I’ve always enjoyed baking. There’s something immensely satisfying about following a set plan and seeing the results materialise in front of you (or, perhaps, the satisfaction is in the eating). As a child, my mother refused to buy sweet biscuits (cookies) or cakes. If we wanted to eat them, we had to make our own. We must have started baking alongside her at an early age as, by the time I was six, I was writing my own recipes (‘chocolate rock cakes’), and, by 7, I would regularly make pancakes for the family on weekends. My mother often made muffins, although I preferred to make cakes, and my brother preferred to make biscuits (or creative challenges like ‘Bombe Alaska’). I grew up thinking that baking with small children was just something that you did, so didn’t think twice about bringing my own young children into the kitchen.
For X’s second Christmas (at 16 months), we gave him a kitchen helper tower (‘learning tower’). This is basically a tiered step stool with sides and a back, so young toddlers can safely help at the kitchen bench when they might not be ready to stand alone on a stool or a chair. X had only just started walking a few weeks earlier, but he had no trouble climbing straight in. In the week beforehand, we had made Christmas shortbread together, down at a low table, and had also attempted rum balls (I over-estimated the capabilities of a young toddler when it came to rolling, and completed it myself, but he enjoyed crushing the biscuits and mixing everything together). With the tower, I soon started involving X in all sorts of kitchen tasks. Sometimes, he would have a snack in his tower while I prepared a meal. At other times, we would cook together. After the rum ball attempt, I realised that, for children that young, the recipe needed to be something simple, with limited steps and a quick finish. Muffins were perfect for that. Maybe that’s why my mum was drawn to them.
We started experimenting with muffins using this basic recipe and whatever we had in the fridge. I usually used yoghurt instead of milk (or a combination), and either coconut or olive oil, and less sugar, but it gave us a starting point (I have also tipped the whole thing into loaf tins on a couple of occasions, when spooning into the muffin pan just wasn’t going to happen). In mango season, we made mango muffins (we had 3 mango trees in our garden). When we had nothing else, we made cheese and herb savoury muffins (leave out the sugar) or ‘carrot cake’ muffins with grated carrot and spices.
At first, our method was ‘dump everything into the bowl as quickly as possible, mix, get them into the oven’. As X gained experience in the kitchen and began to anticipate the process, we added in extra steps. Measuring. Mixing wet ingredients in one bowl and dry in another and then combining. Greasing the pan. Sifting. After A was born, muffins were something we could make quickly while she napped (and if she woke up before we were done, they were easy enough to finish one-handed). Now, at almost 4, X can do most of it himself.
As muffins were a staple part of our repertoire, they were an obvious choice when A started wanting to help, too. This has meant that I have had to go back to facilitating most of the process again, trying to get everything into the bowl and into the oven as quickly as possible, so X hasn’t been able to be quite as independent as previously, but we’re beginning to find a new baking routine.
With our recent glut of pumpkins (we currently have half a roasted pumpkin in the fridge, one on the kitchen bench, and two on the table downstairs), pumpkin muffins are the obvious choice. I usually cut pumpkins in half and roast while we have the oven on for something else, then scoop out the flesh for muffins, soup, curry, or whatever else we have in mind. I don’t tend to use a recipe for muffins these days (especially when cooking with two young children), but I’m yet to have muffins completely fail on me and these turned out really well. Feel free to adapt to your own personal taste (or dietary requirements, or what you have in the fridge/pantry).
Pumpkin muffins (makes 12)
1 cup Pumpkin (cooked and mashed)
1 ½ teaspoons Spices (we used cinnamon, ginger and ‘mixed spice’)
1/3 cup Sugar (we used brown sugar)
¼ cup Coconut oil
¾ cup Greek yoghurt
¼ cup Milk
2 cups Self-raising flour
· Mix everything together in a bowl. If batter seems too ‘stiff’, add a little more milk.
· Grease muffin tin.
· Heat oven to 180˚C*.
· Spoon muffin batter into pan.
· Bake for 15-20 minutes. Muffins are cooked when a skewer comes out clean.
· Cool for a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack. Enjoy warm.
Leftover muffins keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. Heat for 10 minutes in the oven or 30 seconds in the microwave prior to serving. They also freeze well.
*We don’t actually know what temperature our oven is, as all of the markings had rubbed off before we moved in, but 180˚C is typical for baked goods so would make a good starting point.
We came back upstairs to discover ants all through the muffins still cooling on the rack. Any tips for cooling baked goods whilst keeping ants away? We managed to brush most of them off, and relocated to the fridge, even though they weren’t quite cool.
What’s your favourite thing to bake with young children?