…yep that’s what I say too. And I used to LOVE baking. I found it relaxing to potter around the kitchen under a cloud of flour, slowly piping buttercream into swirly patterns. Now? “Oh god, put that spoon down, no not in THERE, let Mummy do this bit, can we just LISTEN PLEASE, where did the salt go? WHAT? ARRRGHHH!!!”
Recently I’ve stuck to five minute baking. Stuff like jam tarts with pre-rolled pastry and cornflake cakes. But I sometimes really want to spend some time actually proper baking with the kids because they really do love it. So how can I make this easier on myself? How can I get my bake on with losing my shit? Well, I turned to an expert. Laura Brink (@bakefulplay) is a fellow SAHM who loves baking with her kids. She’s written me this wonderful little guest blog post below packed full of brilliant quick tips to make it a hell of a lot easier and ultimately more delicious.
Guest Blog – Baking with Kids @bakefulplay
There are so many ‘official’ reasons to bake with your little ones. Developing literacy, numeracy, physical development, fine motor skills, encouraging them to be more adventurous with food, sensory development, to boost their confidence and communication skills…but, if you ask me, these are merely a bonus byproduct of a more beautiful thing.
When I first got into baking I was a busy teacher and in desperate need of something to make me bliss out from time to time. Always finding anything like Yoga impossible without giggling when someone says pelvic floor (I know, I know…) I gave baking a go and it became my therapy. I got quite good at it and it became a weekly pursuit with the projects becoming more and more ambitious, beginning to bake things for friends and occasions. I loved it. Now a stay at home mum with two tinies, there’s not a lot of baking time (or any time) just for me, but when I bake with my two little ones I still find it relaxing and restorative. There’s just nothing nicer than having my toddler sat on the kitchen worktop chatting away as we spoon sugar into butter and giggle as the mixer purrs into life and turns it into something thick and delicious. Side by side and up to our elbows in icing sugar we feel like a little team. I love it and it often provides the space and time for her to find the words to tell me things she’s been feeling or thinking about that otherwise I might not hear. But I know that this will sound a little alien to some of you. Baking with children and toddlers can seem overwhelming and scary. The equipment, the time it takes, the MESS. But it doesn’t have to be that way and I hope that a few of the following tips will help give you confidence in the kitchen and show you that baking can be one of the most flexible, manageable and fun activities you do with your smalls.
- Pre-weighing and recipe reduction
Pre-weighing ingredients into easy-to-pour containers like small plastic bowls, cups or baby bottles massively reduces time and mess when it comes to baking with smalls. ‘Tip that cupful into the mixing bowl’ is a much simpler instruction and means you can reduce the number of steps and speed the whole process up. For example, if a recipe calls for flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and a pinch of salt, pre-weigh these together into one bowl. Most of the recipes I use can be reduced to 3 steps with this method and fewer ingredients to deal with means less washing up. Five minutes well spent.
2. Minimise spillage with scoops or cups
If you have a toddler that loves to scoop, chances are they are not going to let you get away with simply tipping whole bowls of stuff into the mixer. They want to spoon and pour to satisfy their messy fetish. If you give them a high-sided scoop (link to some here) chances are that more mixture will end up in the bowl.
For older children or for children (like mine) who really want to do the measuring part, then using recipes measured in American Cups are another way to reduce the mess. When we do this I tend to pre-measure the ingredients into separate bowls and then we count out the number of cups into the mixer. Cups and scoops are pretty multi purpose too – great for colour sorting or water play activities, so a good investment!
3. Change it up…or down.
Baking at a level that is physically comfortable with your little one will make a huge difference to the control they have and naturally reduces the mess they make. At the moment my little girl loves to sit on the work top and we get her as close to the mixer as is physically possible to reduce spillage. That said, if we’re in the mood for a full on bake where we measure everything out together, mix it with our hands and get full-on sensory about it, I have been known to do the whole thing in our Tuff Tray on a splash mat on the floor. The Kitchen Aid is brought down on the floor too and we use an extension cable to plug it in! It sounds like a faff, but for the 5 minutes it takes to get the Tuff Tray in the kitchen and the extension lead plugged in I’d say it saves 30 minutes of post bake clean up! It’s also worth saying here that you can do all this baking without a posh mixer. An electric whisk is great. Spoon and bowl will work, but your little one is likely to struggle to do it without lots of assistance – substitute any butter with margarine to make it easier.
Another great way to reduce mess is with tactical use of greaseproof paper. If mine are sitting on the worktop to bake then I tend to spread a length of greaseproof paper underneath everything – that way any mess can just be scrunched up and chucked in the bin. No wiping down!
4. Play a tactical waiting game.
The biggest issue with baby baking is the waiting. Nothing is instant. So if you’re waiting for something to bake before they can decorate it then try and plan the time. I often put things in the oven just before lunch so they can be decorated after food and naps. You can even put them in at bedtime and then they can do the fancy bit tomorrow. This is particularly good if you have a play date the next day as then your small is helping to prepare something fun for their friends. If you do want to tackle it all in one, why not let them design their cake or cookie on paper whilst it’s cooking? I often draw around the cookie cutter we’ve used and let her go mad with the felt tips – which I pre select to match whatever colour of icing I have, so we don’t end up with unrealistic expectations!
5. Break it down and max it out.
It is fair to say that however much you simplify a bake, it’s still a higher maintenance activity that colouring, stickers or a jigsaw. So when you do it, make it count. Bank some effort to help you out on another day. No toddler needs to decorate and eat 12 cupcakes or 24 biscuits in one sitting. In my experience they lose interest after two or three. Why not freeze half of the cupcakes or make double quantities of biscuit dough and freeze half for another day. Cupcakes are good in the freezer for 4-6 months and cooki dough for about 3. This way, next time you want a baking activity, you can do something much more quickly by defrosting the pre-made cakes and only doing the decorating part or having biscuit dough all ready to roll and cut.
As with all things to do with kids, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You don’t have to make a picture perfect bake from start to finish. You can adapt a baking activity to suit you, your little one and the amount of time and energy you have on any particular day. Bake the cupcakes in advance (buy them even) and just enjoy chucking sprinkles at them together. Make the cakes and don’t bother decorating them at all – no one NEEDS frosting. There’s something really satisfying about a perfectly domed, naked little cup cake or a plain golden biscuit. Scrumptious. Pre-make the biscuit dough (most will keep wrapped in the fridge for about 3 days, so you can make it in a quiet moment) and start the activity at the cutting out stage. Baking doesn’t have to be a whole morning of mess. You can control how long, messy and involved it all is. One of the reasons I love it so much is precisely because it can be customised so easily.
I really hope these five tips are helpful and set you on the path of enjoyable baking with little ones.
For some easy to prep and follow recipes to start you off check out Laura’s blog posts below:
Or give her a follow on instagram @bakefulplay
Thanks so much to Laura for these really useful, simple tips. I’m definitely going to give them a go, especially as we run up to the beginning of GBBO over the summer. Bring on the flour clouds!!! FMM x