The joy of cooking with children is in the batter. There is so much your child can do in the process of creating batter-based recipes — perhaps more than any other cooking project you can do together! From the measuring and stirring to the cooking and decorating, batter recipes are child-friendly activities that bring the warmth (and smells) of family right into your kitchen. Consider using these simple batter recipes (and add your favorites) as a cooking theme throughout the holiday months. The rich aromas and the sounds of shared fun will have the entire family flocking to the kitchen to see which batter is up!
Your child uses an amazing number of essential skills when she works with batter. When your child stirs, mashes, cracks, cuts, and ices, she is using motor skills that she needs for writing letters and words. The action of holding the bowl, spoon, or cookie cutter is very similar to holding a pen or pencil.
Keep in Mind
No matter the recipe, these tips help make your cooking experience a happier one.
- Work low. If possible, use a low table instead of a countertop as a batter preparation site. This provides your child with a stable and accessible work area. If your child stands on a chair at the counter, her balance is compromised, and it will be more difficult for her to focus on the task. (You can cover the table with a plastic tablecloth for easy clean-up.)
- Be prepared. Have all the bowls, measuring equipment, and cooking tools ready to go before you call your child. As you well know, young children have short attention spans. If you have everything already in one place, you will have her full attention for the process of making the recipe, not just the preparation.
- Examine and compare. If there is time, invite your child to examine and compare the ingredients before you begin. Many of the ingredients are white powders that are different in texture, shade, and taste. By first making comparisons, you are helping your child use science skills, and the batter becomes a science experiment, too!
- Make predictions. Ask your child questions such as, "What will happen to the ingredients when they are mixed together?" "What will happen when you add the water or milk?" and "What will the batter look like when it is cooked?"
- 2 cups pancake mix
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1 mashed, ripe banana
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil or butter for greasing
What to do:
- Mash bananas with hand masher. Tip: Have your child use the masher inside a low-sided plastic container (about the size of a sandwich) or a 9" x 9" baking pan. This helps your child's aim and visual focusing skills. You can hold the sides of the container as she mashes with both hands.
- Measure the baking mix and the milk, and mix together.
- Crack the eggs into the mixture. Tip: Use a cup and saucer as a simple egg-cracking device. Gently hold the egg within your child's hand, and guide her to crack the egg on the edge of the cup. Open the egg together and watch it fall into the cup. The saucer is there to catch any "oopsies" that miss the cup!
- Beat the egg into the batter, using a wire whisk or hand beater, until well blended. Tip: Hold the bowl for your child as she stirs the whisk around and around. Sing a little song together (such as "All Around the Mulberry Bush") as she stirs. This will help you to be sure to stir long enough.
- Dip ¼-cup scoop in batter, and drop onto a warm, lightly greased (with butter or oil) frying pan or griddle. Tip: If possible, use an electric frying pan on a low, sturdy table. It is easier and safer for your child to reach and use. Explain that the sides will get hot.
- When the edges are dry, turn the pancakes, and cook them until they are light golden brown. Tip: Use a grill spatula with an extra-long handle. This will keep your child's hands away from the edge of the pan.
- 1 package brownie mix (19.8 oz.)
- 2 tbsp. water
- ½ cup canola oil
- 2 eggs
- 3 oz. whipped cream cheese
- 2 tbsp. butter (softened)
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1½ tbsp. flour
- 1 tsp. vanilla
What to do:
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Grease bottom of a 13" x 9" pan.
- Cream 2 tbsp. butter with cream cheese in a medium bowl until soft. Gradually add ¼ cup sugar, creaming until light and fluffy. Tip: Creaming can be difficult for the best of bakers. Be sure your ingredients are at room temperature. Have your child use a large, flat fork to cream the butter with the cream cheese while you gradually add the sugar. Then trade jobs!
- Beat in 1 egg, 1½ tbsp. flour, and 1 tsp. vanilla at medium speed until smooth. Set aside.
- Combine the brownie mix, water, oil, and 2 eggs in a large bowl. Beat for fifty strokes with a wooden spoon. Tip: It's fun to count the strokes together. Count along with your child if she can't count that high.
- Spread half of the brownie batter into the greased pan.
- Drop spoonfuls of the swirl mixture onto the brownie batter.
- Spoon the remaining brownie batter over filling.
- Pull a knife through the batter in wide curves, turn pan, and repeat for a marbled effect. Tip: Demonstrate an "S" curve in the air with your finger. Make one swipe through the batter to show your child how to marbleize. Then hold the pan as she moves the table knife in "S" curves through the batter. Try moving side to side and bottom to top.
- Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes.
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1½ cups confectioners' sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 2½ cups flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. cream of tartar
What to do:
- You can also use refrigerated sugar cookie dough — roll out, and cut with cutters.
- Cream butter add sugar until light and fluffy (using an electric mixer on low speed.) Tip: Hold the bowl steady, and invite your child to hold the beater with two hands, making small circular motions. Tell her to always keep the beater firmly down on the bottom of the bowl.
- Add egg and vanilla, and continue to mix until smooth.
- Combine flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar in a small bowl, and slowly mix into butter mixture.
- Gather dough into a ball, press into a disk shape, and wrap in plastic. Chill dough for an hour.
- Preheat oven to 375° F.
- On a lightly floured surface, roll to approximately 1/8" thickness. Tip: The trick to using a rolling pin is to roll and press at the same time. Have your child first practice rolling with both hands on a dry board to get the feel of the back-and-forth motion. Then show how to press down while rolling. Your child can try practicing on play dough or clay a few days ahead of time.
- Use winter-themed cookie cutters to create shapes. Tip: Often the problem with little hands and cookie cutters is that kids don't press down hard enough to cut through the dough. Suggest to your child that she use both hands and lean into the cutter to make a deep cut. (Again, a low work surface helps.)
- Bake on a greased baking sheet until light brown (8 to 10 minutes). Remove cookies and place on a baking rack to cool. Tip: Have your child use a spatula to lift the cookies off the board and onto the cookie sheet.
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Royal icing is perfect for holiday cookies you want to serve or give as gifts — the icing dries hard so you can stack and/or freeze your cookies ahead of time.
The recipe for the icing is very simple. The trick is the consistency. If the icing seems too thin, add more sugar. If it is too thick, add more corn syrup or water. The goal is to create icing that is easy to paint or squeeze onto the cookies.
It is essential that the cookies be completely cool before icing them. Try making a two-day cookie event with your child. Make the batter, roll, cut, and bake one day. Ice and decorate the next day.
What you need:
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- 2 tsp. milk
- 2 tsp. light corn syrup
- food coloring
What to do:
- In a small bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar and milk until smooth.
- Add the corn syrup, and mix well. If the icing is too thick, add more corn syrup.
- Divide into separate bowls, and add food colorings to the desired intensity. Tip:Remember that the icing dries quickly. Make small amounts at a time, and keep the container covered. You can use clean, small yogurt containers to hold the separate icing colors. Cut a hole or slit in the cover to stick the brush through.
- Paint the icing on cookies with brushes. Tip: New watercolor brushes are easiest for your child to use when painting the icing.
- Colored sprinkles or sugar can be added while the icing is still wet to create a textured appearance. Tip: Your child can sprinkle on decorations using colored sugars or sprinkles that are placed in clean spice containers with shaker tops.