Written by Lynn of Cookie Baker Lynn.
As a parent, one of my goals for my children is that they should be able to take care of themselves after they’ve left the nest. I know a young woman who called home from her first month away at college, asking how to boil water. She had never had any kind of experience in the kitchen and was starting at ground level as an 18 year old.
How much better it is if we can start our kids at an early age, letting them get comfortable in the kitchen. I have two kids out of the nest and I love them telling me that they can still hear my voice in their heads teaching them how to hold the knife when cutting vegetables. We practiced cooking and baking together and today they are able to thrive in the kitchen.
I also have two children still at home, so there are many more teaching and baking opportunities ahead for us.
Switching Gears for Baking with Kids
For me, baking with kids requires a different mindset than my everyday baking. When I’m on my own I like to put on my headphones and listen to a book or dance to tunes while I create, my hands working almost independently, they’ve had so much practice. But when my children want to help, I need to take a breath and shift gears, going from fast, efficient mode to slower, teaching mode.
Along the way I’ve learned:
- You can’t be in a rush. The day you have to make 5 dozen cookies for the bake sale is not the best day to start baking with your kids.
- You can’t expect perfection. Learning involves mistakes.
- You need to mentally relax and let the little stuff slide. My mantra is, “It’s just food.” So what if it’s uneven, wobbly, or a bit burned? It’s just food!
If baking with your children seems intimidating, remember that you as parent have been their first and best teacher. Who taught them to walk? You did. Who taught them to talk? You did! Will they ever learn anything more difficult than that? Not likely.
You are very qualified to teach your children how to prepare food for themselves, but there’s a few things to remember along the way.
- Be patient.
- Assign tasks at their ability level.
- Supervise and direct.
- Expect messes.
- Expect to have fun.
All photos by Lynn Craig
Simple Steps to Baking with Kids
I’ll walk you through a recent baking session that I had with my kids and you can get an idea of what works for us and what you might like to try in your kitchen.
1. Decide what to make. Cookies are always welcome in my house, so we went with a classic oatmeal raisin cookie, with the twist of adding sunflower seeds.
2. Read through the recipe. All the way to the end. Why is this important? It helps you avoid unpleasant surprises, like the dough needing to be chilled overnight, or the recipe calling for a piece of equipment you don’t have.
3. Wash all hands and put on aprons. It’s not absolutely necessary that they have an apron, of course, but it does protect the clothes and make the children feel like they’re really bakers. Washing the hands is non-negotiable.
4. Divide up and assign tasks. Be sure that you assign tasks that they can successfully complete. Also, if you have more than one child, you don’t want them arguing over who gets to break the eggs. If one child can measure dry ingredients, then another child can measure liquids, and they can each break an egg (if there are two in the recipe).
TIP: I have my kids practice separating eggs when all that’s called for is whole eggs. There is zero stress if the yolk gets broken. It’s a good chance to introduce that skill without pressure attached.
5. Get all of the ingredients out on the counter. This does two things. It ensures that you actually have all of the ingredients. It also speeds up the process a bit so that impatient little hands won’t find inappropriate things to do while you’re searching for ingredients.
TIP: When the recipe calls for butter at room temperature, no need to put off the baking for an hour while the butter warms up. Just take turns holding a stick of butter (wrapped!) in an armpit (with a shirt on!). We call this armpit butter and the kids think it’s hilarious. It gently warms up the butter without putting melted holes in it like the microwave can.
6. Use safe and stable stools for smaller children so they can be a part of the action, too.
7. Clean up and put away as you go. Unless you’d like to raise a teenager who leaves the kitchen looking like a war zone whenever hunger strikes, another important lesson should be to clean up after yourself. And by doing it as you go, by the time the cookies come out of the oven, almost everything’s cleaned up!
So, with all that information under your belt, let’s get started!
Giant Oatmeal Cookies
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (armpit, if necessary)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (you can substitute 1/2 cup with White Whole Wheat, if you like)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats (see Tip 1 below*)
- 1 cups raisins (soaked, see Tip 2 below**)
- 1/2 cup raw, unsalted sunflower seeds
- 2 Tbsp granulated sugar (optional)
1- Preheat the oven to 375°F with two racks dividing the oven into thirds. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
2- In a large mixing bowl place the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla. Break the egg into a small bowl and add it into the large bowl. This way, any stray bits of shell can be easily removed from the small bowl, avoiding “crunchy” cookies. With the mixer on medium speed, beat until the mixture is smooth and well blended.
3- With the mixer off, add the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on medium speed, beat until all the ingredients are well combined. Turn the mixer off.
4- Drain the raisins and pat them dry on a paper towel. Add the oats, the raisins, and the sunflower seeds to the dough. Beat just until all the ingredients are combined.
5- Put the 2 Tbsp sugar in a bowl, if you’d like to dip the cookies in it before baking. This gives a sparkly, slightly crunchy finish to the cookies.
6- Scoop out the dough. (My daughter chose the Tablespoon scoop for dainty cookies. My son chose the muffin scoop for monster cookies. I divided the dough in half and let them each fill a cookie sheet.) If you’d like to, dip the cookies in the sugar. Place the dough balls on the prepared baking sheet, sugar side up.
7- Using a light tapping motion to make a flat circle, about 1/2 inch thick for monster cookies, thinner for dainty ones.
8- The dough will spread, so leave space between the cookies, more for the monsters than the dainties.
9- Using hot pads, carefully open the oven door and place the baking sheets in the preheated oven. (This is a job for older children or a parent.) Bake until the cookies are very light golden brown, about 10 minutes.
10- Using pot holders, remove the baking sheets from the oven. Set each on a rack to cool. When the cookies are cooled, remove them to a cooling rack with a spatula.
*Tip 1: If you don’t have quick-cooking oats on hand, you can make them easily. Place a cup of regular rolled oats in a food processor and pulse it a few times.
**Tip 2: One of the most common items that kids complain about in cookies is raisins. I have a theory about this. It’s the fault of dry raisins. In the heat of the oven, they have no choice but to become hard and black. If you’ve ever had a burned raisin in a cookie, you’ll know what I’m talking about. They’re nasty. But they don’t have to be.
When you’re baking with raisins, the first thing you should do is set the specified amount of raisins in a bowl and cover it with warm (preferably filtered) water. Allow the raisins to soak while you do the rest of the dough preparation (15 minutes, up to an hour). The raisins will plump up wonderfully. Drain them and set them on a paper towel to dry off before adding them to the dough. When they’re baking, they will have some excess moisture to give up in the heat and still be juicy and delicious in the finished cookie.
Did you bake with your mother, father or grandparent when you were younger? How active were you in the kitchen as a child?
Editor’s note: This will be Lynn’s last post as a contributor here at Simple Bites, but you can still follow her baking adventures and smart writing over at Cookie Baker Lynn. Lynn, thank you for all the wisdom you have bestowed here over the past year!