Monday, August 24, 2009
Baking with toddlers
Being surrounded by fresh food and a busy kitchen from a young age is surely one of the key ingredients to becoming a cook. If you see cooking being done on a regular basis, see how easy it can be to transform simple ingredients into delicious meals, and learn that food comes from pots and pans rather than cardboard boxes or tin foil containers, that will surely teach you more about how to eat well (in season, in moderation etc) than heavy-handed nanny state messages about X food bad, Y food good.
I come from a family of excellent home cooks but I don't remember the message ever being rammed down my throat that I must learn to cook and like it. Cooking was a life skill that you acquired, along with other skills necessary to function in life, and it was a bonus that I enjoyed it. Cookbooks were in the house, recipes were clipped from magazines and we were encouraged to try our hand in the kitchen, no matter how much of a mess we made or how many mistakes happened. There's nothing wrong with making mistakes in the kitchen, as long as you learn from them. You'll only forget to grease a cake tin once; the resulting mess, and disappointment, as you try to scrape out a cake glued to the tin will stay with you and ensure you don't forget again.
My son Daniel is almost three-and-a-half and he loves helping in the kitchen. Measuring, mixing and scraping (and, of course, tasting!) are all things he can easily do to help and he gets a real buzz out of seeing how a runny mixture can be transformed into a delicious cake or biscuits (although he's not so keen on the wait involved!)
This week we decided to make "gingie men" (gingerbread biscuits). I've got dozens of recipes but this dough is easy to mix up and there's no need for it to relax in the fridge, so this is a simple recipe for rainy days or when the demand for biscuits needs to be met quickly! It's based on a recipe from Notebook magazine. You can ice your biscuits or decorate them with currants to make them fancy, but I don't usually bother.
125g butter, softened
100g brown sugar
125ml golden syrup
1 egg yolk
375g plain flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 ground cloves
Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Line two oven trays with baking paper. Use an electric mixer to beat the butter, sugar and golden syrup together until pale and creamy. Add the egg yolk and beat until just combined. Add the sifted flour and spices and use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture until it's just combined. Tip out onto a lightly floured bench and use your hands to knead the dough until smooth.
Divide the dough into two portions. Put one portion aside and roll out the other portion to about 5mm thick. Cut into shapes using biscuit cutters and bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden. Transfer from trays to a wire rack and cool.