Saturday, September 11, 2010

Baking Up More Than Treats

This week we baked whole wheat bread and delicious banana nut muffins. Not just any banana nut muffins, these had chocolate chips and ginger in them. They were so good. Baking with children can seem a bit overwhelming at first. I remember the first time I baked with my little ones, it was a disaster of pretty epic proportions. Imagine flour on the counters and floor, sticky egg whites not only on the counters and floor but also in the kids hair. We baked and then they had a long bath. I think we had whatever we baked for dinner that evening because I was exhausted!

I decided to try again and slowly I developed a simple plan. The key to baking or cooking with children is to be prepared. I don't mean to have everything measured out ala Martha Stewart. What I mean is to have all the supplies on hand. Flour, eggs, vanilla, sugar and whatever other ingredient you need on the counter. Have more than one of the following (two or even three is good):

  • measuring cup
  • measuring spoons
  • bowls
  • sift
  • whisk
  • stirring spoon
  • kitchen towel

Now that everything is set out and ready, have the children wash up and don on their aprons. Make sure long sleeves are rolled up and hair is pulled back. Oh yes, and lastly rid yourself of any expectation that your kitchen is going to be clean during or after this project. It is not. I repeat it is not.

So why bother? I can bake up muffins in a flash and maintain the kitchen relatively clean and they'll be just as delicious. Why include the kids?

Cooking and baking is a process that teaches kids so many things. Even I was surprised recently when I asked Luke to measure out a teaspoon of vanilla and he promptly commented, "A teaspoon or 5 ml, it's the same thing." Indeed it is. This isn't something I pointed out, our measuring spoons don't have ml markings on them. I imagine, at some point in our cooking adventures he saw a chart or read something to indicate that 1 teaspoon and 5 ml are the same thing. Viola! Learning happens. Exactly what do children learn by helping in the kitchen?

  • Weights and measurements
  • Fractions (1/2 cup, 1/8 tsp)
  • Hand/eye coordination (cracking an egg, stirring, filling a teaspoon, chopping veggies)
  • Reading (even the youngest of children can recognize 3/4 or 1/2 and find it on the measuring cup)
  • Chemistry (heat changes forms from liquids to solids etc)
  • History (from recipes handed down through generations, culture specific recipes such as the Pan de Muertos we bake for Halloween or Day of the Dead)
  • Decision making
  • Follow directions
  • Follow Intuition
I love the last one. Why is following your intuition important? Well for me it's been a lesson I've had to learn over and over again. It seems that if I let myself by guided by my intuition (after following directions) I end up making the best decisions. Making good decisions boosts my self esteem and feelings of worthiness.

This week while making the muffins, we smelled and tasted most of the ingredients before using them in the recipe. The kids decided that the ginger had a pretty strong taste, so we decided to use less than the recipe called for. By allowing the children to make decisions we give them ownership of the results, we allow them to think ahead to the end result.

If you've never had your kids in the kitchen, I'd suggest you start out slowly. Designate one day a month. Pick and plan a recipe together. Let go of your clean kitchen expectations and really have some fun. As your kids grow older they will be familiar with the kitchen and maybe, sooner than you think, you'll be treated to breakfast in bed. (You will however need to clean up the kitchen)

Banana Nut Muffins with Chocolate Chips and Ginger

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup of butter
3/4 cups of sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3 medium bananas ~ mashed
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup of milk
chopped crystallized ginger to taste
as many chocolate chips as you can handle

  1. Preheat oven to 350* Grease a 6 jumbo muffin pan.
  2. Sift flour and baking powder in small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar. (you can use an electric mixer or melt the butter a bit and let the kids do it with a whisk) Add egg and vanilla. Beat until fluffy. Mix in bananas.
  4. Add walnuts, ginger and chocolate chips. With mixer on low speed or while children whisk, flour mixture alternating with milk. Spoon mixture into muffin pans.
  5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until skewer or knife inserted in the center of a muffin come out clean.
  6. Allow to cool 10 minutes. Unmold onto wire rack and cool at least another 10 minutes before serving.
Don't forget to have the kids help with the clean up too.