Dustings of flour and sticky handprints covering every surface; expectant faces gazing up at the kitchen worktop; a wooden spoon just crying out to be licked… Cooking with children is a messy, chaotic, but ultimately joyful experience, one we should cherish rather than fear.
Baking is the best way to get kids involved in the kitchen, says Lorraine Pascale, the model turned cook who has taken the nation by storm with her relaxed, achievable approach to home cooking. In less than two years, she has sold 540,000 cookbooks and has three successful television series under her (admittedly superskinny) belt — but she also has a 15-year-old daughter, Ella, so knows more than most about getting creative with children in the kitchen.
“Kiddies just like getting involved in the whole process,” she says, “right from shopping for ingredients to bringing them home, putting them in a bowl, mixing and then waiting for the magic that happens in the oven.” And it’s the magic, which enthrals and delights, that also helps children to learn.
“Not only are they developing their motor skills,” Pascale says, “but there are all the weights and measures, so they are learning numerical skills, plus how to follow instructions sequentially. You can also talk to them about healthy eating — that cakes and sweets should be a treat.”
Communication is key. Pascale points out that, while Ella is at the table doing her homework, she will still talk her through what she is doing in the kitchen. “Then she’ll come over and have a look and a quick stir. It’s all part of the learning process.”
With no sharp knives, hot fat or other accidents waiting to happen, baking is the best starting point for little ones. “There’s just so much they can do,” Pascale says. “Cracking eggs, mixing, dolloping mixture into cake cases, cutting out paper for the tins.”
And can adults learn anything from cooking with children? “I love the abandon they approach it with — all that mess, the blatant disregard for being tidy. Adults should learn to relax. You can always tidy up afterwards.” Ben Spriggs
© Lorraine Pascale 2012. Recipes extracted from Lorraine Pascale’s Fast, Fresh and Easy Food (£20 HarperCollins) and Baking Made Easy (£19). They are available from the Sunday Times Bookshop for £16.50 and £16 (inc p&p) respectively on 0845 271 2135 and thesundaytimes.co.uk/bookshop
Peanut butter squares
I was recipe-testing some millionaire’s shortbread and found I did not have enough ingredients. A pot of crunchy peanut butter was sitting at the back of the cupboard, providing me with some nutty inspiration for these peanut butter squares.
Makes 16 squares
200g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids) or milk chocolate, or a mixture of both
250g digestive biscuits
200g soft light-brown sugar
300g crunchy peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
Line a 20cm square cake tin with baking parchment, leaving some excess hanging over the edges. This makes it easier to lift out, once set.
• Put the butter in a large pan and leave to melt slowly on a low heat. Remove when melted.
• Break the chocolate into a small bowl. Sit the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Make sure that the bowl does not touch the water.
• Blitz the biscuits and sugar in a food processor to make crumbs. Tip them into the butter, add the peanut butter and vanilla extract and mix well.
• Tip the mixture into the lined tin and press it down tight with the back of a spoon. It needs to be really compact. Pour over the melted chocolate, and make sure it is evenly covered.
• Pop in the freezer for 30 minutes (or the fridge for 1 hour) to firm up.
• Once set, remove from the freezer (or fridge). Lift out of the tin with the help of the parchment. Using a sharp knife, divide it into 16 squares.