Tag Archives: baking


26 Dec

The best thing about school holidays is that the kids are home. The worst thing about the school holidays is that the kids are home.

Okay, that’s not really how I feel about holidays but it seemed like a catchy way to start this post on cooking with kids.

The little man impressed his grandfather by leveling off the measured ingredients

The little man impressed his grandfather by leveling off the measured ingredients

Regular readers know my seven-year-old is starting to learn his way around the kitchen. Part of that is giving him responsibility for certain dishes at the holiday table. He can manage roasted asparagus on his own now. He makes bread as well, from his prize-winning no-knead recipe. And with his grandfather, he makes a delicious cornbread that goes well with roasts (and chili).

What's next? Let's see.

What’s next? Let’s see.

The original recipe comes from Kids Cook! by Sarah Williamson & Zachary Williamson, a treasure trove of simple and tasty recipes that kids can manage. Padushi and Leandro have tweaked it a bit (starting with substituting the margarine for real butter and beating the eggs before mixing with the rest of the ingredients) and the results are an ever-so-slightly sweet, rich crumb that has a lovely cakey texture.

Not my most artistic image, but a good indication of the nice texture.

Not my most artistic image, but a good indication of the nice texture.

The other results are a kid who is learning to follow instructions, a grandfather who is learning to let the kid do the work, and a grandson and grandfather who accomplish stuff together.

*See tips for cooking with kids below.

Nice crumb!

Nice crumb!

Easy Cornbread

1½ Cups cornmeal

1½ Cups buttermilk

2 eggs (lightly beaten)

½ Cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

¼ Cup butter, melted

1 tsp sugar

¾ tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 450°F. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, beating for about a minute.

Pour batter into a greased 8”x8” pan.

Bake at 450° for 25-30 minutes (if you use a glass pan, you’ll need the longer time) or until golden brown. Serve warm.

*Tips for cooking with kids

1. Get all the ingredients and measuring equipment laid out before having them wash their hands and get started.

2. Make sure the surface you are using is a comfortable height for your child(ren).

3. Use aprons or smocks or clothes you don’t care about.

4.Read the ingredients and ingredients out loud with the kids BEFORE starting. Use that opportunity to make sure you have everything you need. FRom this point on, the fewer times you have to turn your back on them the better.

5. If you will be allowing the kids to measure ingredients, have them do it over a bowl that is not your mixing bowl. That way accidental overpours or spills don’t ruin your batter or dough or whatever.

6. As soon as you are done with an ingredient, close it up and get it out of the way. Many spills come from stuff left around just waiting to be knocked over.

7. Remember to have fun. This one can be a challenge for me…my little guy can be very impulsive and tends to believe that he has a better way of doing things than the instructions indicate. I am learning to hold it together and focus on recovering our recipe from whatever he’s done, but when you do get snappy (and I do), just take a deep breath and remember that you are not the only adult that has ever barked at a kid who isn’t listening or wrecking your kitchen. Keep Calm and Keep Baking, as it were.



Strawberry and Jam Mini-Muffins

8 Feb

Here is a quickie recipe that my son and his friend from across the street helped make on a recent playdate. They did a great job. Kids love wearing aprons to cook, so try to have enough available for everyone. And set out all ingredients ahead of time. Measuring is a great way to talk about fractions!

They are the cutest little tea muffins and we used some organic strawberries I had got on sale and frozen in season. I freeze these and then toss a couple in the kid’s lunchbox for school. They thaw out and warm up in time for snack!

Easy and delicious!

Easy and delicious!

Strawberry and Jam Mini-Muffins

1 egg

½ Cup plain yogurt

¼ Cup coconut oil (or any neutral vegetable oil)

1 ½ Cups flour (mix of white and whole wheat)

½ Cup sugar (mix of brown and white)

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 Cup strawberries, chopped (frozen is fine!)

1 Tbs strawberry or lingonberry or other berry jam


½ Cup sugar

1/3 Cup flour

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ Cup butter, softened

Preheat oven to 400° and line mini-muffin cups with paper liners.

In a large bowl, beat the egg with a fork. Add the milk and oil and continue to stir. Add all dry ingredients. Mix the batter well, but do not over mix (which would toughen the muffins). Fold in strawberries and stir in jam.

Fill each muffin cup about 1/3 full. Then start making the topping.

In a separate bowl, combine all ingredients for the topping and crumble together with your fingers (if you are baking with children, expect to be abandoned midway when they are grossed out by the stickiness. Also expect to find bits of this topping on the floor and all over the bathroom sink as they try to get it off). Sprinkle each muffin with a bit of topping.

Bake for 12-14 minutes or until plump and golden brown. Let stand for a minute, then remove from trays. Serve warm or room temp. They freeze well too!

Blackberry Muffins: Moist and Tart and Sweet

31 Aug

We finally made it down to the berry fields at Restoration Farm for blackberry season and boy am I glad we did!

No butterflies were harmed in the making of these muffins

No butterflies were harmed in the making of these muffins

The little guy picked and popped the berries directly into his mouth (“Oh Mom, these are so good! Try this one!) and ran up and down the rows and climbed up and down the compost pile, while I picked the juiciest and blackest berries and dropped them into my paper bag, and chatted with Donna “The Chicken Lady/Social Commentarist” in the cooling breeze of the late afternoon. One of my favorite things about going to the farm and volunteering my labor (which I don’t do as much as I should once the summer kicks in) is talking while you work. The folks at the farm are so interesting and warm and funny, and weeding occupies the hands, while it frees the mind to wander and the ears to listen and the mouth to chat.

Allison -- our long-time CSA partner -- picks her berries.

Allison — our long-time CSA partner — picks her berries.

Berry-picking does much the same thing. Once you soften your touch to only take the berries which fall off into your hand with the gentlest of tugs — if you tug at all — you find a rhythm as old as time and the conversation comes easily. So does silence.

Taking with my not-particularly-smart-but-loyal phone. Not such a bad shot, no?

Taking with my not-particularly-smart-but-loyal phone. Not such a bad shot, no?

For someone like me, who always has to be getting something done, it is a great relief to be able to have my hands occupied in dignified work, while sharing with friends. I also learn a lot about what to do in my own garden when nothing is going right. And the little man identifies the birds: swallows and mockingbirds and the occasional red-tailed hawk wanting a go at Donna’s chickens. The hawks cause quite a bit of excitement in Mr. Mini-Audubon. And the chickens, of course, who scurry under the coop.

Treat these berries gently and use them immediately!

Treat these berries gently and use them immediately!

So, we collected just under a quart of warm, sweet, soft berries that needed using immediately. Since back-to-school is right around the corner, my fill-the-freezer-frenzy has begun. Mini-muffins make for a perfect lunchbox snack, so that is where I went. Continue reading

Chocolate Mini-Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

16 Jun

I caved. Yes, I did.

Driven by the fear of being “that mom” who rains on every party and won’t let kids enjoy their sugar fix and makes others feel guilty or annoyed by my holier-than-thou eating habits…and because my son asked very nicely to have a special treat…for Leandro’s birthday celebration at school, we made cupcakes. Chocolate Cupcakes. With Buttercream Frosting. Go big, or go home.

Mini-muffin before frosting

Mini-muffin before frosting

In my feeble defense, I also made fruit kebabs (which went over as well as, if not better than, the cupcakes) and we actually went little, making mini-cupcakes so that they were  a tiny treat rather than an exercise in excess, but BE IT KNOWN: I am not immune to peer pressure and I am not a complete whole food Nazi.

Mind you, making it all homemade is also a form of penitence for sins of sugar and spice. I put a lot of time and effort into it and was not always thinking gracious thoughts. Particularly about the moms who just pick up a box of Dunkin’ Munchkins for class celebrations and call it a day and don’t give that much thought to what children consume or what maniacs like myself choose to do with our precious time, but who are not going to waste their precious time making desserts for five-and-six year olds, when kids are just as happy with a Dunkin’ drive-by.

That buttercream frosting is NAUGHTY! and nice....

That buttercream frosting is NAUGHTY! and nice….

It’s that same grim satisfaction some of us get from pointedly and conscientiously using our directional when driving, as if anyone would care to learn from our example, or as if there was some direct HOV lane to heaven for courteous and law-abiding drivers. Underneath it all, I know no one gives a rat’s posterior. But the girl can’t help it. Continue reading

Cranberry-Nut Mini-Muffin Scones

24 Jan

Nothing like getting halfway through a baking recipe and realizing you don’t have one of the critical ingredients.

Leandro and I were experimenting with a new muffin recipe on the eve of the spring semester and I had laid out all the ingredients beforehand (a critical strategic move when baking with a four-year-old boy and a secret pleasure because I pretend I am on my own prepped and pretty cooking show).

Then the “1/2 Cup milk,” bit, which I swear was not there when I was playing next Food Network Star in my own head five minutes previous, suddenly loomed into view. Milk!?! I hate milk! Leandro hates milk! Ick! We never have milk in!

And baking? Well I suddenly hated baking too, because it is so precise, so unforgiving, so anal, so not me….

But, Leandro and I do like yogurt and we always have plain nonfat organic on hand for my breakfast and his dip for apple slices. So, seeing as we were well into the process of these muffins (which started with a recipe from Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread by — I kid you not — Crescent Dragonwagon, an Arkansas chef and innkeeper), I bunged in 1/2 Cup of yogurt instead and hoped for the best.

The result was some really fun mini-scones. They were nubbly and attractive, studded with ruby cranberries. Instead of my usual muffin sponginess, the texture had that dense fluffiness that makes scones so lovely with tea or coffee, punctuated with nutty bits. The craisins took on an orange-y candied peel flavor that was perfect for a winter day.

Leandro did not like them at all. “I told you not to put that smelly powder (nutmeg) in,” was his shrugging response.

My colleagues, however, were a different story. I brought them in for a first-day-of-school snack for our kitchen and they moved quickly and got lots of compliments. So….as they used to say in hockey “kick, save, and a beauty!” I guess I like baking again.

Here’s the recipe…enjoy!

Cranberry-Nut Mini-Muffin-Scones

1 ¼ Cup unbleached all purpose flour

½ Cup sugar

2 ½ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

1/2 Cup nonfat plain yogurt

½ Cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

¾ Cup dried craisins (sweetened dried cranberries)

½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts (you may sub 1/4 cup walnuts with ¼ cup unsalted sunflower seeds)

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease or line with paper cups 48 mini-muffin tins.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar to taste, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. In a second bowl, whisk together milk, butter, egg and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and combine gently into a soft dough (crumbly is fine) with as little handling as possible. Gently fold in cranberries and nuts.

Use a spoon or fingers to fill muffin cups a half to two-thirds full. Bake until lightly golden, 12-15 minutes. Cool for a minute, remove and then cool completely on a wire rack. Will keep three days in an airtight container; no refrigeration.

Banana Maple Walnut Muffins

22 Dec

I’ve crossed to the dark side and I am never-ever-ever going back. After years of greasing — and subsequently washing — four trays of mini-muffin baking cups (that is 48 — forty-eight, count ’em– little tiny cups each with its own pain-in-the-cuticles little edge that gets full of burnty-bits because, of course, they are also a pain-in-the-cuticles to grease) I finally bought some paper muffin cup liners and I don’t think I’ll ever bake naked again.

Good thing, because this is a nice little recipe that I would like to do again, but might have put it off because of the aforementioned greasing and washing thing.

Full disclosure: Leandro is usually deeply involved in all baking activities. This time, however, he had a friend over and they didn’t feel like it and they were very happy (meaning: not bothering me) so, why eff up a good thing? Also, in retrospect, the many tiny 1/4 teaspoons of this and that really aren’t suited to baking with kids who prefer to throw puffs of flour and baking soda around. So I went ahead and made these myself – his little friend’s mom arriving just in time to help me fill the cups – and had a lovely time.

This was a big hit with my colleagues and everyone else who tried them. Leandro was not so keen (today I seem to have a great deal to disclose, don’t I?), at least he wasn’t at first, but later warmed up to them and loved them in his lunchbox with yogurt for dipping. Oh yes, and the original recipe comes from Food to Live By, by Myra Goodman of Earthbound Farms fame!

Note about the maple syrup: I am pleased to say it comes from New York State! Sugar Brook Maple Farm in Kerhonkson, NY (845-626-3466) to be exact. It is lovely and rich and mellow and thanks to Hatti and Emma for pointing it out to us on our (somewhat) recent visit to her place in New Paltz!

Banana Maple Walnut Muffins

2 Cups flour (mix of whole wheat and white is fine; all whole wheat is too heavy)

1.5 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

2 large eggs

½ cup pure maple syrup

½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup whole milk (lowfat is okay)

¼ cup vegetable oil

¼ tsp vanilla extract

2 Cups mashed very ripe bananas (4-5)

¾ Cup walnuts, chopped fairly fine

Position rack in center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°. Line muffin tins with liners or grease with butter.

Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon in a large bowl and combine well.

Place eggs, maple syrup, brown sugar, milk, oil and vanilla in a medium bowl and whisk to combine well. Add the bananas and stir to combine.

Add the banana mixture to the flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in the walnuts. Do not overmix or the muffins will be tough. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filing almost to the brim.

Bake muffins until golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean (13-15 minutes for mini-muffins; 20 – 30 for standard-size muffins).

Let tins cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove. They will keep for about three days in an air-tight container. Reheat for 10 seconds in a microwave or 350° oven for 5-10 minutes.

Blueberry-lingonberry muffins (or mix and match berries and jam)

14 Jun

A favorite for tea, lunchbox or thoughtful treat for neighbors, caregivers and friends

Nothing makes people happier than a fresh baked treat, except a fresh-baked treat that isn’t too sinful and comes in small enough portions to make sense rather than create guilt.

Such are these blueberry-lingonberry mini-muffins that I adapted from a Stonyfield Farms strawberry muffin recipe. This recipe I first started doing with my beloved niece, The Incomparable Sofía, when she was just little (she is now a gorgeous and grown-up six-and-three-quarter-years-old). Whenever she comes home for a visit, we bake them up too. I miss her goofy little concentrated self and her beautiful long fingers in the kitchen. It is now Leandro’s favorite thing to bake. It is slightly more complicated than my banana bread or banana muffins; just make sure to lay out all your ingredients, measuring spoons and cups, and bowls before calling the kids to the work table and you can easily do it with a three-year-old maniac (or two!)

We prefer blueberries to strawberries (although to be honest, blueberries do lend a greenish tinge to the final product that is a bit weird, though no one ever, ever complains) as I think they have a punchier flavor when baked. I’ve done it with mixed berries, but early on some kids objected to the seed bits in blackberries and raspberries, so I fell out of the habit of using them.

The real key to good berry flavor, though, I learned from Cook’s Illustrated magazine, which suggests adding berry jam. Blueberry jam might be the obvious choice for blueberry muffins, but as a non-jam eater, I just used what I had in the fridge the first time out, which happened to be lingonberry (shout-out to Sofía’s mom, Annika from Sweden; you’ll find it at IKEA) and we liked the tart sweetness so much, we’ve stuck with it. If you are not familiar with them, think red currant or a softer, gentler version of cranberries.

I prefer mini-muffins, because they allow me to divide and share them more easily and because you can feel good about popping just one or two. Leandro’s caregivers really appreciate getting a batch, and it makes a perfect element to a good fika (Swedish coffee break hang out session – coffee klatch to New Yorkers!).

Blueberry-lingonberry/Any-berry muffins (makes 48 mini-muffins or 12 standard)

1 Cup all purpose flour

1 Cup whole wheat flour

½ Cup sugar (white or light brown)

1.5 tsp baking soda

2 eggs

1 Cup plain yogurt (I use nonfat, lowfat is also fine)

¼ Cup butter (unsalted preferred, but salted is okay) melted and cooled

1 tsp vanilla

1 Cup chopped/mashed blueberries or berries of your choice (frozen are very convenient. Thaw first)

1-2 Heaping Tbs berry jam (I use lingonberry, but use whatever red/blue/purple berry jam you’ve got)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease your muffin tins ahead (especially if baking with children – Be prepared!)

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients.

In another bowl mix the eggs, yogurt, melted butter and vanilla (if your butter is still very hot, you may get crusty bits when it comes in contact with the cold yogurt. Just break them up as you mix and don’t worry).

Fold berries into the dry mixture. Fold wet mixture into the dry mixture. Swirl in the jam. Spoon batter into greased muffin tins, filling about 2/3 up. Bake for 12 minutes (mini-muffins) or 20-25 minutes (standard size). Cool for a minute, then remove from tins and let cool completely on wire racks (if you’ve got; otherwise any cool, clean surface will do). These keep well tightly covered in the fridge for a week.

Banana Bread – Share the Love (Easy Family Baking!)

28 Mar

I’ve never been much of a baker – I’ve probably mentioned that I am no good at following instructions – but this banana bread is very forgiving of people who are more “more or less” than precise.

It’s very child-friendly. Leandro and I put it together often and he takes slices to school to dip in yogurt. I especially like to double it (using about 8 bananas total) and slice up some for his caregivers and my colleagues – everyone feels appreciated and esteemed when they are on the receiving end of home-baked loaves of something. I get a lot of requests for this recipe, so here it is! It also freezes well; check the bottom of the recipe for storing instructions.

Easy, Moist and Yummy Banana Bread

4-6 overripe bananas*

1 Cup sugar (1/2 light brown and ½ white works well, but any combination will do; we’ve used a bit of dark brown as well)

2 eggs, beaten

½ Cup vegetable oil

2 Cups flour (up to one cup whole wheat, but beware stone-ground as it may be too coarse)

1 tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350°. Mash bananas in mixing bowl. Add sugar, eggs and oil, one at a time, mixing well with each addition. Sift dry ingredients together (I use a big strainer) and add to banana mixture. Pour in greased 5×9 loaf pan (or 8×8 oven dish) and bake 55-60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

*We eat a lot of bananas here, but sometimes I buy too many and they get overripe, even for my son, who likes them sweet and eats the dark spots. Or he just wants half of one and I don’t want the other half. Any overripe or half-bananas get thrown into a plastic freezer bag and when I have approximately six, I make banana bread!

Storage notes: Banana bread should be cooled completely before slicing (I know, fresh-out-of -the-oven warm is so cozy! But it slices much better later on). It stays fresh tightly wrapped out of the fridge for two or three days. The refrigerator isn’t great for it, but you can warm it up a bit before serving. To freeze, slice first, then wrap in foil or plastic wrap and then place in a freezer bag. It’ll keep for at least a month and you can take out a slice at a time when you need a treat.

Tapas, interrupted, to do some baking with the boy!

19 Dec

I have said I am not much of a baker, but I got inspired to try with my niece, the incomparable Sofia, when she was little, figuring kids will love to cook if they can make their own desserts. It was good fun.

Now I bake pretty often with my own son, Leandro. You have to be ready for a bit of a floury, batter-splattered mess, for tussles over the right time to help, for wandering attention. The pay-off is a delicious-smelling house, not-too-sweet treats for the week and, I hope, a kid who knows his way around a kitchen in the future.

And, of course, the blessing of achieving something together (and not planting him in front of the T.V. in order to get something done).

We most often make mini-muffins – four trays of 12 will suffice for a standard 12-muffin recipe. Then we have 48 little muffins which we divide and deliver to various neighbors and friends (he is very proud to tell people, “I made these for you.”) and I pack three at a time in his lunch box. I also pack three at a time in my own gob, but nevermind…The downside of mini-muffins is washing the tins by hand. Let them soak first!

Here’s our simplest, entry-level recipe for banana muffins. See notes for baking with kids at the end!

Basic Banana Muffins

6-ish overripe bananas

¾ Cups sugar (regular or light brown are fine)

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

1.5 Cups unbleached white flour

1/3 Cup (5 and 1/3 Tbsp) melted butter

Preheat oven to 400°. Mash bananas in a big bowl (they don’t have to be smooth). Add sugar and egg. Add the melted butter (not too hot, or there will be lumps when it hits the cold batter). Separately, combine the dry ingredients, then add to banana mixture and combine until thoroughly wet and then stop! Spoon into greased muffin tins. Bake for 12 minutes (15 minutes for regular size). Makes 48 minis; 12 regular. Will keep for three days out of fridge, a week in.

NB: 1. Lay out all your ingredients and equipment before calling the kids to help! 2. Grease muffin tins before getting started. 3. Aprons are a very good idea. 4. This is the time to remind them about thorough hand-washing and no coughing into the batter! 5. By all means let the little ones try to spoon the batter into the tins. It will be a mess, I promise you, but the muffins come out fine and it does wonders for their fine motor skills, their concentration and their feeling of accomplishment.

On bananas: Keep a ziploc bag in the freezer for overripe bananas or bananas that don’t get finished (trimming off the bit end, of course). DO peel them first. When you have six or thereabouts, you are ready to make bananas muffins!

%d bloggers like this: