Last week, Peanut and I spent an evening making yummy chocolate-chip cookies. This was his first time with real, from-scratch baking–we’ve generally made brownie or muffin mixes in the past–and I was interested to have him give it a go. I was delighted to discover that my little sous chef is indeed capable of helping–independently!–with the baking process. This will make our holiday baking so much easier!
I’ve discovered that I love oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, so I’ve been using Quaker Oats’ recipe the past few years. You can check out the recipe and instructions here: http://www.quakeroats.com/cooking-and-recipes/content/recipes/recipe-detail.aspx?recipeId=458. I would argue that the chopped nuts are not optional, and that they should be pecans, but I understand that there are heathen no-nut people out there (and non-heathen people with allergies).
I have a glorious 5-quart Kitchen Aid stand mixer, and I decided to be brave and let Peanut use it. If you’re not certain of your child’s abilities, please, please be careful with the stand mixer. It’s the kitchen equivalent of power tools: you can be seriously hurt by a mixer if you don’t know what you’re doing and don’t respect the tool. The phrase “It’s a Tool, Not a Toy” is very popular in our house, and it absolutely applies to kitchen equipment like the mixer.
It turned out that there was lots with this recipe that Peanut could help with:
1) I got out a step stool so he could reach the mixer on the counter. He did great with adding the softened butter (basically, you unwrap it and dump it in the mixing bowl–easy peasy), and ok with other ingredients. The big thing for him is understanding that the whole measuring cup needs to be over the bowl, or some of the ingredient falls on the counter/floor/etc. Our mixer has a hand crank on the right side to lift the bowl up to the beaters. I did this with him once or twice, then let him do it on his own–it’s a relatively easy task, and he could see/feel how the machine works.
2. Brown sugar. For those who are new to baking, when you measure brown sugar, you have to pack it: basically, you stuff it in the measuring cup and pack it down like it’s Play-Doh. You’ve got to use your hands for it, and you’re going to feel the top of the cup because you want it to be smooth. I gave Peanut the brown sugar and had him get packing.
The first time, he spilled his entire measuring cup on the floor–there was sugar everywhere. Thankfully, greyhounds like sugar, so clean-up wasn’t a big deal. I then taught him how to hold the measuring cup better: use your left hand to hold the handle and hold the cup down, and fill it with your right. He did a great job after that.
3. Grinding nuts. This is one of the first jobs my mom gave me when I started baking. You get a nut grinder with a hand crank, and you crank and crank until the nuts are ground up. You take the lid off the top to put in more nuts as needed. Peanut didn’t do as well with this because his hands don’t seem to be strong enough to handle the cranking motion. It’s still an easy, safe way to help, so I let him practice and gave him some grinding help along the way.
4. Putting the cookies on the cookie sheet. This is a great tactile activity, and Peanut was surprisingly good at it. He wasn’t as good at getting the spoon full of dough each time, but we worked together and got it done. He really liked using his finger to scrape the dough out of the spoon and onto the cookie sheet.
The sense of accomplishment Peanut got from making these cookies is awe-inspiring. He is incredibly proud of them, and he talks about how he did different parts of the recipe (the sugar, the butter, etc.) constantly. Even given a few last-minute substitutions (I only had 1 cup of Quaker Oats, so I used Gerber baby oatmeal for the rest of the oatmeal–it worked perfectly if you’re looking for a way to use up baby oats!), the cookies were fabulous and a big family hit.