Sunday, February 05, 2012

Mixing it up: Baking with Little Ones

As we all know, I have been waiting for this moment since before I can remember…  The scrawny-newborn-stage rather bemused me for most of the first 12 months… I’ve been biding my time until Matilda can stand on a small stool, follow instructions, grab a paintbrush and glittery pompom or a pinny and wooden spoon… Crafting and baking in the kitchen with my daughter is my idea of parenthood.

She has just turned two years old. My time has come. Heaven.


Baking with little ones requires a bit more preparation than I had previously considered. With crafting, I’m in my comfort zone, and ultimately, I’m not really fussed about what she does with the glitter, paper, gluestick and goggly eyes. She can make any amount of mess and ‘creative learning’ and the resulting masterpiece gets immediately pinned to the fridge or posted to an unassuming godparent.

On the other hand, baking 'requires’ an end result. Or rather, I do. If we’re going to trash the kitchen and make a rather long and painful charade of mixing ingredients, I feel I really ought to have something edible to show for it. And thus I’m not prepared to skimp on ingredients, recipes or quality of process.

And as ever, I have a few caveats… All children LOVE the idea of licking the bowl, and though that was the central to the baking memories of my childhood, hubbie is nervous of dodgy eggs. One too many bad cases of salmonella on his ward, and thus we have an outright ban on little lady eating raw eggs in this house. Recipes that require beating margerine into sugar or rubbing flour into butter, are likely to be a little beyond under-3s for now, at least to ensure a good mix, and most cakes and pastry recipes require a light touch and not too much over-mixing. Not ideal with enthusiastic toddlers poised with wooden spoon at the ready.


I have discovered a gorgeous recipe that fits the bill. Call them flapjack cookies, call them homemade hobnobs: their official title is Anzac Biscuits. Though I agree that with the industrial quantities of sugar and golden syrup, it’s not the healthiest cookie recipe in the land, the porridge oats add a certain degree of ‘fake’ healthy thoughts, and you can add whatever dried fruits, nuts, spices or chocolate chips you have to hand to ring the changes too.

Similarly, for older children, you can give a little dose of history too… This recipe was used by the families of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand during WW1 to make postable biscuits that travelled and kept well on naval ships and were tasty despite the lack of eggs in the wartime conditions.

Anzac Biscuits

8oz self raising flour
8oz sugar
8oz porridge oats
8oz margarine
1tbsp golden syrup
1tbsp hot water
1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda

When I bake with Matilda, I start by melting the margarine, syrup and water on the hob before summoning her into the kitchen while it cools. Wash hands, and then, with her, we weigh out the dry ingredients into the largest bowl we can find, I pour in the melted mix, and she can then stir to her heart’s content. The large bowl prevents too much spillage and the mixture will not suffer from over-mixing, from stirring in the wrong direction or from a little bit of under-mixing, either. Your biscuits are in safe, albeit small, hands.

We then mix well and make into smallish balls which you then put on a greased tray and flatten slightly. Our technique is for me to hand her lumps of mix of about walnut size with the instruction to ‘SQUEEZE (the ball) and PRESS (onto the tray)’…Put in the oven at 180 degrees C for 12-15 mins... and cool on the tray. The aim is to get them golden in the oven not brown and still sweet, sticky and soft in the middle…

This recipe yields industrial quantities of biscuits, but as we know they keep well, this isn’t too much of a hardship. They can also be posted to unassuming godparents, to make a change from dodgy collages, if you’re feeling generous.

Now that she’s caught the baking bug, I’ve rather backed myself into a corner… Should I go within 100 paces of the kitchen, Matilda is hauling a chair across the room and demanding to HELP. So as not to be driven completely mad, I have come up with a few tactics to continue the fun…

Other ways to include little ones in the kitchen:

  • Dinner times: keep toddlers occupied for AEONS with the complex and delicate task of ‘getting mummy some frozen peas’… Decanting them with a teaspoon into a plastic receptacle for Mummy to then add to a pan as needed. Peace at last.
  • At the sink: As a last resort, after I have washed up the breakables and sharp objects and the water has cooled a bit, Matilda does her session. Basically messy water play with a purpose. She gets soaking wet, the plastic beakers and the odd teaspoon get thoroughly washed, and she will need a complete change. At least the worktops get a bit of a wash too!!
  • Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall’s Cheesey Peasy Pies are a great supper recipe too: get the kids to roll out their own square of shop bought Puff Pastry. Spoon grated cheese, frozen peas and any other fillings you fancy (ham? pasta sauce maybe?) into the middle and then bring the edges together and pinch to seal. Brush with beaten egg or milk then put in the oven for twenty minutes at 200degreesC. Bar the putting in the oven bit, the kids can pretty much do the rest all by themselves – what a sense of achievement!
  • is a videoblog by Watford dad Nick and his son Archie (great chat from Archie throughout) of their adventures in home cooking. Great recipe ideas, great safety tips and great inspirations. If they can do it in their teeny tiny kitchen (and get a book deal out of it too!) then you can definitely manage it!

It’s taken an awful lot for me to loosen my reins on the cooking in the house and look at recipes in a different light. Matilda is actually able to lend a ‘helping’ hand to more cooking sessions than I would have thought, and keeping her occupied in the hungry minutes before mealtimes is a good whine-prevention too. Introducing kids to the concepts of where their food comes from, engaging them in cooking, shopping and choosing meals and maybe even starting a dialogue about budgeting, choosing products and health, are all good steps to a healthy future for your little ones.

Pompousness aside, any excuse to get these biscuits in my house is always a good thing. Mix it up! Get cooking.

Full disclosure: pictures at the top of the page are of Nigella’s butter cookies and not the Anzac biscuits which I really should take picture of for you. Sorry.

No comments: