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Baking with my kids has always been one of my favorite activities. At a young age, my oldest, Westin, started showing an interest in being in the kitchen with me and taking part in what I was doing. He’d sit on the counter next to me and ask 100 questions while pouring the ingredients into the mixer. He’s always had an immense thirst for knowledge, and I love how his passion for baking and learning new things in the kitchen has continued to grow over the years. It’s not always the easiest or cleanest baking experience, even now, but it’s always fun and worth the mess because it’s something we truly love to do together. I think my favorite part is seeing Westin react to his (or our) finished product. The pride he has for what he’s created is so satisfying to see, and worth any kind of mess he might have made.
Now, at the age of 7, Westin often comes up with his own ideas for what he wants to bake, and for the most part, can execute pretty well on his own. I’m still around to supervise, but more and more, I’m taking a step back and trying to let him take over the process.
Of course, after 4 years of baking with Westin, we’re just now getting to the point where he can do a lot of it on his own. It certainly didn’t start that way, and I’m back at that phase with my almost 3-year-old daughter, Avery. She reminds me a lot of Westin – always wanting to be a part of whatever activity is going on, and always asking a ton of questions.
I want baking to be an enjoyable experience for both my kids and yours, even though they’re all at different levels of ability. So, whether you’re baking with a grade-schooler or toddler, I’ve put together my tips for making the experience as stress-free and as fun as possible… for everyone!
1. Build the Excitement: if you and your child(ren) are just starting out on your baking adventures, consider getting them excited about being in the kitchen and creating delicious food by first diving into some fun children’s books about baking. My friend, Michelle, from The Book Report (instagram: @the.book.report) recommended some great reads, including this darling book, “Julia, Child” by Kyo Maclear. This sweet story is about two young friends who decide it’s best to be a child forever and set off to work (with food) to master the art of having a good time and never completely growing up. The artwork might be my favorite part! Also, take a look at “I Love Cake” by Tammi Sauer, “Rude Cakes” by Rowboat Watkins, and “Who Made this Cake” by Chihiro Nakagawa.
If your child is a little older, consider watching “Kids Baking Championship” on The Food Network together. More than anything, this show inspires so much creativity in Westin. It’s one of our favorite shows to watch together!
2. Start with Something Easy: this one is really important if you’re interested in keeping your sanity at first 😉 But, seriously, don’t stress yourself out by trying to help your child master a dessert that is way out of their league. You want to build their confidence in the kitchen, so at some point, they’ll have the desire to tackle more advanced recipes. When Westin was first starting out in the kitchen, our go-to desserts were cookies and Rice Krispie Treats. All he had to do was pour the ingredients into the bowl and stir. Pretty kid-friendly, if you ask me.
I love a basic Rice Krispie Treat, but if you want to take it up a notch, try these S’mores Rice Krispie Treats I recently created.
3. Do Some Prep Work: one of the things I like to do when baking with my kids, particularly when they’re young, is to pre-measure the ingredients and get everything set out in individual bowls. I know this sounds like a lot of extra dishes, and maybe it is, but it does help the process go smoother because everything is out and ready to go, and it’s super easy for your kids to pour the pre-measured ingredients into the mixing bowl. As they get a little older, and have more experience under their belt, definitely let them start measuring out ingredients. It will be messy at first, and that’s ok, you’re building their confidence and letting them know you trust that they can do the job.
4. Let Them Make Decisions: we’ve turned Sundays into a kids’ baking day, and that means the kids get to choose what we’re baking. Sometimes it’s cake, but a lot of times it’s something different, like macarons or eclairs or chocolate dipped strawberries. I’ve seen that with Westin, this really gets him excited about baking. Letting him make the decision of what we’re going to create really helps to give him ownership over the project and his interest and engagement in the whole process is much longer-lasting than when I’m the one telling him what to do.
5. Mentally Prepare for a Mess: things are going to get messy when you’re baking with kids, it’s inevitable. Prepare yourself mentally for this before heading into the kitchen with your little ones. Once you’ve accepted this fact, then you’re more likely to stay calm when flour gets spilled on the floor or an egg drops off the counter. Because things always get messier when I’m baking with my kids than when I’m baking alone, I try to clean as we go so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming at the end.
6. Be Okay with Imperfections: this one was (and sometimes still is) hard for me because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I always want to fix whatever imperfection there may seem to be, but after doing that once in front of Westin, he turned to me and said, “I’m not any good at this. I don’t want to do it any more.” Oh, no! Mom fail! I totally busted his confidence and I felt awful. Since then, I’ve worked so hard not to touch-up anything that isn’t “perfect.” Another tip that might help you resist the urge to fix your kids’ works is to just bake for yourselves and don’t plan on baking with your kids for an event or for other people so you’re not trying to make everything look perfect (unless you don’t mind sharing the imperfections, and in that case, share away!).
7. Get Them Some of Their Own Kitchen Tools and Accessories: anyone else get a little more excited to go running when they have a new workout outfit, or is that just me? This idea works great with kids. Getting them their own set of measuring cups or their own apron is a great way to get them excited to step into the kitchen. I love THIS beginner’s baking set by Curious Chef. Everything is kid-size, but it’s not just a play toy! All the pieces are really good quality. My dad and stepmom gave Westin this exact set when he was three and he still loves using his baking tools when we’re in the kitchen.
8. Play Music: whether I’m baking alone or with my kids, I always have some music on in the background. I love how the right music can create such a fun and vibrant atmosphere, which helps to make baking that much more enjoyable. I actually have a playlist on my phone called, “Baking.” A few tracks include, “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles, “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay, “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond, “Be Okay” by Oh Honey, and “It’s a Beautiful Day” by Michael Buble. My kids love any Disney soundtrack. Hard to feel stressed with these songs playing!
9. Try New Things: as your kids get a little older and you’ve mastered the Rice Krispie Treats and chocolate chip cookies, don’t be afraid to try new things and expand your horizons. Like I mentioned before, watching “Kids Baking Championship” has been one of the biggest motivators for Westin to try new desserts in the kitchen. He sees other kids, who are close to his age, make more difficult treats and he thinks to himself, “I can do that!”. Lately, we’ve been trying to master macarons because Westin’s favorite contestant from this past season of the show was Matthew, a self-proclaimed macaron guru. Our first attempt was far from perfect, but we haven’t given up and I think we’re both starting to get the hang of it.
We really like THIS s’mores macaron recipe by Liv for Cake.
Another fun and easy idea for kids are these cake push-pops. Just use a cookie cutter to cut cake rounds and pipe in the frosting.
Ok, now you have some tips and some recipes to make baking with your kids a little less stressful and a lot more fun. Happy baking and good luck! …Not that you need it 😉
S'mores Push Pops
Layers of chocolate cake, graham crackers, toasted marshmallow filling and chocolate frosting.
For the Chocolate Cake
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup, minus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 6 tablespoons good cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup buttermilk, shaken
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup hot water
For the Chocolate Frosting
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 4 oz. good quality chocolate, chopped, melted and cooled
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- Pinch of salt
For the Toasted Marshmallow Filling
- 8 large white marshmallows
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 jar marshmallow cream/fluff
Graham cracker crumbs or chunks for filling or decorating
For the Chocolate Cake
- Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F. Spray a quarter sheet pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper. Spray again. Set aside.
- Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined.
- In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, water and vanilla.
- With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- Pour the batter into the prepared quarter sheet baking pan and bake for about 16-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out almost clean.
- Cool completely before cutting cake rounds.
For the Chocolate Frosting
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for one minute.
- Gradually add the powdered sugar.
- Add the vanilla and salt and beat until combined.
- Slowly add the cooled, melted chocolate, while the mixer is on medium-low speed. Once all the chocolate is added, stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Turn the mixer on medium-low speed again and mix for another 30 seconds.
- Slowly add the whipping cream and continue to beat for 2 more minutes, until light and fluffy.
- Using a wooden spoon, mix the frosting by hand, trying to push out any air bubbles.
- Pour into a piping bag with a piping tip of your choosing.
For the Toasted Marshmallow Filling
- Place marshmallows on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Place on lower oven rack and broil marshmallows until nice and brown on top, between 30 to 60 seconds. Remove pan from oven and gently turn the marshmallows over and broil until they are golden brown.
- In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter and powdered sugar on low until blended, about 1 minute. Add vanilla and mix on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes.
- Add marshmallow cream and toasted marshmallows, and mix on low for about 1 minute.
- Pour filling into a piping bag with a round tip.
- Using a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut mini cake rounds from the quarter sheet cake.
- Place one cake round at the bottom of the push pup. Pipe marshmallow cream on top, followed by chocolate frosting. Repeat this sequence one more time. Garnish with crushed graham crackers. Alternatively, you can use the crushed graham cracker crumbs as another in the push-pop.