As an avid (if slightly rough-edged) baker, I have a little (BIG) sweet tooth. I definitely got it from my late Grandma who I hope would be proud of my baking antics. I have fond memories of her teaching me the ways of mixing and beating but they’re from a child’s perspective, looking up. So what's baking with little ones like from an adult angle?
First and foremost, messy. I’m not one to judge as I’m no tidy baker but little hands make light work of decorating the kitchen as well as the cakes! There’s no harm in that though, as long as you accept your flour-covered fate before you begin. With an increase in shows like Masterchef Junior and the availability of kid-orientated recipes, it’s easier than ever to get them involved. You never know, they may get a taste for it (quite literally) and bake you something!
My wonderful Grandma playing teacher and referee to Naomi and I while we baked together on holiday
So with the smell of National Cupcake Week wafting through the air, what better excuse to whip out the whisks. It’s time to mix up a treat, send those hundreds and thousands flying, and do so with the help of eager little helpers.
ingredients - i.e. what you need before the baking with little ones begins
• Aprons and clothes you don’t mind getting grubby • A familiar or simple recipe that's easy to read • A low table they can see over and reach or… • A short stool for small feet to stand on • Kid-sized baking tools, easy for little hands to hold • Pre-measured ingredients, out of reach until needed • Some music to boogie to while your treats are baking • A spouse or friend to capture the magical moments • Just a pinch (or a handful) of patience
method – i.e. my tips for whipping up some tasty entertainment
1. Splash a little soap around before you start. You never know where their little hands have been and they’re bound to end up in their mouths. Plus it’s a good opportunity to teach them a bit about hygiene.
2. Have a few snacks ready that are extra to what you need for the recipe. All that mixing is hard work you know so they’re bound to nibble, and I can’t blame them! At least you won’t come up short halfway through the fun.
3. With that in mind, let your little baker choose the star ingredient. Maybe they have a soft spot for smarties and they’d make the perfect topping for their chocolate cupcakes. They’ll be more invested if they like the ingredients.
Seconds after this was taken: “Naomi’s putting icing sugar on the floor…”
4. Clean up as you go along. Just a sweep of icing sugar here or a collection of bowls there helps keep the kitchen in order. Try making it a competition between you and your cooking accomplice to see who can be tidier! But…
5. Don’t worry about mess really; it’s fun to draw shapes on flour-coated surfaces! And don’t worry about imperfect bakes either. The memories you make together will be all the more special if you laugh about the lopsided muffins.
6. Allow extra time so you can really enjoy the process, not just the end result. Try getting siblings or friends involved too if you’re brave. It’s probably a case of the more the messier, but it’s more sociable too.
the icing on the cake – i.e the benefits of baking together
Beyond getting something sweet (and hopefully edible) at the end, there’s plenty of other benefits to baking with little ones. Reading the recipes together helps them to learn new words and it’s an opportunity to teach them about the ingredients. How do you make chocolate? What else can you use eggs for? Where do bananas grow?
Dad teaching us how to roll out icing for our Grandad’s birthday cake
Speaking of learning, measuring out the ingredients with older children is ideal for teaching them about fractions and volumes. Even little ones can benefit too as you count the spoonfuls together and develop their fine motor skills. It can be hard for small hands to aim (that’s where big bowls come in) but stirring the mix is a fun place to start.
It’s also a wonderfully social time. Whether they just bake with you or with others their age, it’s a chance to bond and make memories together. It also teaches them how to take turns, follow instructions, be patient and share with others. All of these, plus basic cooking knowledge, are important life skills that will contribute to their independence.
the proof is in the pudding
Don’t feel you have to take my word for it; the sprinkles await! Try starting with a recipe that doesn’t involve the oven, like chocolate cornflake cakes or one-ingredient banana ice cream. No matter what floury mess and sweet treats you make, you won’t regret it. Baking really is tasty (obligatory bowl-scraping included) and fun for everyone!
The results of having my own kitchen, my Grandma’s baking genes and a little help when I was younger