People often think that I know my stuff when it comes to kids in the kitchen. Since I write about cooking and parenting, I guess it would make sense, but the truth is, I’m just trying to figure it out.
The girls are 5 and 7 now. They can read, especially the big one, and they can tell sugar from baking soda. They can totally make a cake on their own.
As long as I put my hands over my eyes.
I need to be in the room to put the thing in the oven, but otherwise, I’m no help at all. I wince as the tablespoon gets confused with the teaspoon and I judge the clumpiness of the batter. The only way I can help is to let go and let it all happen.
The truth is, the worst thing that can happen is that the cake doesn’t come out so well. They’re happy about it anyway and it was a good way to spend an afternoon. I can tell you that it is a really good thing to let your kids make their own food in the kitchen. It’s worth working on, and that’s why I’m still here, taking deep breaths and and trying not to draw blood from my lip in the corner while Sadie is about to spill oil all over the table.
I am able to do this because they are reading the directions by themselves. There is a book, open to the chocolate cake page. Sadie’s friend Aurora is reading the directions and interpreting the pictures. Sadie is measuring and stirring. And because the girls have learned that a cake is not a cake unless someone is taking pictures of it, Rosie chronicles every moment with the camera.
We have three cookbooks for children in our house, and I love them all for different reasons. These cookbooks speak directly to the kids; they often use pictures to explain the recipes, and the recipes themselves are simple yet good enough for us all.
This is the newest book in our little collection, and it is showing a whole lot of promise. Our friend Naya included it in the best care package in history, and Sadie was busy looking through it before Rosie could put all of the cupcake printed bandaids all over her skin. Mollie Katzen and the whole Moosewood family have not let us down yet, and so far Honest Pretzels is no exception. It contains snacks, meals and desserts, from spunky chili to the grilled cheese and broccoli sandwich to Peanut Butter doo-dads to dinner rolls. Kids need to be able to read for this one, and she really speaks respectfully to them, which I love. Not only are the recipes simple, they are foods that kids actually want to eat.
Way back when the girls were tiny, we had a visit from our friend Liz’s mother, Anita. Anita is one of those home bakers who makes absolute magic in her oven. Everyone tries to get in her good graces so that they can score a box of goodies from her in December, and her chocolate chunk cookies are pretty much the best in the world. She came for dinner that night, on a visit out from Denver, and we talked about baking most of the time. A few weeks later, there was a package, with a little thank you and this book. The girls were maybe 2 and 4 we pretty quickly moved through the whole thing. The girls would sit on the couch together, picking out recipes as though they didn’t have the whole book memorized. The Baking Book is filled with basics- birthday cake, scones, and shortbread cookies, but the recipes are all done through pictures. This layout is what makes this book great for younger children- they can really lead you through the recipe. The recipes have all worked for me, and the birthday cake is actually one of our go-to cakes.
Of the three, this is the book that we have used the least, although not for any lack in its quality. I think we’re just not quite there yet. Fanny at Chez Panisse is written from the perspective of Alice Waters’s daughter, and it goes through several of Alice’s more simple and basic recipes. It is beautifully written and pleasing to look at, and I think that it is perfect for a child of eight or nine who is really discovering themselves in the kitchen.
Made-in-the-Pan Chocolate Cake
from Mollie Katzen, Honest Pretzels
1 1/4 cups unbleached white flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup water
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cider vinegar or white vinegar
Ask an adult to turn on the oven to 325 degrees. Put the flour, cocoa, sugar, salt and baking soda into a square glass baking pan. Mix it slowly. taking turns with a fork and a soup spoon. until it is completely light brown. Peek through the bottom of the pan to make sure that you don’t see any more white. When it is all mixed, make 4 dents with a spoon- 2 large and 2 small- in the mixture. Measure 1 cup water and pour it into one of the large dents. Measure 1/3 cup oil and pour it into the other larger dent. Measure one teaspoon vanilla extract and pour it into one of the smaller dents. Measure one teaspoon vinegar and pour it into one the other smaller dent. Begin stirring with a fork in little circles to get all of the dry parts wet. As it turns into batter, start mashing it down with a fork. After you mash it a few taimes, scrape the bottom and stir. Do this again many times- mash, scrape, stir. When the batter is smooth, scrape the sides one more time with a rubber spatula and spread it into place. Clean off the edges of the pan with a damp paper towel. Ask an adult to put the pan in the oven. Set the timer for 30 minutes. Ask an adult to take it out. Cool for 30 minutes before cutting and eating.