Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Letting our Kids experiment in the Kitchen

Whether it's play dough bake off, making the Christmas biscuits or a cake to take to pony club our children really enjoy baking and experimenting with it. At their science club yesterday they made pancakes. The principle was the following, give them one egg and tell them to beat it. Provide a vast array of flours, liquids, sugars and various other ingredients (cordial, hazlenut paste, food colouring...) let them explore adding different things to the eggs before cooking their mix and seeing whether it's edible*. 

As you can imagine they had a wonderful time. And its something they often ask to do at home too. Maya had a stage of following her own recipes. There were many flat cakes with the texture of pancakes as they often didn't rise as much as she planned. And there was a pastry phase where she made her pastry 'au pif' as the French say by just adding and mixing till she was happy. Sometimes this led to difficult to eat messes and other times to delicious discoveries like her cinnamon pastry base.

A younger Maya making a tart

I admit these experiments haven't always been my favourite moments. They tend to involve a lot of mess in the kitchen and the results aren't always that tasty. However, they give the children such joy in discovery and a sense of accomplishment when things do work that it's hard to resist saying yes. And they're learning through experimentation which is really positive. 

This is also an opportunity to learn something about how they are as learners. While our eldest needed to be left to it and allowed to experiment freely and with little or no constraint, our middle child always preferred having a recipe and a little leeway within that recipe. Perhaps this was due to tasting all his sister's pancake cakes or reflective of the fact he doesn't always like the unpredictable. 

Lotta's chocolate cake with grated butter

Our youngest daughter has just discovered the joy of her own recipes. She comes to me with a piece of paper on which she's written all the letters she knows and then proceeds to read me her recipe. She is not as independent as her older sister was, she likes me to be right next to her but she is definitely in charge. As I am able to influence quantities and make a few useful suggestions her cakes turn out pretty well on the whole. Sometimes we have to be inventive. With the above cake I realised part way through we hadn't put any butter in and that the cake was probably not going to be that great without it. So we grated it into the mix. It worked beautifully as did the crushed walnuts she decided to scatter through. 

A happy Lotta eating some of her mix

They also change and evolve through this process. Once she could read, Maya was happy to follow recipes because she could still make the cake by herself. She still likes to invent new flavour combinations and decorations but she's decided if she wants a tasty cake it's probably best to at least use a recipe for guidelines.  

A few tips for baking with kids

  • If they're following their own recipe, let go of the expectation that the result will be beautiful or even tasty, it might be but there's no guarantee.
  • The first rule of baking in our kitchen is push up your sleeves, wash your hands and find an apron.
  • Using a stool to help your child be at the right height is a great help.
  • If they're are inventing their recipe, it's useful to begin by discussing what kind of cake your child wants to make. I find this helps them think through their recipe and helps me suggest what order they might like to mix things in. (I can also sneak a look at a recipe to have an idea of quantities)
  • In terms of quantities don't be too stingy unless you have very small baking pans. A small amount of mix in a too big tin makes for a very sad, flat little cake.
  • Be prepared to be as involved or not as the child wants. In our experience with Maya, our being too involved took all the fun out of it for her to the point she would abandon her cake.
  • If you're feeling especially organised, how about preparing an ingredients tray with everything they can use ready for them. You might want to put eggs, flour, milk, butter but also things like cocoa, chocolate or chocolate chips, banana (it helps with rising), baking powder and any other fun things you have to hand (cranberries, nuts, chocolate stars or hundreds and thousands).
  • For a child who prefers to use a recipe there can still be choice. For example, Noah loves making apple cake, one thing he can change is the size of the apples, and whether they're in chunks or slices. It doesn't seem like much but it changes how they look a lot.
  • Prepare yourself beforehand that even if they do help with the tidying up, you will probably end up doing a fair share of it. In our case, when they help with the washing up for example that usually means I end up having to clean the spillage all over the floor!        

* A handy tip from Tristan our science club leader. Pancake mix is great for experimentation because it doesn't need to rise. As long as you use egg as the base and some flour and some liquid, you are pretty much guaranteed the pancake will cook and be edible. How tasty is will be is variable however, some of the ones made with chickpea flour yesterday were not my favourites!

No comments: