Cooking with children: A recipe for success

The secret to having a great time baking with all the family is to relax, says Amy McLellan

Things didn't start well when we discovered we were one egg short of the recipe. "Doesn't matter, mummy," said my three-year-old brightly as she plunged her hands into the ground almonds. We were two ounces short of almonds – did that cancel out the missing egg? – and we had the wrong sort of chocolate. We hadn't even begun to bake and already I was feeling stressed.

Tip one for baking with young children: check your ingredients first.

I decided to put the poor start behind us. Mixing the butter and sugar was great fun, although the end product was far from the "fluffy" texture recommended in the recipe. "Lovely thick custard," decided my daughter.

Tip two: don't worry if your cake diverges from the book.

We had great success with the egg whites. My daughter operated the whisk by herself and marvelled at how they gradually transformed into a thick bubble bath-like substance. My one-year-old, banging around with a wooden spoon and mixing bowl on the floor, now wanted in on the action. This is where things got tricky. He was assigned a cupboard of plastic cups and plates to "tidy" while my daughter got busy tasting the cake mix and I struggled to fit the base in to the bottom of the cake tin. Soon the kitchen was an assault course of plastic and my son had emptied the cupboard of poppy seeds and icing sugar.

Tip three: begin baking when babies are napping.

The cake went into the oven. My daughter licked the mixing bowls. My son played with a poppy seed mountain. The cake rose beautifully, and then sank, but an enthusiastic application of chocolate icing meant that no one cared.

In fact, this seems to be the secret of successful baking with children. Sue Palmer, education expert and author of Toxic Childhood, says the most important thing is to relax and enjoy the experience rather than getting hung up on doing things perfectly. "Parents have to be very patient and just appreciate spending time with the kids," says Palmer, who says cooking is a great way to learn life skills and maintain social interaction. "We are so used to rushing about and getting things done as quickly as possible, but it's important to make that adjustment and get into the right mindset, so you can both enjoy it."

Annabel Karmel, children's cooking guru and author of the bestselling Complete Baby And Toddler Meal Planner, is evangelical when it comes to getting children busy in the kitchen. And, surprisingly for the author of beautifully illustrated cook books, she says parents shouldn't worry about trying to match her recipes ounce for ounce. "Don't worry if it doesn't look like the picture in the book, just let them get on with it," says Karmel, who is a mother of three children. "Don't be tempted to leap in and take over."

She recommends starting off with simple recipes that can be done and dusted within half an hour to accommodate short attention spans. But the babysitting stops there.

"There are so many jobs even very small children can do," she insists, listing grating cheese, peeling potatoes, rolling out dough, podding peas and mixing salad dressing. "If you teach young children the skills, they grow up knowing how to be safe and sensible in the kitchen. They are much more intelligent and capable than people give them credit for."

Christmas is the perfect time to have some kitchen fun. Home-made mince-pies and festive cookies make perfect treats for parties (and can be healthier than shop-bought varieties) not to mention treasured gifts for doting relatives. A baking session is also an ideal indoor activity now that the weather is cold and the afternoons are dark. If you're seeking some inspiration, why not try out these simple fun recipes to get your little ones in the festive mood?

STAINED GLASS WINDOW BISCUITS

Ingredients

(makes about 25 biscuits)

350g/12 oz plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp salt

100g (4 oz) butter

175g (6 oz) soft brown sugar

1 egg

4 tbsp golden syrup

Several different colours of fruit-flavoured boiled sweets

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar.

Beat together the egg and golden syrup. Mix into the flour mixture to make a smooth dough, kneading lightly with your hands.

Crush the sweets in their wrappers using a rolling pin. Sprinkle flour on a clean work surface and roll out the dough until about 1/2cm (1/4in) thick, then cut into shapes using a selection of Christmas cookie cutters. Transfer to lined baking sheets.

Cut out shapes in the centre of each biscuit, making sure you leave a good edge all around the biscuit. Completely fill the hole in each biscuit with crushed boiled sweets.

Make a hole at the top of each biscuit using a drinking straw so that you will be able to thread a ribbon through it later. Bake for around 11-12 minutes or until they turn golden brown.

While the biscuits are still warm, check the holes are still there, otherwise push a straw through again.

Do not remove the biscuits from the baking tray until they have cooled, as the melted boiled sweets still need to become hard. Once the sweets have hardened, use a palette knife to gently lift the biscuits on to a wire rack to finish cooling.

You can decorate the biscuits with piped white icing. Thread ribbons through the holes to make loops for hanging on the Christmas tree.

RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED BAKED POTATO

Ingredients

(makes 4)

4 medium baking potatoes (around 225g each)

A little vegetable oil

Half of a medium-sized butternut squash (around 300g)

55g butter

1 tsp Dijon mustard

40g fresh, grated parmesan cheese

2 tbsp milk

40g grated cheddar cheese

Decoration

Cherry tomatoes, twirly crisps, peas for eyes



Method

Preheat the oven to 190C/370F/Gas Mark 5. Prick the potatoes in several places, place on a baking tray and brush with oil. Bake for 60-75 minutes or until they are feel soft.

While the potatoes are cooling, cut the butternut squash in half, then scoop out the seeds. Place the squash half into a baking dish, skin side down. Melt 20g of the butter and brush it over the squash, then bake it in the oven for about 40 minutes or until tender.

When cool enough to handle, cut the tops off the potatoes and scoop out the flesh. Scoop the flesh of the cooked butternut squash from its skin and mash together with the baked potato flesh, mustard, parmesan, milk and remaining butter. Season with salt and pepper. Put the mixture back into the potato shells and top with the grated cheddar. Meanwhile, preheat the grill on its hottest setting. Place the potatoes on a baking tray or suitable dish and grill for a few minutes until the cheese is bubbling and golden.

Add twirly crisps for antlers, peas for eyes and cherry tomatoes for the nose.



The recipes and pictures came from Annabel Karmel's 'Family Cookbook Winter and Christmas 2009' (Dennis Publishing, £5.99)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Teaching Assistant

    £12024: Randstad Education Leeds: Teaching Assistant September 2014 start - te...

    Physics Teacher

    £130 - £162 per day + UPS: Randstad Education Hull: Physics Teacher Long Term ...

    IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

    £23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

    Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

    £85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn