a restaurant but not imagined you’d cook at home.

Best Potsticker Dumpling

Time needed: 1 hour, 20 minutes 

One of the most rewarding cooking projects I ever did with my son was homemade potstickers. The dough is simple, nothing but flour, salt, and water, but the hot-then-cold water technique is different from most Western recipes. Potstickers present many opportunities to work together, but we usually focus on the steps that feel like play: portioning the dough and rolling out each piece to make the wrappers, then filling and folding the dumplings. 

Classic French Onion Soup

Time needed: 1 hour, 20 minutes 

When I’m looking for a cooking project, caramelizing onions is always an option. I find it therapeutic to stand by the stove, stirring a big pot of thinly sliced onions until the natural sugars outweigh the sharpness and all you’re left with is a pile of glorious umami. It takes a while, for sure, but once you’re done it’s only 20 more minutes to turn it into soup. Topped with the toasted baguettes and the melted gruyere, French onion soup  is the epitome of cozy. Two pro tips: First, use a food processor or mandoline to slice the onions quickly. And second, if you’ve got it, swap brandy, cognac, or sherry for the recipe’s white wine. You’ll notice the extra layer of flavor. 

Bolognese Sauce with Fresh Pasta

Time needed: 4 hours, 30 minutes 

You’ll find pasta with Bolognese sauce on Italian menus everywhere, but only the old-school folks make it the right way. Marcella Hazan’s recipe is definitely the right way. It takes a certain amount of patience, building layers of flavor by adding only a few ingredients at a time, then simmering for hours. But holy cow, is it worth the wait. This is so far from generic meat sauce, it’s life-changing. If you want to go all-out (I sure do), make homemade pasta while the sauce simmers. 

Chicken Mole Tamales

Time needed: 7 hours 

A traditional mole takes a good six hours to make. This version streamlines things but that’s OK, because the mole sauce is just one part of a larger recipe. You’ll tuck shredded chicken into the sauce, then prepare a dough made from masa flour. That dough gets spread on corn husks and wrapped around portions of the mole chicken. Finally, the assembled tamales get steamed for hours. The act of opening one feels like unwrapping a gift.

The Best Southern Fried Chicken

Yummly Original

I love good Southern-style fried chicken. I mean, the juicy meat, that subtle buttermilk tang, the crispy coating…just thinking about it makes me want to pull out my Dutch oven. If you feel the same way, be prepared for the fried chicken of your dreams.

Homemade breads that take their time

I am a bread fiend. There are few things I enjoy more than biting into a deliciously chewy, perfectly crusty hunk of something fresh from the oven. Because yeast takes time to make the dough rise, these recipes all make perfect projects.

German-Style Soft Pretzels

Yummly Original

Time needed: 2 hours

I’m a New Yorker and my husband is a Philly guy, so we know soft pretzels. As much as we love the kind you buy on the street, nothing beats making them at home. The trick to get that gorgeous chewiness: Before baking, boil the twisted pretzels briefly in fizzy baking soda water. When my son was little, he loved to help me make the dough, roll the portions into snakes, and shape them into pretzels. Actually, he’s 15 now and he still loves doing all that.

Parmesan, Garlic, and Herb Pull-Apart Bread

Yummly Original

Time needed: 3 hours

Not only is this bread a group activity to make, it’s a group activity to eat! To make it, you roll balls of egg-enriched, herb-flecked dough in garlic butter and Parmesan cheese, then pile them into a Bundt pan and bake. When it comes out, I like to put a bowl of warm marinara sauce in the center. Then everyone just pulls off cheesy, garlicky flavor bombs, dunks, and gobbles them down.

Homemade Bagels

Time needed: 4 hours

I’m a Jewish person from New York, so I’m a total bagel snob. If it doesn’t have a glossy crust substantial enough to soothe a teething baby, it ain’t real. Making them at home is a production, but a few years ago I moved to a neighborhood in Queens that doesn’t have a decent bagel shop (the horror!). This recipe comes in handy, since it makes 40 bagels at a time. I stash some in the freezer, and I’ve always got one to satisfy my craving.

Classic French Butter Croissants

Time needed: 16 hours, 45 minutes

In my opinion, homemade croissants are the ultimate weekend baking project. Laminating the dough — the process that creates those layers of buttery flakes — happens quickly at each stage, but requires long spells in the fridge between rounds. You really can’t make croissants in a single day. But in the end, you have homemade croissants, which I promise you taste better than any you’ve ever bought, and the bragging rights that come with them.

Dessert projects with a sweet reward

Yeast isn’t the only reason baked goods can take a while. Each of these recipes has several fun components — put them together, and yum.

Homemade Mallomars

Time needed: 1 hour, 30 minutes

I’m not a huge marshmallow fan when it comes to eating them, but making the stuff makes me happy. (I warn you, if you’re anything like me, you’ll make a substantial mess.) And if I get to bake a batch of crumbly cookies to dollop with my marshmallow, then coat the whole thing in chocolate, I’m super-happy.

French Macarons

Time needed: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Macarons (almond meringue sandwich cookies, not coconut macaroons) are notoriously fussy, but not especially difficult. A good, step-by-step guide with pictures is what you need, showing you the ingredients, tools, and techniques required for perfectly crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside treats. Follow these instructions, and your macarons will look (and taste) professional.

Classic Chocolate Eclairs

Time needed: 6 hours

Just like macarons, homemade eclairs aren’t hard, necessarily, but there are a lot of steps involved. You’ll start with choux pastry dough, which gets beaten in a hot pan rather than mixed in a bowl, then piped and baked. Once they’re cool, you fill them with pastry cream, then dip just the tops in a smooth chocolate glaze. C’est si bon.

Italian Rainbow Cookies

Time needed: 6 hours

I have never been so popular with my son as I was the one time I made full-spectrum rainbow cookies — sweet almond dough in seven different colors (seven different bowls, seven different pans), stacked with jam in between, then coated in chocolate and cut into small bars. One time was enough for that project, but the traditional three-color version feels like a snap in comparison. (And note that the hands-on time is pretty quick, but these need 5 hours of chilling.)

Gingerbread houses and edible log cabins

If you really want to have fun with your cooking project, turn food into building materials. There are numerous ways to construct a tasty edible house, even if you’ve got less than an hour.

How to Make a Gingerbread House

Time needed: 6 hours

For the full gingerbread house experience, you’ll need to make your own dough and royal icing to use as mortar. Here’s an excellent step-by-step tutorial, complete with templates to make sure your walls and roof fit together. Note that you’ll need to plan 4 hours for chilling and standing, in addition to the 2 hours of hands-on time in the recipe.

Holiday Gingerbread House

Time needed: 3 hours

Graham crackers make a handy shortcut for the walls and roof. You’ll spend the rest of the time whipping up a batch of royal icing, building the house, and decorating it with the requisite candy trim.

Time needed: 2 hours

Want the fun decorating part of a gingerbread house without actually building anything? This recipe is for you. For these cuties, you’ll make cookie balls with crushed gingerbread-flavored Oreos and cream cheese, then form them into house shapes and dip in melted chocolate. Add your decorations, pop them into the freezer, and you’re done!

Pretzel Log Cabin

Time needed: 45 minutes

For an option that’s a little less treat-focused and also ultra-fast, skip the gingerbread and the royal icing completely. Go with graham crackers and a simple paste made from powdered sugar and water, and cover everything with pretzel sticks and square-shaped cereals. It’s decidedly rustic, and quite adorable.

Explore more creative projects

In the mood to shape, bake, and roll? Check out these additional ideas.

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Learn the basic steps to making a homemade gingerbread house. Crafty genes not required! We’ve got plenty of gingerbread recipes, decoration ideas, and tips to build this iconic, edible holiday centerpiece at home.

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