Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Baking with Kids: Tips and Tricks

My youngest brother was born when I was 14 and my other brother isn't much older - he was born when I was 11. This huge age difference caused me endless strife in high school, because I was constantly asked to babysit them after school and on weekends. While I enjoyed spending time with my little brothers from time to time, this rarely included something as involved as a baking project.

Since I have grown older and a tad bit wiser (although this point is arguable), I have come to realize that it's really fun to do things with my brothers, because they hold the time they spend with me very dear. Because of this, I decided to include them in my baking project the other day: making cornbread for dinner. (That's them in the picture, there. They're standing in front of our cornbread, but there's a terrible glare on the dish so you can't really see it... oops.)

In the past, the few baking projects I did with my brothers during high school were really frustrating for all of us. I'm a control freak who wouldn't let them help enough, they wanted to help TOO much, and then they ended up getting bored and leaving me to finish the project. Fun to an extent, but definitely lacking a good ending, don't you agree? To remedy this, I used several techniques I learned last summer as a camp counselor to help our most recent cooking project be more satisfying to all involved parties.

After a very successful batch of cornbread, I though to myself, "Hey, maybe there are some people out there in the internet world who would appreciate some tips on how to doing baking projects with their kids!" And that is the thought that inspired me to write this post. So the following is a list of things that I have found helpful when working with young children (my brothers are aged 8 and 5, if that gives you a reference point for what ages I'm dealing with).

Tips and Tricks:
  1. If you have a child that can read, have them read the list of ingredients and help to gather everything that is needed. This will help them feel included immediately, and will warm both of you up to each other's presence in the kitchen.
  2. Use a recipe that is pretty simple: not too many ingredients, no finicky steps (such as soft vs stiff peaked egg whites), and preferably something you have made before so you can catch when things are going off-track.
  3. If you have more than one kid working with you, make sure you alternate when each of them helps. This cuts back on sibling rivalry making for frustrated kids - if they feel included, they won't be jealous of their brother/sister.
  4. Do all the dangerous stuff yourself (ie putting things in the oven, cutting with sharp knives, and getting things off of high shelves), but explain why you are doing it. For example, say, "I am going to cut up this apple. Why do you think it's important to be careful when working with this knife?" Even though they won't be doing the cutting, they'll feel included because they are answering a question.
  5. Feel free to teach them things about cooking/baking as you work on your project. By telling them what baking powder does or why it's important to grease the pan, they understand the process better, and it allows for more interaction between yourself and the children.
  6. Let the kids crack the eggs, but make sure you do it in a separate bowl. This way you can fish out the inevitable bits of egg shell that end up mixed in with the egg.
And for all of you that are interested:
Cornbread Recipe:
Adapted from Albers Sweet Corn Muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup yellow or white corn meal
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup vegetable oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan.
2. Combine flour, sugar, corn meal, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Combine milk,eggs, and vegetable oil  in small bowl; mix well. Add to flour mixture; stir just until blended. Pour into baking pan.
3. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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