Baking - Cookies, Baking - General, Recipe

Giving Toddlers the Baking Bug

As my daughter gets older, it’s easier to involve her in the baking process. Her fine motor skills are getting tuned and she can now use cookie cutters to cut out shapes, move the cookies onto a pan, and she is super-good at eating them! I have to say, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so when she starts to put the cookie cutter down halfway across one that’s already cut, I often leap in to move it. But then I got thinking, these cookies are just for us, and she seems pretty proud of what she’s doing, and they’re going to taste the same no matter how they’re cut, so why should I get all worked up about it? After all, it’s an activity I invited her to help with, and at this stage in her life this should be a fun activity, not something she gets frustrated with because I keep butting in.

We have a great cookie cookbook that has pictures of each cookie with the recipes, which is perfect since she can’t read yet. She looks through the book and finds a picture that she likes, and we do our best to make them. Sometimes I have to improvise ingredients, and I almost always cut the recipe in half (or smaller!) That way we don’t have an over-abundance of cookies, and it takes less time which is great for her toddler attention span!

I think one of the things I like best about involving her in baking and cooking is that she has started to bake and cook in her ‘oven’ (which also happens to be the big box that her car seat came in!) We never got one of those Fisher Price kitchen sets, she just uses what she can find around the house, which I think is great. I keep my nice baking equipment out of reach, but there are still lots of pans and utensils to choose from. She regularly makes feasts of pizza, pasta and salad; and of course desserts: blueberry pie, chocolate cookies, ice cream, pecan pie, apple crisp to name a few. I like to cook and bake from scratch as much as possible, and if I can involve her in the process I end up teaching her how to do that too without really even trying. It’s one thing to tell her something, but it’s so much better when she can learn it hands-on. It can take some creativity to get an impatient toddler to participate, but if you pick recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, and cut the recipe size down so it doesn’t take as long, you can have a lot of success with it. As she gets used to the process, and grows and develops more, it will be easier to tackle more complicated recipes, and as an added bonus, work on math skills – all those fraction measurements!

My sous-chef at her oven with all her pans, preparing a feast!
My sous-chef at her oven with all her pans, preparing a feast!

Here’s a modified recipe we did recently that worked pretty well (you can probably make out the full recipe if you click on the photo above):

Butterscotch Fingers

  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1/4 c brown sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 c all purpose flour
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in egg white. Stir in flour and mix well.
  2. Spoon mixture into a pastry bag fitted with star tip and pipe 3-inch fingers onto lightly greased baking sheets (you can use parchment paper, but it may slide when you try to lift the piping tip).
  3. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

My daughter helped soften the butter by pushing the buttons on the microwave, dumped the sugar in the bowl, helped hold the mixer, dumped the flour in the bowl, and helped stir in the flour with a big wooden spoon.I had to do all the piping at this stage, but she was pretty fascinated watching it happen. And she was a very eager taste-tester. She also didn’t seem to mind that we didn’t make the frosting for the middle, she was just happy to have some cookies!

Baking - General, Ingredient Insights

Blueberry Bonanza!

I recently went blueberry picking with my family at Blueberry Acres, and while the kids ate their weight in berries, the adults picked and boxed the same amount. Needless to say we now have a large stock of blueberries in our freezer, and I have been using them in many different ways. I didn’t really want to pick just one thing to profile for this post, because there are so many delicious blueberry things to make.

When I was thinking about this post, it reminded me of the movie Forrest Gump, when Bubba was telling Forrest all the different ways you could prepare shrimp. I kept thinking ‘blueberry pancakes, blueberry scones, blueberry grunt, blueberry sauce, blueberry crisp…’

So instead of highlighting one item, here is a sampling of all the blueberry delights I’ve been making. We did have some blueberry pancakes for breakfast one morning, and because we have so many berries, I didn’t even bother measuring them when I added them in, so every pancake had a good amount of blueberries (sometimes by the time you get to the last pancake you’ve scooped them all out, but not this time!) I made a blueberry cake to take to work one day, again, adding way more berries than the recipe had called for. I made a blueberry cobbler for dessert one night. And just this past weekend I made a batch of blueberry jam, in the style of the raspberry jam I made a while ago that uses apples for the pectin.

I also have some blueberries measured out and ready for a batch of Blueberry Bonanza! (That is, in fact, the name of the recipe). I am very excited about this; it takes 12 cups of blueberries! You cook the berries, then strain them through cheesecloth to extract the juice, and use the juice to make blueberry syrup. What a waste of blueberries, you might say. Not so! The remaining pulp and skins of the berries get used to make blueberry butter. Oh it’s going to be a yummy winter with all these berry preserves!

On a final note, a little tip about freezing your berries that I learned from my canning book. Obviously you want to clean your berries before you freeze them, because you won’t be able to clean them once they’ve thawed. Instead of washing them under water and trying to dry them for easier freezing, pour some out onto a towel, fold the towel overtop, and gently push back and forth on top of the towel; kind of rolling the berries around between the towel layers, thereby wiping off any residue that may be on the berries. I found this a lot easier to do than washing and drying them, and they don’t freeze in clumps like they would if they had some water left on them.

Baking - Desserts

Pastry Scraps

It is very rare that one makes just enough pastry for the pie she or he is making. There’s usually always some extra scraps, but never enough for another pie, and hardly worth making into little tarts. So what can you do with those scraps?

Cutting the pinwheels.
Cutting the pinwheels.

I had a bit of pie dough left the other night, so I gathered it up, rolled it out, and decided to make some little cinnamon pinwheels. I spread the rolled dough with a thin layer of butter, sprinkled cinnamon sugar on, rolled it up like a jelly roll, and cut them into half-inch pieces. I spread them out onto a parchment lined baking sheet, squished them down slightly and popped them in the oven (400F for about 10 minutes). They came out golden and crispy on the outside, and slightly chewy on the inside with the cinnamon sugar.

I prefer things that are sweet, but you could also make something savoury with the scraps. You could spread on a pesto or some cheese for little appetizers; or if you prefer sweet like me, you could use chopped nuts with a bit of honey or sugar, jam or jelly, or maybe even some shaved chocolate. Whatever your preference, don’t let those scraps go to waste! Enjoy every bite you can!

Bite-size cinnamon pinwheels.
Bite-size cinnamon pinwheels.