Way back in a former life, I authored the NY Times bestselling Bread Machine Cookbook series and several other cookbooks. My three daughters grew up surrounded by homemade cooking and baking. While there were certainly times that I really did not want them in the kitchen (I was in a hurry, stressed, didn’t want them making a mess, etc.), I always had them helping me with whatever baking project I was working on. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was giving them all kinds of “hands-on” learning experiences…and I reaped the rewards when they were old enough to start cooking meals so I wouldn’t have to! I love it when they come home from college and want to cook for me now!
I totally acknowledge that this time of year can be extremely stressful with all the activities going on and all the things that need to be done. But, it is also a wonderful time of year to let young children help you with some of the baking you might do. In fact, let them help you make cookies to give as gifts. Not only might they learn something, but they can feel the joy of making and giving something to someone special. Even if you are not a “baker,” think about buying the prepared cookie dough in the refrigerated section of the grocery store and let your children cut (or break) into pieces. (How many pieces are there, let’s cut this into “X” pieces, etc.). With older kids you can even get into fractions…”how many would we have if we cut in half or quarters?”
What children can learn by helping in the kitchen:
Even very young children can help you count as add ingredients. Talk to them as you do it: “we need three eggs, let’s count: one, two—how many more do we need?”
For older children, you can use it as an opportunity to get them thinking. For example:
If a recipe calls for 2 ¼ cups of flour, how many quarter cups would that be?
What measuring cups should I use if I want to use as few as possible?
Why not just use the ¼ measuring cup?
Oh my gosh! Kitchen science is a subject unto itself. Not only are there multiple “changes of properties” every time you make or do something in a recipe, but there are the chemical reactions that happen when you combine ingredients. I will be the very first to acknowledge that now might not be the time to experiment, but you should try it on a rainy day when there’s nothing else to do (?). I think I’ll cover bread-baking experiments in a future blog…maybe via making pizza. Hmmm.
• Changes in properties:
Cutting/slicing changes the appearance of something but a banana is a banana whether it is whole, sliced, or mashed.
Heat (or chilling) changes the property (from a dough to the final product).
Interestingly, there are children who don’t seem to know or understand where the food they eat comes from. Where do the foods come from, how are they prepared for us to use, how do they get here? For example: where does vanilla come from? What does it look like when growing? What happens to it so we can buy it in a little bottle in the grocery store?
Candy Bark Recipe
This is an easy, no bake recipe to play (yes play) with young children and to give as gifts… Let the children have fun with this one. Especially nice for the pre-schoolers is the fact that precise measurements are not important!
There are three main ingredients to switch around to suit your tastes and to let the children experiment a little. If you look up a Peppermint Bark recipe (traditional at this time of year), you’ll see that it calls for white chocolate, peppermint extract (comes from a plant), and crushed candy canes. But I propose a little variation…
While this “recipe” calls for a 12 oz. bag, you might want to let your children use a handful…it’s all proportions. (There’s a little math…). How would it taste if you use regular chocolate chips instead of white chocolate chips? What if you used other baking chips?
The chips need to be melted and that’s so easy that you can let young children do it with a microwave. Simply place chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl, heat about 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each round until melted.
The extract (about a tsp. for a 12 oz. bag of chocolate)
From a chemical reaction point of view, the extract will lose flavor if added to heat early in the game. That’s why it’s added to the chocolate AFTER the chocolate has been melted and removed from heat. Next time you are at the grocery store, look at all the extract flavors…what are some good combinations with chocolate?
Bits of whatever…
Traditional peppermint bark uses crushed candy canes (I put in a ziplock bag and crush with a rolling pin—change in property). You can literally use any little filling you like…chopped nuts, chopped cookies, candies. What are your favorite combinations? Mix the bits into the melted chocolate.
Remember that this is a “no bake” recipe…simply spread your mixture onto an aluminum or wax paper-covered baking sheet (or plate) and put in the fridge until cool (another change in property) and set (maybe 30 minutes?). Break into little pieces to eat.
chocolate (12 oz.) extract (1 tsp.) bits of (1/2 cup)
white peppermint candy canes, peppermints
regular peppermint mint cookies (like Girl Scout cookies) or Andes Mints
regular orange Chopped nuts?, some type of orange candies
regular coconut coconut flakes
white almond chopped or slivered almonds
regular vanilla or almond heath bar bits
Book of the week: The Rainforest Grew All Around
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